Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Tips on asking for flexible working as a parent/carer

As a working parent, creating a work/life balance can be challenging. Flexible working is one of the ways that can help, but it can be intimidating to approach your employer for support. That’s when you need to find people that can help because you can’t receive the support you need if you don’t ask for it. The first step is to recognise the importance of clear, honest, balanced communication with your employer. Here are some top tips from Nina Barnett, a Consultant Pharmacist, on having a conversation with your employer about flexible working.

  • Think about what you want. Then imagine you’re in the shoes of your employer and/or line manager and think about what they need from your role. Then consider how you can get what you need (e.g. to work the number of days/hours that work for you) and the department can get what it needs. 
  • Ask yourself how your employer could find cover. Before you have the conversation with your employer, ask yourself some questions like how are they going to cover the days or hours when you’re not there? Try to come up with some ideas for discussion about how to manage the flexible working. There are some roles which will mean it’s more difficult and others where it fits in more easily. Be honest with yourself about this. Often, it’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that no-one has raised it before or come up with potential solutions.
  • Don’t rush things. Take your time to write down a few creative solutions on paper so your employers and line managers have something to work with. Frame your communication as a discussion. Be clear about what you want while showing you are open and ready to listen to what they have got to say. Don’t forget your rights as well as your responsibilities.
  • Find other people, managers and/or staff, that work flexibly in similar organisations. Speak to them about how they managed to achieve a workable balance before you submit any ideas on paper. Make sure you know what your company policy on flexible working says and read any other guidance you can find.
  • See it as a negotiation. During your discussion, which may be by phone, face to face or email, give them a variety of ways to consider your flexible working request. If you don’t get what you want first time round, be open to “going back to the drawing board”. Don’t see that as rejection, but instead as ongoing negotiation.
  • Make sure everyone is on the same page. Confirm any agreement that’s been made face to face or on the phone by email, so that all parties can be sure they’ve got the same understanding of the outcome.
  • Surround yourself with support. This process can feel quite stressful as you often have a lot riding on its success. Surround yourself with people who support you. It’s important to have family member or people close to you who believe in your career as well as your role as a parent.

If you’re struggling to balance your work and family life, try some of these top tips and reach out to your employer or line manager. Flexible working can make a big difference to your life and having good, open communication with your employer and line manager will help you understand what your options are and how they can support you. If you want someone to talk to, the NHS provide a career coaching service which you might find helpful.

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.


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