Juggling Work with a Special Needs Child

Juggling Work with a Special Needs Child (1)I came across an article recently where a parent/Mum spoke about her constant juggle with her home and work life balance. It got me thinking about my own work/life juggle. If you would like to check out the article written by Tania Tirraoro please check it out here at Special Needs Jungle.

I’m not going to lie, I wanted a career! It was important to me, it was one of my life goals. Happy and content mum means equally happy and satisfied children! I wanted it all… excellent career while juggling childcare and home life. For the most part, it worked, after having my eldest (11) I had no choice but to return to full-time work. Unfortunately, mortgages don’t pay themselves! I was lucky my Mum worked afternoons, so she had my daughter all day on a Monday and every morning. It was a life saver, as my employer was far from flexible. Childcare was one of our most substantial expenses and even with my mum’s help, it was still over £800 a month!

For three years, I worked up the career ladder, moved companies and continued to juggle family life. After having my son (8) things were going to be very different, he was born with Strep B and developed meningitis at three days old, please see my other post ‘My Son was Born with Strep B’.

Suddenly I had a baby that needed physio, occupational therapy, consultants, tests, scans, hospital appointments and needs beyond an average child. I was ever hopeful that my employer would understand my need to work part-time, it wasn’t your average circumstances. I didn’t return to my old job, it was no longer suitable and for a year I muddle along. I quickly realised how I saw flexible working, wasn’t how my employer did. I was continually taking holiday to attend appointments, having unpaid leave because nursery called as he had a temperature and the push came when I had to cancel three of his appointments. Appointments that once cancelled take three months to get booked in. I was having an emotional week, I walked into work and almost instantly nursery called and he’d been sick (he had reflux). I felt guilty for not giving work my 100% attention and I felt more guilty that my son’s needs were now suffering. He wasn’t doing well at nursery, he was struggling with his development and I went home that afternoon and wrote my resignation letter. The relief I felt was one of the best feelings. I never wanted to leave, but it wasn’t about me. Thomas needed his Mummy and nursery wasn’t going to fill the hole.

It was a decision that I have never regretted. It gave me time with Thomas to attend his appointments, plan for his future and spend the time that I just wasn’t getting while I worked. I worked part-time for a hotel, working a couple of evenings around my husband. It worked for us at the time.

Call me naive, but at this point, Thomas was still a toddler and developing averagely on time if not a little behind. He attended nursery two days a week, as I felt he still needed the social side of it and secretly I was hoping that once he was settled, I could get a part-time job and give up the evenings! Having taken the financial drop in pay, reducing the nursery costs, we lost most of our child tax credits. We muddled on for a few months until I cut nursery down to one day a week, it was pointless, but still, I wanted him to be like his sister and learn from others.

It just didn’t work, so I resided to the fact that it was best to remove him altogether. Fast forward two years, I thought the answer was return to education and get a ‘proper’ degree. He was young, at a nursery and it would work around it and for the most part it did but suddenly he wasn’t hitting his milestones, nursery kept calling me asking me to collect him for various reasons and then the file straw, I was two days late paying an invoice due to them undercharging, and they told me that they felt it best that he left.

CrayonsI guess back then, I still had this idealistic view that I wanted him to have a healthy life. Like most parents with special needs children, we want what is best for them and them to feel included. My dreams of a mainstream school were quickly fading when his epilepsy was diagnosed. He attended a special needs nursery, who were terrific!

Six years on, I was still working evenings having struggled to find a part-time job that contained the flexibility of hospitality. Degree under my belt, but for what it’s worth it hasn’t advantaged my career, but it made me feel better.

How it Works for Us…

Three years ago, during my degree my husband came home from work one evening, told me he couldn’t do it anymore. We’d had a tough night with Thomas, neither of us slept well, and it made a decision we’d been struggling to make more comfortable. He would give up full-time work, become Thomas’ full-time carer and I’d continue my degree. He now works part-time from home, around Thomas’ school drop-offs and pickups.

I tried last year to return to full-time work, financially one of us needs to work full time. It wasn’t, however, that easy. I wanted something locally so I could be at home within 15 minutes, but it was impossible. Most of the commutes were at least 30-40 minutes each way and as a family, it would never work. I realised very quickly that part-time hours would be our only option,

School HolidaysOur biggest struggle is the school holidays, we have one or two decent child care providers in our area who can caterer for disabled children and as you can imagine they fill up quickly and limit the sessions that a child can attend. Unfortunately, we don’t have parents who are able to offer their services for a variety of reasons we rely on school, holiday clubs and a playscheme one or two a month on a Saturday. We are still lucky in that respect, but I do panic with all the government’s budget cuts concerning disabled funding that within a few years they will be closed.

I like to call these types of posts ‘the get to know me’. No real reason but to share a little bit about our lives and our world. Do you struggle with work/life balance? Have you had to make changes to your working life to adapt to the balance? Please share your own stories or blog posts below.

Thanks for reading…

The Pros and Cons of Flexible Working

Pros & Cons of Flexible Working

I’m now officially in my mid to late ’30s. I was struck to realise that I have been left school for 20 years this year! I was born in the ’80s but grew up in the ’90s. My parents divorced in the part of the ’90s which saw my ‘homemaker’ Mum suddenly find herself a single parent, with bills, two children under 10 and no income.

Cleaning

Bless my Mum, she’d left school at a time when secondary moderns were at the forefront of education and she left school with no qualifications. If you wanted flexible hours around school childcare (before the likes of after-school clubs), you worked in retail, care or cleaning. My mum dabbled in all three pretty much most of my childhood.

I grew up knowing that when it came to having my own family, I would have an education, work experience and career. I wanted to be able to offer my own family yearly holidays, weekends by the sea and days out.

At the time of having my daughter in 2007, the rules concerning maternity leave, pay and rights were shifting. You could have a year off, nine months of ordinary leave and three months additional leave. It caused a lot of confusion at the time. Lots of my family members telling me that I had to return to work or ‘pay back my maternity pay’. But more parents were using child care, both parents were working and flexible working hours was something you could ‘apply for’.

It was new to so many employers that the lines were blurring between what was required and what wasn’t. It caused a lot of confusion, myself included. I spent my maternity leave being underpaid due to an administration error. My HR manager at the time had to search the internet for my rights as I worked in a very male-dominated workforce and there was no maternity policy!

I actually spent what should have been time enjoying my daughter, being pressured to return to work. I’d been off three months when the first email arrived. Office drama, new director, when was I thinking of returning? Geez, I don’t know in six months?! But it didn’t end there and they piled on so much pressure that I gave in and returned when she was five months old. I wasn’t ready, there is a lot more to the story concerning my return, I will not bore you now! But I struggled…majorly.

I remember at the time having coffee with friends who just weren’t able to return to work as they couldn’t afford the childcare and their rights to flexible working were declined. Employers just couldn’t see the benefit of including part-time or flexible workers on their payroll.

That was nearly 12 years ago and I was shocked recently to learn that one of my friends took her employer to a tribunal because she requested flexible working hours and they didn’t deal with the request effectively. She won her case but it surprised me that with so many families now having both parents working that employers can’t see the benefit of flexible working.

On googling ‘flexible working’, I received over 21k hits! Mostly negative. I thought I would share some of the reasons why I believe we could benefit from becoming a little more ‘flexible’. This covers remote staff, part-time, flexible full time and anything in between.

Pros

Family

1. Family – No more taking unpaid leave, using up annual leave or making up hours, with a little flexibility in our working schedules we could take that gym class, attend our daughters’ assembly and collect them from school. Not only this but with organisation, employers would be able to make arrangements.

2. Increased feeling of personal control – The introduction of facetime, skype, emails and social media has meant that as individuals we have communication on the go. This gives an added bonus to being in control of our own schedule. Meetings don’t have to be office based, a quick skype call and this gives us added power over our work environment.

3. The Dreaded Commute – Avoids traffic and the stresses of commuting during rush hours. You know how it is, you rush out the door at 7.45am makeup half done, coffee in hand while munching on a banana. You hit the main road and ‘boom’ a 30-minute commute turns into an hour. Working from home or starting at 10am instead of 9am means that you could be at your desk faster, logging on to those all-important tasks at 8.30am.

4. Environmental Considerations – Reduced consumption of employee commuting time and fuel costs. With ‘eco-friendly’ being an essential part of the workplace, employees are being rewarded at some companies for car sharing. Perhaps the bigger picture is with effective management of employees that could work from home or come into work less.

5. Happy Employees are Productive Employees – We all want to enjoy our jobs, whether it be time away from the kids, to keep our skills relevant or just to have adult conversations. An employee working 40 hours a week, with an hour, commute each way isn’t going to feel as empowered and productive as someone who works three days in the office, two days at home.

Cons

1. Team Environment – In team-oriented departments, teams still need to meet, which requires set guidelines. Some people take advantage of the flexibility and use that as an invitation to work from home which really means watch Netflix with their email screen open. There needs to be an extensive amount of trust, perhaps using a management board like ‘trello’ for example to keep staff motivated when not in the office.

2. Management Team – Some managers, who are used to seeing when their staff members come to work, watching what staff do all day at work, and knowing when people leave for home, have trouble adjusting to the new management style which requires trust. Hands-on managers (micromanaging) don’t adapt well to having employees away from the office, they often feel out of touch or struggle to keep track of their tasks.

3. Other Colleagues – Office-oriented people sometimes view their work-at-home colleagues as slackers because they can’t physically see their productivity. It has been common for employees to work at home to be seen as less productive, this isn’t true always true. But I think internal employees often feel that they are sat at home wearing PJ’s, munching on popcorn while watching Netflix. This isn’t always the case.

4. Availability – Compressed work weeks can make client handovers complicated—clients expect service 5 days a week during business hours and can be fussy when an employee isn’t in on Friday. It can be hard for clients to understand that at 2pm, you suddenly become unavailable or that on a Monday you won’t answer their email. Some companies cope well with this by including an email footer.

5. Job Types – Not all jobs can be flexible. Jobs that require customer-facing responsibilities only allow certain types of flextime. Whole days working from home are not an option.

Overall, the advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages and a good manager can handle the difficulties. Employees are keen to find employers who now offer more flexibility in their approach to work.

We obviously have a long way to go, perhaps you would like to share some of your own thoughts? Maybe you are an employee who works with flexibility, or perhaps you want to?

Thanks for Reading…

Career Focus – Top 10 Tips for Attending a Job Interview

Instagram Interview Tips (1)It’s 2019 and with the prospect of my life after university and the added pressure of being over 25 and a mature person, I felt it was the time to offer some tips towards the interview process.

So you’ve got the perfect CV, your covering letter is tailored and makes you sound like the ideal candidate and within two or three days you have a phone call offering you that all-important interview but the thought of it ties your stomach in knots, never fear we’ve all been there and whether it’s your first interview or your 25th, I’m going to offer you a few essential tips to help you (hopefully) sale through the interview and land that job!

1. Dress appropriately

A lot has changed since my first interview. From being at school, then college and beyond I was told continuously ‘dress to impress’ and for many years wore a smart suit with smart shoes and felt uncomfortable. That’s not to say not to, but consider the position. I’ve seen interviewees at Tesco’s dressed in suits and ties, looking extremely uncomfortable. That’s not to say that Tesco won’t appreciate the effort you’ve made, but a smart pair of trousers and shirt would probably be okay.

We are now in a technological age where office attire is a little more relaxed. I used to embrace dress down Friday’s and enjoyed wearing jeans to the office but more recently I worked in an office where they all wore jeans and converses and there was me wearing smart casual. I’m not saying wear jeans and converses (believe me, don’t) but consider a little of your personality.

2. Research

Don’t ever underestimate the power of research. I’m going to be honest, I’ve been to interviews fully equipped with background information on companies and never been asked one question about what I know and then I’ve been to interviews and been asked questions that I could never have answered. Look at their social media pages, whats one of the last things they’ve posted, or shared? Do they have social media pages? I was recently at an interview and asked what I thought of the companies website! I wasn’t prepared but I had researched the company and managed to draw on some of the things I remembered.

Obviously don’t go and research things that aren’t relevant to the position, so it if its technical look at technical things if it is marketing you know what I mean. I impressed an interviewer once because I commented on something I’d read in the media about the company, he nodded and was happy to chat about what it meant for the business and employees. I’m not saying go and write pages of notes on the company structure and their annual turnover but perhaps find something that can really keep the interviewer interested.

3. Preparation

You’ve bagged the interview of your dreams so preparation is critical. Check if the interview requires you to supply a passport, national insurance number or a list of references. Some do at the interview stage so best check any emails you receive. Make sure you know where you have to be, how you will get there and what time you will arrive. Is it going to be a walk, a car journey or are you relying on public transport?

Keep a folder of relevant documents including a copy of your recent CV. You’ll be surprised how many interviews I’ve been to and the interviewer has a CV that was on my Linkedin profile six months earlier.

Make sure what you wear is ironed, clean and in a place that isn’t likely to get lost or dirty and don’t forget about the shoes! We all do it.

4. Arrive on time

I’m not going to lie. I’ve arrived at interviews, flustered, tired and puffing. It’s not exactly professional. If you know it is going to take an hour by car, allow for at least an hour and a half. If you are using public transport allow longer. I made the mistake of allowing two hours door to door. Missed my train because the station screens were down and no one could find out which platform it was leaving from. I arrived for my interview with two minutes to spare, looking flustered and like I’d run a marathon. Allowing 10 to 15 minutes is common. I like to look around, check out my surroundings (nearest Costa) and make sure that I feel calm and ready.

5. Prepare Questions

On more than one occasion I’ve been to an interview and failed to ask any questions, this was mainly due to being ill prepared. I’ve learnt my lesson. I know prepare at least three and I use my research to help. I have included some examples:

Ask about the future of the company, do they have any major plans? If you’ve seen on their social media something that takes your interest, don’t be afraid to ask about it! It will show that you have taken an interest. As someone keen to develop my career, I like to ask a question about employee development and opportunities available. It shows that you are thinking about the future. Not all employers do department tours, especially if you are one of 10 interviews that week so ask them about your working environment, it can help you get a feel for the role if you know that its open plan or a more enclosed office. You can always tie it in with a ‘day in the life’ question.

6. Make a good impression!

Believe it or not, this actually works both ways! Greet everyone you meet with a smile, including the receptionist. Greet your interviewer with a smile and a confident handshake and don’t forget to stand up straight. If when you enter the room, there is another person, do the same!

I have been to some interviews where the HR manager couldn’t have been less interested and either didn’t offer their hand or does an awful floppy shake. I would offer my hand anyway! Keep eye contact, looking from one to the other or the person who asked the question. Smile a lot! Watch what you do with your hands, moving them around too much can make you seem unprofessional. Don’t forget to show your enthusiasm!

7. Enthusiasm!

We’ve all been there! You get that all important interview and you can’t seem to shake the nerves, remember if you show your enthusiasm, you’d be surprised how your nerves subside. Try and say focused, upbeat and concise but show how much you love ‘cars’ or ‘children’.

8. It’s about you as much as it is them!

I had an interview with a great company, with an excellent reputation. I arrived early was kept waiting for 15 minutes but loved the view and the surroundings. The interviewer was sick and from the moment the interview began she made me feel uncomfortable. She was brash, hard-faced and to the point and allowed no time for me to really show her what I could do. She made me feel uncomfortable and flustered and answered poorly. I wasn’t shocked to discover that they didn’t hire me! Employers forget some times that we are also interviewing them. If we feel uncomfortable or out of place during the interview we are not inclined to say yes. I have declined a few opportunities in my time. Some okay, some pretty bad and some because it just didn’t feel right. I was made to feel like I couldn’t say no, that on accepting the interview that meant that I was obliged to take the job that just didn’t feel right. Go with your instincts. If it feels like the commute will be too hard, the job isn’t what you want, or you didn’t connect with your manager, then consider whether a week into the position you won’t want to run for the hills.

9. You become a salesperson…sell yourself!

I’m going to admit, it’s hard to sell yourself. You get asked the question ‘Tell me one thing that you do well?’ I often ramble off something that has nothing to do with the position. Try and make it relevant!

As job seekers, CV’s are the first time perspective employers really get to meet us. A proper and well-written CV stands between you and the paper shredder! Don’t shy away from mentioning an achievement. You raised £2k for charity doing a bike ride, say it! That’s a fantastic achievement. You’d be surprised to know that even the most qualified of an applicant can get turned down because the winning candidate was better at responding in interviews. They proved that they would be a great fit within the company.

10. Follow-Up

There is a lot of misconception concerning ‘after’ the interview. If you have an email address or social media contact send a quick note to thank the interviewer for their time, this gives them the opportunity to A) Remember you and B) That they can give you a response via email.

All too often, you travel to an interview, take time off work and then you hear nothing! Not even a ‘thank you’ for attending. If you have contact details, give them a quite call or email and ask.

I feel that we should all be given feedback, but it doesn’t always happen.

My Personal Favourites:

A). You didn’t tick all the boxes (what am I meant to learn from that).

B). We went with someone who we felt suited the position more (And that helps me how)

C). We wanted someone who we could train and who had little experience (You wanted to pay £4.00 an hour)

D). We appreciate you attending the interview, we felt that you were a fantastic candidate and if anything should come up in the future we would certainly consider you; however we felt we wanted someone with more experience (How exactly do I get experience?)

E). It was a pleasure to meet you the other day, your enthusiasm really was refreshing! But after careful consideration we will not be offering you the position, we just felt that the job required someone with more administration experience. (I have over 10 years of administration experience!) Was by far my favourite!

I am hoping that if more people ask for feedback, it will eventually become the norm.

So there you have it! My top 10 tips when attending a job interview! Do you have stories to share? Want to add anything that you’ve learnt?

Thanks for Reading…

Be an Intern but…

Career Focus - Be an InternThis is the start of my monthly Career Focused posts. Please check them out.

I have been lucky enough to intern at a few great companies, who understood that I needed to eat. I have however also interned at a couple that taught me nothing, that for the short time I was there, I learnt how to photocopy, file and my personal favourite tidy cupboards. Now please don’t for a second think I’m ungrateful for the experience but I had university friends sitting in on meetings, having proper mentors who explained as much as he/she could. I learnt no more than when I went in.

Maybe I was unlucky but I was thinking about as an Intern what we should get out of the experience. Here are a few tips if you find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Ask Questions – You are there to figure out if it’s the job or the industry you want. Don’t be shy ask questions.

2. Do everything with a smile and an enthusiastic manner – People are more open if you smile and seem happy to be there.

3. Offer – Ask around if anyone needs help, support, I did a beer run once! It shows keenness and you learn things along the way.

4. Hit deadlines – If you are given a deadline try to keep to it. If you struggle, be honest. I was too embarrassed and muddled along to find the someone else did it anyway.

5. People are busy, if you see a way to help offer – we all come from different backgrounds. Experiencing different things can be a great benefit.

6. Talk to people – have a chat while making a coffee. See someone walking out for lunch, strike up a conversation. Contacts are key these days and you could just talk to that one person who remembers you.

7. Don’t be afraid to say you are struggling – as mentioned I suddenly lost my confident self and struggled to hit a deadline. I was more embarrassed when I handed it over to find someone else had done it. (Facepalm)

8. Be on time and don’t be in a rush to leave – not much to say really that isn’t obvious.

9. Socialise on a personal level – I was kindly invited out a couple of times but declined and I later felt that I should have gone, spoke to people on a personal level and not just professional. I’d go for it now but you live and learn.

10. Make contacts – Add people to LinkedIn. These could be for reference purposes or future job opportunities but probably not facebook.

Finally…

Just a few things I’ve learnt. Internships really are an amazing thing on a cv. It shows that you not only have the degree but also the industry experience but unfortunately, there are still companies who don’t pay, pay peanuts or count it as work experience and think they don’t have to pay! Please consider these things. I had a mixture of expenses, paid and work experience. One month, by all means, consider your options, one year with only expenses or my personal favourite ‘commission-based’. Things are changing as I’ve seen minimum wage mentioned recently.

Has anyone got anything to share, horror stories or an amazing experience? Please drop me a comment, I would love to hear them.

Thank you for Reading…