Research released recently shows that working mothers are 18% more stressed than other people, with this figure rising to 40% for those with two children.
How did we get so far away from a positive work life balance and what could the potential solution be? A happy mum equals happy children, so surely we owe it to the next generation to better support mums at work? Well I have two words to throw into the mix when it comes to beating working mum stress, and they are flexible work and coworking spaces.
To get deeper into all of this I invited Charlie Rosie, mum and co-founder of Cuckooz Nest, a London based, flexible workspace with an integrated creche (hurrah!), to talk about all things flexible work, coworking spaces and working mum stress.
First up, from one mum to another, why is flexible work important?
I don’t think I truly understood the term “flexible work” until becoming a mother. I was pretty selfish and career obsessed. I worked way more than contractually obliged to, always putting in 13 hour days and working weekends.
In 2013 I realised that putting this much effort into work and not getting the benefits was stupid, I learnt to value myself as an employee – as such went out on my own. So when Orla came along it was slightly easier to work flexibly, as I was already my own boss. That being said, I didn’t quite realise how much flexibility I needed.
As I write this I am due to leave the office in 20 mins to go look at a school. There are so many little things that crop up during the working week as a parent, sick days, doctors’ appointments, school visits etc. and that’s not to mention sometimes I just want a day off with her in the week when it’s just us.
And she’s only 2 – I know that as she gets older the need for flexibility will be even greater. School holidays, sports days, the list goes on. Having a flexible work environment is SO important to keeping a happy balance.
There is a lot of talk about flexible work, but in an ideal world what would flexible working conditions really look like to you?
In an ideal world flexible working conditions would mean 100% flexibility. I really like the model of having unlimited annual leave (Glassdoor, Virgin, Netflix, LinkedIn) although sadly (as with most flexible working initiatives) the current model has flaws.
I really hope we have created a flexible work environment at Cuckooz. I think, because I personally would never take advantage of an employer, I treat everyone the same.
I honestly don’t mind what hours you work – if you choose to send emails in the middle of the night and come into the office at lunch – that’s cool. For me it’s about getting the job done and fitting work around your life.
I would caveat this slightly and say, be cognisant of those in the office whose job cannot be quite as flexible and don’t flaunt the fact that you can get up at 12 noon. Equally this only applies to more office based jobs and shift work presents a whole different challenge.
Given the recent findings, what else do you think companies need to do when implementing flexible work policies?
It’s tricky because I’ve been fortunate, I’ve always worked for small companies who empower their employees through trust and as a result I always worked hard for them. Then, working for myself and running a start-up, I think flexible working policies are more the norm.
For bigger businesses that are struggling to implement flexible working policies, my main advice would be to speak to your employees. Really understand what they need from you. It might not be as bad as you think.
Also it needs to be applied to everyone, it’s not just about mothers. Fathers also need to feel able to shoulder some of those childcare commitments. Non-parents might have caregiving responsibilities (elderly parents, sick siblings etc) and need flexible working. Let’s be honest, if everyone could make their work fit around their life – we’d be a lot happier.
For mums looking for flexible work, what options should they be seeking out?
Don’t be afraid to ask, be upfront during interview and research your company before and also go armed with examples where flexible work is working.
Do you have any tips on negotiating flexible work arrangements and hours?
I believe that any company is only concerned in the bottom line. If you can demonstrate your flexible working arrangements won’t hurt this, then you should have a chance.
Believe that you can do both, any sign that you don’t believe in being able to give them your full attention whilst also raising a family or having a work/life balance will be obvious. If you doubt yourself, they will doubt you. If all else fails, have faith in yourself and work for yourself!
For mums looking to secure flexible work, can you share some of the ways a coworking space can make work less stressful?
Coworking was built around the concept of flexibility. The idea is you pay for what you need, most spaces now offer hot desking (no commitment) or monthly fixed desks.
The great thing about coworking spaces is the element of community, being around other people that embody your work self and empower you to be OK.
Places like Cuckooz Nest obviously come with flexible childcare too. We built it from my personal experience of having Orla and wanting to work. The Pay-As-You-Go model is perfect for working parents wanting flexible working arrangements.
If you had to give a pep talk to mums feeling stressed out about work and working life it would be:
My main advice it so talk about it. Be open. I feel this about everything to do with being a parent, I still don’t understand why we have to project a perfect life all the time – it’s exhausting, not to mention lonely. Take time for yourself. Know it’s normal to feel stressed. Find a routine that suits you, that works for your employer and value yourself.
Anything else you would like to add?
For anyone looking for a friendly coworking space which 100% embraces flexible work, please come visit Cuckooz Nest. For any large companies that want to better support their working parents by offering subsidized childcare, please also get in touch.
Are you a working mum suffering from working mum stress? Perhaps you’re looking to negotiate flexible working conditions, or thinking about working from a co-working space? Do leave a comment and share.