You don’t have to feel “pregnant and screwed”  

Just over a year ago, at the height of the pandemic, I signed up to become a volunteer for the amazing organisation that is Pregnant then Screwed.  I had followed their progress over the last few years and really felt as though the messages they were getting out there and the work that they were doing, for women, in particular, was aligned with my own experiences as women in the workplace, in particular, a pregnant woman in the workplace and I signed up to volunteer when they were looking for supporters back in 2020.

So, who are PTS? Well, they are the leading charity working with organisations to end the motherhood penalty.  They campaign on issues that impact pregnant women and working mothers whilst offering free advice and driving forward meaningful change. The organisation was set up in March 2015 by Joeli Brearley and was designed to be a space for mothers to share their stories of discrimination.  It grew and grew, and it is today used by thousands of women to support their journeys into parenthood and beyond.

There is a range of ways in which the organisation works, but here I wanted to talk about their Employee Helpline. Staffed completely by volunteers, like myself, that take calls on any employment matters that affect women in the workplace. I have a shift each week, whereby I take calls directly from women who are in need to support, advice, guidance and more often than not, emotional support for what’s happening right now.  We are all HR practitioners either in work or self-employed that can help these women and their partners to navigate becoming or being a parent in the workplace- something which I am extremely passionate about, based largely on my own experiences and those of others around me.

Mostly women, which contact the helpline, can require support or guidance in a whole range of areas, from flexible working, redundancy, discrimination and treatment, contracts, policies or a mixture of many things.  What I’ve noticed during my time, is how much these women just need to talk this over with someone and a lot of the time, they know what to do and they know what’s happening is wrong, but they need someone else to listen, to hear them and to say, ‘you’re right and that’s enough.  Every week I feel humbled by the support that the helpline provides and the work that pregnant then screwed do, to support women and their families.

Back in September, I was asked if I would like to support the Mentoring programme as well or instead of and I initially chose to support the Mentor programme, but within weeks I missed being able to help that I chose both.  I have a set of mentees that are going through the tribunal process and are in need of emotional support and guidance.  They may have a solicitor representing themselves or they may not, they may be doing this alone and self-representing. It’s the most courageous thing that someone can do in these circumstances.  We seek to offer clarity about the tribunal process and all of its winding routes, from the very first submission of an ET1 claim to the Tribunal itself.  We support these women as best we can, for free, to ensure they get the support that is so often needed. For me, tribunals are right there with divorce and moving home for the most stressful things that you can put yourself through and most often not by many choices.  The women I support are so brave and even when they are at their most frustrated or feeling broken by the process, they rise up and very often not just for themselves but for their colleagues, the future employees and for their children that they want to make sure this never happens to, and I totally get it. I’ve been there and it can be really hard.

Over the last year or so, I have also been incredibly impressed and amazing by the volunteers that run the helpline, which give their time, unpaid, every single week and sometimes more hours and more support.  It’s more than just working on the helpline; we are like a big family that lean on each other for support. We recognise that some calls are hard, sometimes it can really hit home when someone talks about their situation, and we can see it in ourselves or our own past experiences. We seek guidance from the rest of the group, we seek clarity, we check if there is more than we can do or say to support these women.  We congratulate each other when there are new jobs, babies and support each other in family situations or when we just need to share.  I know that these 70 odd women have my back. It’s an immense feeling of a tribe and I cannot imagine a time when I don’t have PTS in my life anymore.

PTS is an awesome organisation with at its very core, its leader, Joeli leading the way forward and bringing her tribe along with her on her mission to rid the bias, to make employers stand up and for women to be able to stand tall against the treatment they so often receive. I feel privileged to support them and there are great things ahead for them in 2022 I’m sure.

If you would like to be involved then you can find out more at www.pregnantthenscrewed.com and if you need some support right now then call 0161 222 9879 to their employment helpline.

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Preparing for what could lie ahead this winter for businesses -our top 5 tips

It may only be the 27th of September but with the change in weather today it’s certainly got me thinking about making plans for my clients and businesses this autumn/winter.  In the media over recent weeks, we’ve seen the government starting to announce their winter plan and the potential discussions around ‘worst-case scenarios’ for businesses, it’s troubling for employers to know what may happen and what’s around the corner.

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Specifically, the government outlined two plans-Plan A and Plan B. Plan A focuses on the vaccination programme which will continue and will extend to booster vaccinations, offering vaccinations to 12-15-year-olds (which has commenced) and the continuation of test, trace, and isolation. Something that we have all become accustomed to these last 18 months for better or worse. 

Plan B then looks at the potential for overwhelming in the NHS and the possible return to mandatory mask-wearing enforced working from home for businesses and employees and adjustments to travel (now changed to the Green and Red List only-with the removal of the Amber list).

Now, this blog isn’t about government guidance or updates as you can find all of there elsewhere on a reputable source. This is about what sort of plans businesses need to be making ahead of the next few months – which in all honesty, is very challenging given that it’s a predictions game and no one really knows.  So, what’s my advice to businesses? Quite simply- be prepared. Dependent on your sector and your type of work, you will need to have different plans in place, but if we start with organisations where traditionally pre-pandemic you would have had an office hub and employee working largely from that office space, with let’s hope a good mix of flexible working arrangements in place too. Here are my top tips:

  1. Make a plan and communicate it to your workforce as soon as possible – Sitting down with the board or seniormanagers and making a plan for the ‘what if’s’ feels basic, but consider what will be important to employees.  Consider if government guidance changes-how will you react, do you have everything in place to work from home again foreveryone? Were there learnings from last time? Are there critical teams that will be permitted and should be in the office? Thinking about this now, having it ready and organising communications will put you ahead and prepared.
  2. Communication, Communication, Communication – I cannot say it enough, but communication escalation is key. Once you have a plan (which we know may change) consider how and when you are going to communicate it. Will you brief managers, will your CEO write or perhaps can you record a video now ready to go out? Thinking about how this will personally affect people will be critical. If you have an intranet, also think about what information you can share onthere too.
  3. Financial preparation – Probably one of the hardest to predict, but the very big ‘what if’ is around the continuation or reintroducing of the Furlough Scheme which draws to a close soon. Will you have the financial preparations in place if you have to close again? Do you know how many months or days you are away from taking action? If you have to consider redundancies, are you ready to be agile enough as a business to do this? Having that sort of plan in place, business continuity and Disaster Recovery not just for systems but your business will again place you in readiness. It isn’t a pleasant topic but it is a realistic one for some sectors this winter to be aware of.
  4. Employee Wellbeing – The winter months are always tough, the lockdowns this year up until Easter generally felt harder, because they were in the winter, the days are shorter, there is a long way until good weather and celebrations perhaps on the horizon.  If you compare to the summer of 2020, everyone agrees that it just felt different. Scary yes, but summer days can bring more hope than a cloudy one sometimes and we all had a level of fatigue by January 2021 that we had perhaps never experienced. Considering employee wellbeing is critical this time around, learn from your mistakes, prepare for what you can do both in celebration of Plan A and all being well and Plan B and perhaps a new plan in place. Consider alternatives to perhaps Christmas parties and instead invest in some great treats for your employees and their families this winter. I’ve just heard of a company that took their entire £15K Christmas budget and instead gifted it to employees with a Christmas hamper of their choice or a day out with the family. Now that’s a sizeable budget, but even if you don’t have that sort of money, consider what else you can do, how can you engage with your workforce nearer to Christmas.
  5. Finally – Health & Safety – I can’t not mention it I’m afraid, but do keep on top of government advice around isolation and testing, vaccination guidance and really think about what impact vaccinations and indeed isolation or absence could have on your workforce.  There are some test cases at the moment with employers enforcing that their teams have vaccinations and I think we are going to see more of these over the coming weeks and months. It’s a controversial topic at the moment and one which employers do need to think about ahead of the winter months. Focus on fact, education and reliable sources.  Be very aware of personal choice as well and categories of workers that perhaps maynot be able to have a vaccination, not through choice.  Line managers should be prepared in how to handle requests aswell.

So those are my top five tips this winter for businesses, there are so many more areas to think about but if you tackle these and nothing else, you will put yourself in a really good position and your workforce will hopefully thank you for that. In all of my years in HR, I’ve never found that employees dislike communication and being prepared, in fact, they usually thrive on good communication and feel empowered by their employer being prepared and being open about discussions. None of us have been through this before, so it’s a fine balance, but together we can walk the walk together and support each other. The last 18 months produced some landmark decisions, some steps in the right direction when it comes to flexible working and hybrid working, but it’s just the start of the journey. 

For more information and support with business planning, get in touch today at laura.walker@freshsolutionshr.co.uk or on 07971 881448. 

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Returning to work after Maternity Leave – Is it right for everyone?

I am regularly asked by friends and indeed clients, whether ‘It’s right to go back to work’ or ‘how did you decide?’ and the answer is always, ‘You should do what feels right for you and your family.’ Now that’s easier to be said than done, but it’s honestly the truth, and here’s what I’ve learned in 20 years of working in HR and taking on board the fact that for the last, almost 6 years, I’ve been a mother too. I’m often asked ‘how did you decide what to do’ and whilst that’s a blog for another day, the truth is, I ultimately did what was right for me.

Perhaps I had some of my choices taken away from me, but from that point on, my path is the path that I have made, no one else made it for me. I chose not to return to another full-time or even part-time employed role, after everything during my pregnancy, I just felt that it wasn’t what I wanted for me and for my family. After extended maternity leave, I chose the self-employed route, I wanted to manage my time more effectively, I considered all of the financial obligations that we had and we made choices as a family. Now, as a mother of two, both of whom attend school and nursery, I really value the balance that I have created and most importantly, above everything else, I really enjoy being able to counterbalance when I want to take on more work or less work, whilst maintaining a commitment to clients. It’s not for everyone, but more and more I see women, friends, exploring this route and it’s something to take into consideration, for sure.

Now, back to Maternity Leave, how do you know how to approach what to do and when to do it? You’ve just had a baby and now you are already being asked ‘when are you going back’ before you’ve finished your first warmish cuppa with a friend. Here are some of my top tips:

There is no ‘one fits all’ approach to work

By that, I mean that there are so many different ways to think about and actually undertake work. So many mothers that I meet, consider work to be the job that they did before maternity leave or perhaps looking for a new job, but there are so many alternatives too. It comes down to a lot more than just do I like my job enough, do I earn enough and should I just go back? I always urge people to at this point grab a blank piece of paper, a pen or bag of coloured pens and get scribbling. Allow yourself to be completely free and write down everything that you feel about ‘work’ and what you want. I’ll come back to this shortly.

What are your driving forces to return?

Do you absolutely need to return to work for financial reasons, if so, not a problem, so do you know what you need to earn vs what you would like to earn? Do you have an idea around flexibility, days per week, shifts, flexible working? Does your current role fit that purpose? Do you want to stay within your industry? Do you want to completely change your career? Do you know the other options out there for you? What’s really important at this stage is to focus on your actual drivers for returning, your ‘why’ and your ‘why not’s.

What do you actually want to do?

This is the age-old question, do you actually want to go back to work? If you do, great, then get that pen and paper and start jotting down your ideas and how to go about them. This is a great time to flex your muscles, find out who you are and what you want to do. It doesn’t need to be days and days of thinking either, you have a new baby that will be really hard work to get that headspace, but I have some great tips:

  • Grab a notebook or a piece of paper or a big A3 pad if it helps.
  • Have it on your table/desk/coffee table and keep a pen nearby. Every time that you think about work or something pops into your head, write it down. This is a form of ‘mind mapping’ which is a great learning and development tool I often use.
  • When you’ve filled that piece of paper, sit down and grab those coloured pens. Start to look at trends or things that feel the same, maybe colour code all the pros for returning to work or the cons for not. Do you see a pattern emerging? Is everything about your next role? There are some great tools that I can recommend online too, which I’ll pop on the end.

Equally, if you genuinely can’t think of anything worse than returning to your current job, even any job, then you instead need to be asking yourself, can I/we afford to do that? Does it mean you just need to tighten your belt, not go on foreign holidays or reduce your clothing allowance, or do you genuinely think that you will struggle with paying your bills and core costs every week/month? Again, think about all of your incomings, outgoings, and potential changes such as childcare. Will it be cost-effective to return? Is that important to you as well?

When you are ready to have the discussion-have the discussion

I get asked all the time, how much notice do I have to give my employer if I am or I am not returning to work. So here are the hard facts:

If you have decided to leave – you need to ensure that you follow the usual process and notice period, just like if you were at work and not on maternity leave i.e. If you have 3 months’ notice, you should provide them with 3 months’ notice. You should also check your contract and any relevant policies or procedures with your employer to check any specific process. Some companies will bypass your full notice period and some will perhaps stipulate just 4 or 8 weeks’ notice. Depending on the circumstances of your role i.e. if you have maternity cover, then you could consider if you wish to use any of your Keeping in Touch (KIT) days to carry out any handover days, if appropriate. What I would say, is that is totally discretional and I would also say that it’s really for your employer to decide if this is something that they would like you to consider, not something that you have to worry about during maternity leave. In all likelihood, you handed everything over when you left.

If you have decided to stay – If you are intending to simply return on the required date at the end of your statutory maternity leave or additional maternity leave or allowance, then you can just simply return on that date. I always suggest to clients that it’s best to still confirm that you are returning and on the usual conditions i.e. X days and X times if you are not planning to make any changes.

If you have decided to return to work but you would like to either stay on maternity leave for longer than planned, take any accrued annual leave or return to work sooner than planned then you must give your employer 8 weeks’ notice before you are due to return. If you would like to return, but you would like to request a flexible change to your working pattern, then you must complete an official ‘flexible working request’ which will be outlined in your employers’ policy and procedures. Essentially it will be a formal request, to your line manager or specified person, requesting the change. I would always say that you should stick to the 8-week rule again, to be sure. If you know 4 months beforehand, great, get it done.

One of the hardest points is the actual decision to have that discussion. From an employer’s perspective, it can be frustrating to hear information at the very latest point of return, particularly if you are not returning, but it is of course your choice when you choose to do so. I always urge returning mothers to enable themselves to enjoy their maternity leave. If you know, day one that you will not want to return, just hold that thought. Revisit it again with 6 months to go and 3 months to go. You don’t need to decide right there and then. On the flip side, if you know, you know, so it’s always ok to have that conversation with your employer and enjoy your maternity leave and instead be able to focus time on perhaps looking for your new dream role or what you do want to do. Like with all of these things, it’s up to you.

Will your career suffer if you decide to take an extended break?

Now, there will always be exceptions to this, because there are some careers that require you to have worked x number of days per year, to retain a license for example, but in the current climate, there are more and more organisations making adjustments and thinking ahead and thinking flexibly. Don’t forget that even if you choose to not go back at this stage, it’s probably not forever and you should never be afraid of raising a family. I have on my own website and linked in profile and CV that I took a career break. I used the time to not just raise a family, but do some volunteer work for a local charity that I loved supporting and I just gave a few hours a week to do things that I would have probably done anyway. You can keep up to date with news, training, social media in your field of interest and if you do wish to, you can always refresh training or attend networking events to ease yourself back in. See it as an opportunity, not a grind to a halt of who you are and what you do.

So to go back to the original question ‘Is it right for everyone?’ the answer I believe, is no, it’s just not. It’s really frustrating to see so many friends and women that have to go through this, turn themselves inside out to have this dilemma throughout their maternity leave and it’s also something that equally lots of women don’t really allow themselves or have the time to think about enough and then when they return to their work, they feel disengaged, disheartened, unhappy, demotivated, stressed and have a sense of feeling as though they have been let down or they are letting others down. Becoming a mother is a huge transition for anyone and then making another huge decision in the 12 months proceeding that process, well it’s a lot!

Getting support during your maternity leave is also something to really consider and I know that during present times, it’s harder than ever to get direct face to face support, but one company that I must draw your attention to is ‘Pregnant then Screwed’ as they are frankly, amazing. I am not endorsed by them in any way, but as an HR Consultant, the work that they do support women and organisations is outstanding. They challenge policy, they make their voices and your voices heard and they are such a wonderful group of people behind the scenes and supporting women. I would highly recommend their advice and support line and indeed their blog and stories, they are really useful and I wish I had known about them more than 6 years ago. If you visit one website today, make it theirs.

Hopefully, reading some of my handy tips and talking to friends and family about the process, will make it feel a lot better. It’s never going to be easy, but if you make the right decision, you will know and it has to be right for you and your family. If anyone out there is reading this and still isn’t sure what to do or where to get advice, please contact me. I won’t charge you for asking a few questions and I would much rather point someone in the right direction and remember ladies…..whatever happens, ‘You got this!’

Tune in soon for more handy maternity leave tips.

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How to focus on the people aspects of a COVID workplace return (Guest blog by Sarah Haselwood)

This month I am delighted to welcome my first guest blog from the wonderful Sarah.  Sarah is a Freelance Writer who I met virtually during the Covid-19 lockdown through the wonderful Dan at RHNetworking in Surrey. We spoke on the phone and Sarah, who has a background in HR before her copywriting days, suggested writing a blog for me. She wrote so beautifully, I had to feature it this month. I hope that you enjoy it!

“As employers continue to plan for their workforce to return to the office after lockdown, there are many practical factors to consider. However, employers mustn’t ignore the people aspects of a COVID workplace return. Employees will have experienced several work changes and challenges during the lockdown, and employees must be considered on an individual basis when managers are consulting about a COVID workplace return. There are some specific ways in which employers and managers can approach their people to ensure a fair and consistent discussion. Communication really is essential.

A COVID workplace return consultation

Pre COVID-19 only 30% of the UK workforce worked from home. Therefore, the lockdown has changed the way managers communicate and lead their people and a return to work will create further challenges. Managers must ensure that they treat all their teams as individuals and consult with each person separately about their potential COVID workplace return. There must be a level of sensitivity for each person’s situation as some employees will have tackled homeschooling, furloughing, financial or mental health challenges.

Furloughed employees

During the lockdown, furlough has become a word we’re all familiar with. Managers must be aware of the potential impact of furloughing on an employee and treat each furloughed employee with sensitivity. Employees who have been furloughed may find it difficult to adapt to being back at work or may feel demotivated or devalued. Managers must communicate with their furloughed employees regarding their transition back to work and work together to make it as smooth a transition as possible.

Parents and childcare

Many parents will have been without schools or childcare during the lockdown, and this may continue for some time. The flexible furlough scheme is effective from 1 July until 31 October 2020 and will allow employers and employees to agree to flexible working mutually. For example, if agreed, an employee could work on the days their child’s school is open and be furloughed for the days it is not. There are caveats to this, but the scheme may offer the flexibility that parents will undoubtedly require in the coming months, although it is not in any way confined to parents.

Consider mental health

The impact of lockdown will affect individuals in different ways, but we have to be mindful to ensure that we look after employees and their mental health. A recent poll by Linkedin and the Mental Health Foundation found that over half of UK workers working from home during lockdown were more anxious or stressed and felt their mental health had declined during this time. Some individuals may have health, financial or job security worries; others may be lonely or caring for others. Regardless of the reason, COVID-19 will have had an impact on mental health, and we need to be aware of each employee and their needs.

If an employee refuses to return

There may be employees who do not want to return to the workplace. For some, it may be a case of discussing in detail with them the health and safety measures that are in place to protect them and ensuring they have a copy of the updated health and safety or a COVID return to work policy. Once again, a sensitive and individual approach is essential. Managers need to understand concerns and work with the employee to agree on a phased return to work or a continued work from home arrangement.

Consider an Employee Assistance Programme

Employee Assistance Programmes are an excellent way to offer employees support through telephone or video counselling. Such counselling allows individuals to discuss in confidence their mental health, finances, family, work concerns etc. If the company offers a programme, then it should be communicated to all employees so that they all have the option for additional confidential support.

The workforce isn’t going to return to the workplace after lockdown overnight, as there are many people related considerations. The workplace will likely change, and the COVID return will be gradual. Employers will need to be open to individual needs and factor in different work patterns which may include a phased return and continued remote working. Essentially managers need to ensure a reinduction for all employees to facilitate an effective return to the workplace as the same approach cannot be applied to all employees.”

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Shine bright’ when applying for jobs

Over on Facebook last month I have been chatting a lot about ‘shining bright’ and how to highlight the best version of you when applying for new roles. I have a little group, all with great tips and hints too. I have been talking about how we can learn how to shine out at job interviews, update our CV and most importantly recognise what makes each of us unique and special.

In the UK we are typically not the best at putting ourselves out there and embracing our skills and what makes us great. So I decided to practice what I preach today and share with you some of what makes me shine bright from the competition.

 
  1. Passion – I am passionate about a good number of things in life, so when it comes to HR, I am really passionate about getting the best solution for you (as a business or individual).
  2. Getting it done – I am just one of those people that you can rely on to get it done. I am what’s known as a ‘completer finisher’ by trade, so if you need those loose ends managed, something started, or something closed, I am your woman!
  3. Down to earth – I have always believed that people are the heart of any business and for that reason, it’s so important to be relatable to everyone in that business. You need to have walked the walk, talked the talk, and if you haven’t at least understand and be empathetic towards those that are.
  4. Articulate-I believe in keeping things simple, relatable, and easy to understand when it comes to HR matters. Employment Law is fascinating to me, but not to everyone, and sometimes you just need a ‘to-do list’ or the facts.
  5. Knowledgeable- With almost twenty years of experience in HR and the workplace, I’ve seen a good amount and I’ve supported a number of businesses. I’ve seen all sorts of employee relations and I’ve been there. I’m also a mum and parent of two children, so I’ve had experienced maternity leave and all that sometimes goes with it.
  6. Determined- I’m not one to accept defeat very easily and for that reason, I am great at being flexible, looking for solutions or alternatives, and helping to provide something ‘fresh’ when it comes to HR. Sometimes the very best solutions are right there, at the heart of a good debate or discussion.
  7. Flexible & Fair – I work with my clients, not for them, I look for solutions and I recognise their timeframes and how to work towards them. I don’t believe in a ‘one rule fits all’ approach. I treat my clients fairly, as I would want to be treated and I would much rather they were honest than waste time.
  8. Affordable – I spent a lot of time researching what I thought was a ‘fair’ rate for my services and for HR support services. There is always an affordable way in which to look at HR Support and how to make it work best for you.
  9. I like People – In fact I love people and I really find one of the privileges of my job is that I get to meet all sorts of people and understand what they do. Us HR folk often get a bit of a reputation for not liking folk and I do everything that I can to change that, we are not and should not be the enemy of your business.
  10. Vibrant – I love colour, I like to wear colourful clothes, funky accessories, change my hair all the time and embrace vibrancy! I am a glass is half full person and I encourage those that I work with to at least consider doing so, it’s not for everyone, otherwise, that would be no fun at all, but there is always the openness to try.

Thanks for reading! What makes you shine bright? Tell me something amazing about you!

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