I’d like to think I’m a modern father. Responsibilities with my partner are split down the middle; we both bring home the bacon (metaphorically, we’re vegetarian) and we split the childcare and household chores down the middle.
I’m not asking for a medal, I’m just setting the scene.
Because it wasn’t always this way.
Before we shuffled our lives around, I was working 50+ hours a week and arriving home as a cranky mess. Weekends were about catching up on emails and sleep and I honestly felt like father of the year if I made it through dinner without checking my phone. Work was eating me alive, and to this day I don’t know why it was so important to me. Every promotion that I went after bumped my pay into the next bracket, but the workload also increased, not the mention the pressure.
The wakeup call came when I had to take two days off work because of dehydration and stress. I’d managed to go eight days without taking a sip of water, so my doctor prescribed two days of uninterrupted time off work. No phone, no email, no worrying about what was happening in my absence.
Instead, I went to the park, fed ducks and watched my kids play in the sandpit. In the evening, we made popcorn and built a fort from sofa cushions. It was an eye-opening moment when I realised I had been chasing all the wrong things. But I was left with a dilemma; I’d been climbing the ranks at work so quickly that I didn’t know how to slow down.
My partner suggested that I follow in her footsteps and request flexible working. I was worried how my employer would respond to this, as it’s most commonly associated with working women. The only people in the office I knew who had flexi time were women with young children. And then it dawned on me. I have young children.
When it comes to flexible working, it’s all about building a healthy work/life balance, and believe it or not, this isn’t defined by gender.
I put in my request and waited for the P45 to land on my desk, fully prepared to get the employment lawyers involved. But it didn’t come. Instead, I was invited to a meeting with HR and the director of the business. Instead of being put under the microscope, we split up my job into sections, and decided which pieces would need me in the office and which could be comfortably completed from home. I delegated tasks that shouldn’t really have been mine in the first place, and then we came up with a new working schedule. An email was sent out informing my colleagues that I would be working from home two days a week (perhaps more, if required) and how they should contact me if required.
The entire process was unintimidating and librating and was also an opportunity for my boss to see just how much extra work I had taken on. Since I’ve switched to flexible working, three other men from my team have followed suit. Although I expected office politics would get in the way, it’s actually encouraged everyone to take a look at their work-life balance and decide if it’s working for them. One of the men on my team was commuting for one-and-a-half hours each way every day. Since switching to home working for three days a week, he’s gained back nine hours in his week!
If anyone else is considering requesting flexible working, I would recommend you just go for it. If you’re in the UK, employment law states that you are entitled to request flexible working if you’ve been working for the same company for 26 weeks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, and you don’t have to be a parent to request it.