Suddenly Virtual is a timely title for a new book. It’s been a year since the mass...read more
Paul Jaggers, who works for Lloyds of London, explains how an understanding line manager and an effective email signature made lockdown easier for him
Paul Jaggers is a Portfolio Manager for Change Resourcing at the Corporation of Lloyd’s (the Lloyd’s London Insurance Market – not the bank or the pharmacy!) His children are aged four and two and his wife is a GP based pharmacist. Clearly the pandemic had an impact on her employment and Paul’s work life balance. He writes about his experience and what he’s learned.
I have always been an advocate for the advancement of working dads. I have been a key voice at Lloyd’s over the years around flexible working and parental leave to support dads and the work-life balance. Lloyd’s as an organisation has made great strides over the past few years in both these areas. Flexible working has become the norm, whether that be in terms of hours or location. In 2019, Lloyd’s introduced 26 weeks paid parental leave for all parents, regardless of gender or family set-up (e.g. natural birth, adoption, surrogacy etc.)
Prior to lockdown, my working day was “shifted” earlier whereby I left the house early to be in the office for 7.30 and would finish my working day in the office at 16.00 to be able to get home for dinner, bath and bedtime with my children. I also worked from home every Wednesday to be able to do the school and nursery drop offs and pick-ups (plus additional ad hoc work from home days as required). This working pattern was fully supported by my manager and most importantly, widely understood and accepted.
When lockdown happened, there were two key challenges we faced as a family. The first was my wife’s job. Being an NHS employee, we agreed that she would offer to increase her hours to help fight the pandemic on the front line. She increased her hours to 30 hours over three days.
The second challenge was the closure of schools and nurseries. This now left us with 24/7 childcare responsibilities whilst the primary care giver increased their working hours! As with many parents out there, this meant I now found myself juggling a full-time job with full time childcare for three days per week.
This was fundamentally made easy by a very understanding line manager and organisation. I set my stall out early, with a clear statement on my email signature as to my “online” hours, to set expectation on responsiveness. This was very well received and ended up being adopted widely in the organisation. Where I was most impressed was with those who were not impacted from a family care perspective using their email signature to offer flexibility on their availability (i.e. “out of hours”) to support those who did have care responsibilities.
I have always been a “hands on” dad, sharing many of the childcare responsibilities, particularly at weekends, so neither my wife or I saw this as a huge change or “step up” for me. However, it was not until we were in the thick of it in the early days that we realised just how much of a primary care giver my wife had been. From my perspective, I did not have her to turn to on things like what the children usually eat for lunch! From her perspective, she struggled with relinquishing some of the control around their routine etc.
The first six weeks were great. I built bonds with my kids I otherwise would not, and my wife was able to focus on and progress her career further whilst contributing to the fight against the virus.
As we entered the middle of May, it was clear I was starting to struggle with the balance of childcare and work via emails on my phone. I didn’t feel I was focusing on either particularly well and despite saying I was doing a full time job in two and half days, it just wasn’t the case when we started to add up the hours. Following a week’s break in May, I spoke to my manager about adjusting my week slightly, so Wednesdays became a children only day, with no work and my Out of Office on. Once again, this was accepted amongst my colleagues without question.
As lockdown has eased my children have returned to nursery and now school for my eldest. My working days have become ever more “normal”. But I have remained flexible with my hours to allow me to continue to help with the general running of the house and allow my wife to continue to focus on her job.
For me, the entire experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I have built stronger relationships with my children. I have built a stronger relationship with my wife, albeit communication has been key to achieving this and we have spent lots of time discussing our own emotions and feelings across a range of subjects, both professionally and in relation to home life.
An additional benefit for me has been having the capacity to focus on my own health and wellbeing. Through a combination of diet and regular exercise, I have managed to lose 2 ½ stone during lockdown. My exercise has been primarily running and has been vital for my own headspace and mental wellbeing as well as the physical fitness.
The only slight negative has been the lack of time to decompress after work. I used to have 90 minute commute as opposed to 30 seconds walking down the stairs. Switching from work to home mode can be difficult. My previous ability to compartmentalise work and home life has been tested. With many people working different hours, it has also been easy to fall into the trap of being “always on” and not switching off from work in the evenings or even at weekends.
I recognise that we are lucky to have a separate office at home so have a separate workspace; a luxury that not everyone has. However, this does mean that I can see a future where home is my primary workplace and I am already in discussion with my manager about making this a permanent arrangement after returning to the office becomes possible. Key to this will be being measured on productivity and deliverables rather than hours worked.
What this has proven for me is that dads can take a more active role at home without impacting their own careers, but they must be willing to ask for it.
I am fortunate that I have an employer and manager who are supportive but that has not always been the case and the collective voice of dads that want to take a more active role in their families is needed to truly drive change.
The stigmas associated with men asking for flexibility for their families must be removed and unless they are, the gender pay gap will never fully close.
Senior management, regardless of gender, need to be open to a new world where men play as much a part in the care giving responsibilities as women in order for women to be able to progress their own careers (should they want to). Employers must recognise that in order to attract the best talent, they need to offer flexibility in all roles to be attractive to the new generation of dads.