Are Mum’s Being Forced into Minimum Wage Jobs?

You know how it is, you decide you want to be a stay at home mum, you want to work fewer hours, you want more flexibility within your working day but there is just nothing suitable or flexible enough or your employer already feels the strain.

I never thought much about it, when I made the decision to leave my 9 to 5 job back in 2012. At the time, I had a nearly two-year-old, he wasn’t hitting his milestones and with more and more professionals suddenly taking an interest. I made the decision to find a job that was more ‘part time’. Easier said than done.

At the time, I had 10 years office experience, two years marketing and event experience and various skills including retail and hospitality but struggled to find a part-time position that was two or three days a week that paid more than minimum wage or in fact any wage. I eventually took on a casual (zero hour contract) position as it gave me the flexibility to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the hours I worked. For over seven years, I worked in the hospitality industry, at times working two casual jobs just to meet my mortgage. But for seven years, I never earned the same amount each month, I would go from £150 to over a £1000 depending on the required hours. I learnt that weekends or bank holidays were ‘busy’ times and no flexitime was allowed then. I got used to clock watching on a Saturday afternoon knowing I’d have to leave for work around 3pm or getting in at 3am on a Monday morning knowing you have to get up in three hours to get your kids to school! Those were the days! But it gave me the flexibility to pick my daughter up from school, take my son to his hearing appointments, study at college and university and I worked with some of the most professional and inspirational people I have ever met.

Did I feel that I had a choice? Not really, I tried the supermarket option during those seven years, it was great. 8 hours a week minimum, I earnt regular money and I could have over time. Then my shifts started moving around throughout the day. ‘When did my hours suddenly become portable?’ apparently, it was written into my contract that I had ‘flexible’ hours meaning if they gave me an 8am start, I couldn’t argue. Suddenly, it no longer worked but I still had hospitality to keep me afloat.

Childcare

I’m am one of the lucky ones, tax credits really have supported my family over the years. I know its a controversial subject. Believe me, I’ve heard it all. ‘If you can’t afford kids don’t have them…’ I know. But we aren’t living in the ’70s or ’80s anymore when houses were worth £30k or a Dad’s £15k wage would cover all the bills, food for a month and still have change. I knew what I was taking on, I knew that I was going to have to return to work full time in 2007. Thank god for Grandparents! I was lucky, I managed to only have to pay for a part-time nursery place. Had I not had the support of my Mum and tax credits I wouldn’t have been able to return to work.

Childcard.jpgIt’s adjusted over the years, only one parent had to work full time, then it was both had to work – one over 24 hours a week and it continues to pinch the pennies. My 15 hours free a week was never enough, not when I was working 40 hours a week. I was pleased when the government increased the free childcare to up to 30 hours per week so parents like myself could return to work. It was too late to benefit me, but friends have been able to benefit from that little bit extra. However, you both have to be working and earning over £131 a week. Technically it’s spread across the whole year rather than 30 ‘actual’ hours.

If you imagine that a full-time wage is £1200 after tax etc. Average childcare in my area is £50-£60 a day. A full-time childcare place would set you back £1000 a month for one child under three. This was pretty much my life! Tax credits paid up to 80% at the time. Which took it down to about £800 a month for my two children once the 15 hours kicked in. If you’ve done the maths that leaves a total of £400! You spend 40 hours a week earning £9 an hour to eventually take home £400. Forgive me, I never saw the logic. I worked out at the time that I was actually better off, working part-time, saving on childcare and earning slightly less an hour.

I have friends, some in managerial roles who after maternity leave got to pick their hours, then I have the friends who can’t afford to work, the friends that rely on support of their parents for childcare, the friends that work as dinner ladies, the friends that are self-employed through Avon or betterware or juiceplus. Why are we still seen as the lesser sex before we chose to have children? The project planning, time management, multi-tasking alone makes us more employable. I’ve heard it all, I put myself forward for a promotion while working in hospitality. I was pretty much working 40 hours a week or more on minimum wage when a role came up that had more than enough experience for. I approached my manager, whose reply was ‘you have two children, you aren’t flexible or reliable enough.’

1.       I worked on average 40 – 50 hours a week

2.       Never called in sick

3.       I had spent two years learning from everyone, I was pretty much doing the job

4.       My children had never stopped me going to work or leaving early

5.       I was never late, I stayed over, often working later than any manager

I was pretty, shocked by the attitude of not only that manager but other staff members. Was being a parent really that bigger burden on my career? That manager left within a year, I kept quiet, did my job and received a promotion about nine months before leaving in 2015.

It stuck with me and to this day, it continues to drive me to prove that my children are most certainly not a burden. I have a foundation degree, a degree and I plan on studying a CIM in Marketing next year.

I should be sharing the joys about having my children while juggling and holding down a career but I feel constantly guarded. I’m not young, I’m not in my early 20’s embarking on my career. I’m pretty solid in the belief that my children are why I work hard, why I want them to be proud of me.

As Mum’s and some Dad’s should we be forced to take on minimum wage jobs, our skills should be assets. But I wonder how many of us downplay our experience just to get in the door (I know I have). Perhaps you feel pushed out of your job? Did you take on a minimum wage job just to feed your family?

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The Pros and 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…