Parents returning to work

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

If your life for the past months or years has been nothing but changing nappies, feeding hungry mouths, washing endless piles of dirty laundry or ferrying the kids to school, then the thought of dusting off your resume, getting into a suit and hitting the job trail may seem hugely daunting. But don’t worry – it’s how every parent facing the prospect of returning to work feels.

Parents returning to the workforce face issues such as a lack of access to affordable, quality child care and an inability to secure flexible work arrangements, according to Mums@Work – a website which provides both parents and employers with free, family-friendly work solutions, guidance and toolkits.

Other factors which inhibit a smooth return-to-work transition include loss of confidence and the sheer logistical nightmares of juggling things like the school pickup, what to do during school holidays, and how to strike a happy balance to keep up with the multiple demands of work and family.

The first step

Emma Walsh, founder of Mums@Work, advises, ‘Rather than focusing on issues and barriers, start from a positive – what do you want to gain from returning to work? What is your main motivator? Be clear about that. That’s the first step.’

Working mum Walsh understands how overwhelming the obstacles can seem. Ask yourself: are you looking to pick up your career where you left off or do you want to start something completely new? If your main motivation is getting extra income, that will give you a lot more flexibility about the type of work you do. Or maybe you just need to get out of the house and have a break from the kids!

Child care

There is now a plethora of online child care support services which parents can take advantage of, according to Walsh. There are online nanny agencies, websites where you can post job ads for a nanny or babysitter, and a myriad of other websites where you can look for local carers in your area, as well as the Family Assistance Office.

‘I think there are lots of channels now for you to be able to find good quality child care, and the affordability has come down, with a 50 per cent rebate provided for services from approved and registered providers.’

‘A lot of people think the rebate is means-tested – it’s not. Everyone is eligible for a 50 per cent child care rebate if the child care centre or nanny is an approved and registered provider. Just ring your Family Assistance Office – they can actually help you find child care in your area. I think there are a lot of people who don’t know that,’ advises Walsh.

Flexible work arrangements

Walsh believes that ‘the global financial crisis made more employers think that flexible work is the way to go’. Flexible work does not only mean part time – it can mean allowing employees to work from home, work on a contractual basis, work flexible hours (allowing parents to leave early to pick up their kids after school), or return to work gradually, starting with a couple of days a week and gradually working up to full time.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

When you go in for an interview, it’s worth asking about how the company is hoping to fill the role (part time, full time, contract) and what flexibility there is around that. Would they be open to a more flexible arrangement? Sometimes it pays to negotiate.

‘I certainly know people who have applied for a full-time job, and through the interview process they have been able to negotiate a part-time working arrangement, once they’ve worked out if the employee fit is a good one. Employers are often willing to compromise to get the right candidate,’ says Walsh.

Be flexible

One thing Walsh advises against, however, is going into an interview and stating at the outset that you can only work certain days, before you and the employer have even figured out if you’re right for the job. ‘I think that puts employers off straight away. Having said that, if you do have constraints around days and times you can work, you can’t hide that either. But it’s all in the way you communicate it.’

For instance, after first describing all your skills, experiences and why you really want the job, you can mention that you have certain constraints around the days that you work and ask if they are open to a flexible working arrangement.

‘It’s all about being flexible, on both sides. Having a flexible and open attitude to explore different options with employers stands you in better stead,’ says Walsh.

Josie Chun

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