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Kevin Smith talks about the support he received from his employer Vodafone after his wife died.
Kevin Smith knows how important it is to have a supportive employer. Kevin is Resourcing Project Manager at Vodafone, having recently moved from another role in the company where he had been involved in implementing and communicating Vodafone’s new global maternity policy in the UK. This included the introduction of Shared Parental Leave. The policy – which includes a six-month period when returning mums can work 80% of their hours but get 100% pay – was launched at the beginning of April, but backdated on a pro-rata basis for people who had already returned earlier in the year.
Kevin is more aware than most how important the ability to spend quality time with your children is. His wife died just over two and a half years ago and since then he has been a single dad to their two children, now aged nine and seven.
He says Vodafone has been extremely supportive over the course of the last few years. He started working at Vodafone around six and a half years ago when his wife had already had cancer and been given the all clear. “It was like a fresh start,” he says. “It felt good to have a new challenge.” However, about a year after he started the cancer came back.
His wife went through treatment for five to six weeks. Their children were three months old and two at the time. Vodafone were very supportive and allowed him to reduce from full time to four days a week almost straight away and gave him time to attend treatment with his wife. At the time he was in sales, but soon after he moved from a customer-facing role to a more internal-facing one. “The pressure was taken off me. I used to have a team working for me, but I did not have the capacity to do that as I was consumed with helping my wife,” he says.
He discussed this with his manager and they found a solution which meant he had a role which allowed him to feel fulfilled and part of Vodafone and gave him a career to go back to, but enabled him to spend time with his family without feeling any pressure.
His wife remained stable for the next couple of years and he stayed on four days a week as she had lots of consultations to go to. “Things didn’t get worse, but they never got any better either,” he says. Then she had a scan and was told she was terminally ill. Kevin spoke to his manager again and reduced to three days and eventually to two days a week. Vodafone was also flexible about when he worked his hours, for instance, if he had to take his wife to appointments or be somewhere for his children. “I could fit my hours for those two days in whenever I could, for instance, in the evenings. My manager was amazing,” he says.
In October 2012 his wife’s health got worse. “She told me ‘I need you now’. I told Vodafone I couldn’t come back to work,” says Kevin. He was put on sabbatical, initially for three months because the doctor advised she had three months to live. However, she didn’t die until March 2013. Kevin was off work until April, but kept in touch as much as he needed. His manager came to the funeral and in fact rang her while she was ill to reassure her that Kevin was a really valued member of staff and that Vodafone would look after him. “It was an incredible thing to do and put her mind at ease that her family would be okay,” says Kevin.
He returned to work on two days a week and then built up to three. He knew, however, that the sales environment and role was no longer right for him. “I had been through a life-changing event and it just didn’t feel right any more,” he says. Vodafone supported him to transfer into another role in HR project management. He began two years ago on three and a half days a week then went up to four, but found this difficult to manage with looking after a young family so requested a reduction back to three. He has recently taken on a new role, supporting armed services individuals who are resettling into civilian life through developing a community and promoting job opportunities.
Whilst he has been in HR he says his managers have been very supportive and understood that he might have bad days. “My first manager in HR knew when all the important anniversaries were,” he says. “Those little touches meant a lot.”
Kevin, who now has a new partner, says that Vodafone’s flexible working policy has helped him a lot and meant he can be around for his children. For that reason he is happy to be flexible back and to work more hours when needed. “It has been so important having jobs that are fulfilling and keep me engaged so in the future when I get to a point where I want to push my career again I can rescale it,” he says.
He adds that being in work has helped give him stability. “I have been fortunate to benefit from so many different types of flexibility and from amazing managers and this has definitely increased my loyalty and commitment to Vodafone,” he says. “I have not even the slightest thought of moving on. There is no reason to leave. It feels to me like there are a lot of opportunities to explore here in any event. My managers have been wonderful. Part of my job is to ensure managers get as much support as possible. If the managers I have had are a representation of the organisation then that is fantastic.”