“Working flexibly is about being successful in all aspects of my life, rather than sacrificing some things for others.”
Firstly, tell us a little about you...
Hi I’m Jonathan. I currently work two days a week as a change consultant in Local Government and spend two days on a small online retail start-up which I launched with a friend of 25 years in March of this year called Ctrl and Shift. I am the primary carer of my two youngest children, Dylan (6) who is in Y1 at school and Catherine (2) who is in nursery. I also have a 13 year old son, Benjamin.
Why did you choose your line of work?
For the first 20 years of my working life I worked in Retail, primarily in store based leadership roles. The hours were tough, due to shift patterns, and I worked every other weekend. This always made it difficult to make plans as a family although I did eventually agree fixed hours so that I was able to do more regarding nursery drop-offs and pick-ups. This was difficult though as retail is a 24/7 business and I often felt guilty walking out during a busy period because my kids needed picking up. I eventually secured a role which was normal hours and Monday to Friday and this made a massive difference. I was seeing more of my wife and kids and really seeing the benefit of being more present at home. I knew this was only going to be possible up to a limit and so I decided to make a total career change and moved into Local Government in 2017. I had heard the work-life balance was much better and it really was. The work was challenging but I was able to be much more flexible with my hours and this just further increased my time with my family. This was particularly helpful as my wife travels quite a lot with her work and so removing the stress of rushing out of the door to get to pick-up was a big relief.
What does work/life balance mean to you?
Previously I would have said work/life balance is about time, giving equal time to both work and home but I don't see it like that any more. For me the balance is about all aspects of your life being rewarding, helping to maintain your mental health positively and allowing you to interact and engage with people in a positive manner. If you are unable to enjoy your work it will always negatively impact your personal life, even if you spent equal amounts of time on both. The same is true in reverse. For me the balance now is that I get to do more of the little things that make a big difference to me and my family. I am able to walk my kids to school rather than rush to a breakfast club. I am able to attend school events without panicking about the impact at work. I am able to really enjoy my work, especially the start-up I am working on, knowing that I can dedicate as much time to it without negatively impacting other parts of my life.
How did you find returning to work after paternity leave?
I was lucky enough to spend three months on paternity leave with my youngest son. It wasn't an option with my first son and, working in retail in December, I actually didn't take time off when he was born. I worked through the busy Christmas period and then took some time off. It was never a discussion that I could be off when he came home from the hospital. Thankfully with my second son I was working for the John Lewis Partnership and my experience was entirely different. My wife and I had already decided that we would share the maternity leave and I had booked my three months off. A great job opportunity came up before I went on leave and I interviewed, admitting that I would need to immediately take three months off after starting the job if I was successful. I was still offered the job and then took November, December and January off as planned. Obviously this time off was over the busy trading period but there was no push back at all from the business. This made coming back a pleasure as I had felt so supported in the first place.
Should there be more male role models in the workplace who promote shared parental leave & flexible working?
Yes I think there definitely should be more male role models but I also think that female role models are important too. I didn't have any male colleagues to look to when I was looking at how to better balance work and life. That being said I usually received positive comments from men, along the lines of 'good for you' or 'I wish I had done something similar'. The negativity from me often came from female work colleagues and friends. They were the ones that would ask 'why' or made comments such as 'trying to help your wife out, good luck'. I still find this to be the case today. I often get comments at drop-off or at the park and still mum's will ask me 'how are you coping' when my wife is abroad, despite the fact they have only ever known me to be the primary carer with my kids.
Why is it important for you to be able to work flexible hours?
There are a number of reasons really. Firstly, my wife travels a lot for her work and is the primary earner in the house. This means it is important that I can be available to the kids and their needs as much as possible. It is also important that there is time for me and my wife to be a couple, rather than just parents, and flexible working supports that. I also just want to see more of my kids. My parents worked long hours and I have more memories of my childminder than my own parents. I never wanted that for my kids. Another important factor is mental wellbeing. A bad balance can really negatively impact you and I've experienced this previously. I'm just not willing for that to occur any more and working flexibly is about being successful in all aspects of my life, rather sacrificing some things for others.
What would be your advice to other dads who would like to work more flexibly?
You will be more successful than you realise you can be. You will be better at work because your mind will be better rested and more engaged. You will be a better partner because you will have time to think of the person you choose to spend your life with. You will be a better parent because you kids will notice you being more present at home and in the important moments.
Also, you probably have huge amount of inefficiencies in your work and home life. Claim those back for the good of you and your family.
Do you feel that there is a negative stigma attached to dads who stay at home or leave work early to do the school run etc?
Hugely so and, as mentioned above, my experience has been mostly from women rather than men. When people talk about flexible working they always seem to reference Mums but I rarely hear Dads referred to. I constantly receive comments that simply would not be said to a Mother, such as 'are you giving Mum a break?' or 'will you be able to cope on your own?'. This sort of thing just isn't said to my wife. As an example, last week my son came out of school with his tie broken. One of the mums chuckled and said to my son 'oh dear, I guess Daddy will need to learn how to fix it'. I quickly pointed out that I own a sawing machine and that my wife has no idea how to use it.
Regarding leaving work early, I never actually heard any comments but you do feel guilty, especially if there was a justifiable reason why it would be better if you didn't need to leave. This I always found difficult in retail and was probably the worst part for me, despite no-one ever saying anything directly.
Public spaces and facilities have traditionally been set up to support new Mums and not new dads, do you have any experience of this?
I think this is improving quite quickly but I have had experiences where the men's bathroom didn't have baby changing facilities. That was often frustrating. There are also still lots of places with 'Mother and Child' parking which just makes me smile. The biggest surprise to me was attending baby classes as you would often be the only male attending and everyone always seemed thrown off by that. That was quite difficult and I always felt a bit awkward.
Pick three words that describe the juggle between work and family life.
Challenging, Continuous, Rewarding.