Before I even had children, I had a vague notion about the type of Dad I wanted to be, and one thing I didnít want was to be a Dad that my kids only saw at weekends or on holidays. I know for many that thereís no choice in the matter, but for me, I wanted to try to be there for bath times, join in with meal times and take my kids to whatever sports lessons they were into and generally just be hands on, and be there (wherever there might be).
Photo PedroJPerez, Morguefile
I knew that to make any of this a reality, one of the stumbling blocks might be my job. I know that when my wife was pregnant and I wanted to attend the odd antenatal appointment, whilst legally I was allowed to go, my manager at the time did (repeatedly) ask me, whether I actually needed to be there, did I really have to go? No, I didnít absolutely have to be there. But my wife was carrying our first child, and I quite fancied sneaking a peak at the ultrasound and checking how they were growing. I sensed early on that my company probably wasnít used to this new breed of men that want to have truly active role in the home life.
Just prior to my wife finishing maternity leave, we had a chat about what could work for our family in terms of child care, and who (out of the pair of us) would work and what we would work. For our family, we had a few choices as my wife earned more than me at the time (sugar mumma), so we even had a conversation about whether she would be the one to go back to work, with me being a stay at home Dad. Eventually we came to a decision that my wife would go back to work part time, and that I would work full time. However, we agreed that what could work for our family, and ease the money paid out to child care, would be if I could work a 9 day fortnight. This would also mean that I get to live out some of my parenting ideals, and get quality time with my children.
After having a pretty lukewarm reception from my manager regarding time off for 2 antenatal appointments, I wasnít particularly looking forward to broaching the topic of flexible working. On the positive side, I was now being managed by a different manager, who was a parent themselves, and secondly, I had done my research and I had the law on my side.
Photo by Greyerbaby, Morguefile
Hereís a few tips to how I approached the conversation to get a work life balance that fitted with my family:
1. Do your research The Fair Work Act 2009 provides employees with a legal right to request flexible arrangements. There are certain eligibility requirements (e.g. length of service), so check that you meet these requirements before you go in guns blazing. You (obviously), need to be a parent or carer and the child needs to be school age or younger for this to be applicable to you.
2.What works for you? Consider what flexible working arrangements would work for your family and make sure that these are reasonable to your business. Ask friends or family what they think of your suggestions; itís good to have a sounding board.
3. Put it in writing A formal written request is a good approach to take, as this way you have put all the facts in writing, and you can even spend some time explaining how you can make this work for yourself and the business. If youíre not sure where to start, read your companyís policy on flexible working practices. In your letter, also highlight whether there are any added business benefits. For example, I asked my business for a 9 day fortnight and explained that I would be starting work earlier, which would mean that I would be more available to speak to colleagues in other states when I normally wouldnít be available.
4. Meet in person Ask for a meeting with your manager to present your formal request, and go prepared for the meeting. Take a note pad and pen to write down any key information that you might need to later refer to. Itís a good idea to also take a list of any possible questions with you. Be calm, and be professional. If your suggestion is turned now, ask for the reasons to be provided to you in writing so you can consider them later on when you are not so deflated or angry.
5. What to expect A business can only refuse you on reasonable business grounds, and these should be explained to you. If you feel you have been unfairly treated, you should ask for a further meeting with your manager, and possibly invite HR along too. Perhaps a negotiation point could be that you Ďtrialí the new arrangements for 3 months to see if they work and if there is detriment to the business in that timeframe then you can revert back to your normal working practice.