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Westley Thurley was struggling to combine family and work life. But when he started to talk about it his Schneider Electric bosses were supportive
Many men know the pressure that comes from keeping family life out of their workplace.
At the 2019 Top Employer Awards one speaker memorably compared men’s attitude to family at work to wearing lacey boxer shorts. They know it’s there but they don’t want to talk about it.
That’s something Westley Thurley knows about (the work/life thing, not the lacey boxer shorts).
A father to two boys – Woody aged five and one-year-old Ralph. He admits that for a long time he didn’t want to discuss the struggles he was having juggling childcare with full time work. But his employers at Schneider Electric have been helpful in getting his life back in balance. He’s grateful to them and keen to tell other dads to speak up.
He told us about his experience of flexible working.
What’s your role and what does it involve?
My role at Schneider has been labelled the Fight for Footprint leader which has multiple aspects; (a) Partner Channel Sales Manager (b) Specification team manager (c) New Systems Business Sales Manager.
What’s your flexible working schedule?
My arrangement with flexible working is very much informal and occurred quite naturally through necessity really. After we had our first son Woody and my wife Jane went back to full-time work then the unpredictable world of childcare kicked in. It was initially a completely new world to learn about then became difficult to navigate.
What made you want to work flexibly?
With my wife in full-time work and childcare arrangements being a mixture of nursery schools, nannies and au pairs I was forced to become more flexible in my approach to work. I found ways to be more efficient. For example I would take team phone calls on my headset whilst walking my baby boy in his buggy. That seemed crazy five years ago but it enabled me to keep communications flowing, make decisions and help my team make decisions (without them knowing my actual situation).
How did you go about making it happen? How did you approach your employer and what was their reaction?
I didn’t really approach Schneider in the first instance. If I am totally honest I hid the fact that I was juggling being a hands-on dad and managing a high pressured, demanding sales team at the same time!
With hindsight this was lots of pressure on myself. But I didn’t feel comfortable at the time saying I am doing to nursery drop-off or I have to collect my child from his Grandma whilst joining a meeting remotely.
How has it made your life easier?
Some of my role is still customer facing and it’s quite normal for childcare to cancel or have a sick day. So I have often managed to keep my commitments with customers or team members by working from my home when childcare lets our family down. An example would be to take a customer call in the house whilst I watch my children play in the garden through the kitchen window rather than cancel.
And I learnt to be honest about my situation which often led to more efficient conversations and lots of empathy in many cases. I would work through e-mails in the evening more and take time back in the day if I needed. I still do this now sometimes although our situation is more covered now than the earlier years.
Has it made you a better dad?
I definitely feel like I am better dad and better person all round actually.
It’s been really hard at times with my children becoming jealous of my smartphone or laptop but it’s enabled me to see things my dad never saw such as drop off at school, messy breakfast times with banana and jam toast splattered over your iPad. Sometimes that means changing your tie three times in the same morning due to dribble from your one-year-old who you had to pick up while waiting for the nanny to arrive! But it’s worth it.
Being forced to juggle forced me to teach my children to learn the art of patience earlier than normal I guess. They might have to wait for their lunch until I finished an e-mail for example; then explaining to them the importance of work and what it means to our family values.
Has it made you a better employee?
Definitely! I feel that taking on children and work has expanded my mental capacity to handle high pressure situations as well as become more efficient in my work. I delegate more granular tasks and assign ownership to others more which empowers my team. This was through necessity at first which taught me about management in some ways.
Any drawbacks or hiccups that needed to be addressed?
One of the most difficult situations has been my initial expectations of my role as dad and the role of my wife as mum.
I grew up with my mum at home looking after us kids. All the dinners and al the washing was done by my mum at all times. We never had any childcare growing up and I definitely never went to nursery.
Then all of a sudden we are thrown into a world where my wife is back to work after three months and the household responsibilities are completely different to what we were used to when growing up 20 years ago. It takes lots of compromise and a big mind-shift to understand each other’s challenges. But it’s important to stick together no matter what.
With hindsight I would definitely share the challenges more with your work colleagues and management especially as Schneider has become a much more accepting environment for this way of working.
When things become difficult try and retain perspective and don’t allow yourself to think you are letting anyone down – people are more capable of coping without you than you first expected. The world still turns and the sun comes up no matter how badly you may have handled a certain situation or how late you might have been due to a childcare drama!
Advice for anyone else considering working flexibly?
Be willing to show lots of compromise and open your mind to different ways to overcome your challenges. Perspective is crucial and enjoy the messy moments – this is the greatest show in LIFE at its best after all and you have a front row seat at the stadium!