In the middle of a busy term, achieving a work-life balance might seem a more distant aspiration than ever for all of us. For anyone juggling work and caring responsibilities this challenge can be magnified. Care work is often associated with women, and indeed women are more likely to work part-time, to take longer breaks from work, and to work in lower-paid jobs than men, in order to spend time looking after children or other family members. However, we are increasingly seeing examples of men and women sharing family responsibilities, and men working more flexibly as a result. On this International Men's Day, we are sharing the experiences of three of our male colleagues who have combined work and family life. By making these examples more visible, we hope to show that flexible working can benefit all of us in SoGE, no matter what our gender.
The stories shared here are only a snapshot of flexible working amongst our staff. According to our most recent staff survey, two thirds of support staff and more than 80% of academic and research staff in SoGE work flexibly – the vast majority with an informal arrangement. Many people mentioned flexible working as one of the things they value about being employed in the School.
Rich Holden has been able to work flexibly to accommodate a ‘sandwich' of caring responsibilities, for two young children and an elderly parent, whilst maintaining his senior position as Head of Administration and Finance. As Rich writes:
"Achieving a work-life balance is incredibly challenging in a senior leadership role, with responsibility for large numbers of people and a wide-ranging operation. New challenges are constantly presenting themselves and there are never enough hours in the day. This is certainly compounded when you throw two primary school-aged children into the mix! I have been incredibly lucky in my current role, in which I have been supported and actively encouraged to work flexibly. Primarily this has meant being able to start work very early in the morning, allowing me to leave earlier and take my fair share of school pick-ups. While this is important for me personally, it has benefited the wider family too, allowing me to share precious time with them in the often chaotic period after school, with dinner, bath, homework and finally catching up about our days just before bed. This has been even more vital for us as we have twins, which creates additional strain when one parent has to undertake the routine on their own.
"I also care for an ageing parent who still lives independently, but I help with travel to and from appointments etc. I am able to do this during the working day by making time up in the evenings or at weekends. This flexibility also allows me to attend school events. It's especially important to be present when awards and certificates are handed out! I greatly value this flexibility, which has had a considerable positive impact on my general wellbeing, making an otherwise impossible situation and conflicting responsibilities (just) manageable – in short, it allows me the scope to be the Dad I want to be."
Another of our colleagues, Director of the Smith School Cameron Hepburn, works part-time and flexibly to accommodate the needs of his family. Cameron explains:
"I have been part-time since my eldest son was born 8 years ago. We now have three boys, aged 8, 5 and 2. I spend one day a week with the kids. My precise working pattern has varied over the years as the needs of the family have changed. I now spend the equivalent of a day doing drop off and pick-ups during some of the week. The other four days are primarily on academic work (3 at the Smith School and 1 at INET) with roles on several government and company advisory boards fitting in as well. Serving as Director of the Smith School has required me to increase my academic time, but SoGE and the University ultimately welcomed a part-time Director. In addition, I feel fortunate to be supported by such a marvellous team at the Smith School, who in turn benefit from flexible working."
Finally, Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, has shared his experiences. Myles's children are now much older, but when they were small Myles worked in the Physics department, whose flexible working practices were very progressive at the time. Myles was able to spend time looking after his baby son whilst his wife pursued her own senior career, having just taken over a large lab in Medical Sciences at that time. One of Myles's colleagues still remembers a DPhil supervision where he bottle-fed Myles's baby whilst Myles explained something to his student! As his children grew, Myles was able to schedule his teaching to allow him to do his share of school drop-offs and pick-ups. As Myles recalls, his story "reflects enormous credit on the flexibility of the University in accommodating our slightly tricky situation."
Myles's experience is less unusual now, with the uptake of shared parental leave in the University increasing, and a new suite of flexible working options for carers being introduced last summer. These include the opportunity to purchase up to 10 days' additional annual leave each year through salary sacrifice; to take an (unpaid) career break of up to 1 year; to take time off for fertility treatment; and to take up to four weeks' unpaid carers' leave (mirroring what is already available to parents). The School offers all these options, with eligibility assessed on a case-by-case basis, and is also very open to considering requests for flexible working, whether that be working from home, staggering hours, or working compressed hours. Staff can request either a permanent or temporary change to their working pattern, to accommodate their changing needs.