What happens when you return to work after maternity leave and ask to work flexibly? One mum shares her true story.
In an ideal world, when a new mum requests flexible working, an employer would honestly make a genuine effort to find a workable solution for all parties. But sadly this isn’t always the case – as one mum discovered when she was demoted.
I was demoted when I returned from maternity leave
I have recently returned to work for a large, well established university after two years of back-to-back maternity leave. I contacted my HR dept asking for clarification two months before my return to work so that I knew the next steps.
At their suggestion I applied for flexible working in my old role, suggesting a two and a half day a week job share with a handover hour where both parties were in the office in the middle of the week to ensure a smooth transition.
My request was denied out of hand
My request was denied out of hand, and I was informed:
“It was agreed that the role is responsible for delivering a course that runs full-time during the week, with the associated student and faculty-facing demands, our view is that the role holder(s) cannot be involved on a part-time basis.
Our decision is that a job share is not feasible within the requirements of the business, as it would decrease service levels to students and faculty, create risk to professional, timely and efficient programme delivery, and increase work demands on the rest of the team.”
Interestingly, since my departure the role had been changed with some tasks being already divided between the other team members as it was deemed too much for one person to do.
I accepted a new two and a half day a week role
I asked HR if there were any jobs of a comparable salary that I could do part time, knowing full well that there were many other returning mums who had recently come back part time.
I was subsequently spotted by a member of faculty with whom I had worked before. He was in need of a PA as he had just accepted the Directorship of a programme.
He asked HR specifically if I could work for him due to my excellent reputation, and I gladly accepted as it was a two and a half day a week role, and he was flexible about my working hours to accommodate taking my children to nursery.
I lose over £2,000 a year in my new role
However my new role is a whole pay grade lower than my previous role, which means that I lose over £2,000 a year (£4,000 pro rata if I were doing the post full time).
While I am happy in my new role and very grateful for the flexibility, the feminist inside me screams that an injustice has been done and that I should fight for the money back.
I have asked my HR department if there is a possibility of earning a comparable wage as my current pay scale does go up to what I as previously on, but the higher increments are given on a merit basis only once you have been in post for more than a year. I would also need to go up four increments to get to my original salary, which is unheard of.
The higher up you are, the more things work in your favour
I have asked around about whether this situation has happened before and another member of staff told me that it had, and that exceptions were sometimes made. It seems to me that within my institution, flexibility over such things is at the discretion of the management team, and the higher up the chain you are the more likely they are to make things work in your favour.
I am not a member of the union as it is an extra expense that I can’t afford at the moment, and they won’t give you any advise or even listen to your situation until you are a member.
I always went the extra mile
The bottom line is that we can just about manage on my current salary, but an extra £2,000 a year towards my children’s nursery fees would be very welcome.
I feel very sad and betrayed by the situation, especially as my previous role was a very important role for the department, and I undertook it with verve and commitment, and always gave over the odds in terms of time, energy and responsibility.
I always went the extra mile in order to give excellent service to the students and faculty I supported, and this was widely acknowledged by them and my close colleagues (who interestingly, have all also left).
I fought hard to get where I was
I thought that my four and a half years of excellence and commitment to the role (often at the expense of my personal life) would count as a plus when I returned, but instead I was demoted and pushed down the career ladder.
I fought extremely hard to get where I was before, going through a whole re-grading process so that the role that I had developed was finally at the correct pay scale. It went from an administrative role to a managerial role over the course of the four and a half years due to expansion of the role and the team, but mostly due to my abilities and experience, meaning that I could shoulder much more responsibility than my predecessor.
I was made to feel grateful I had any job
While I now consider my family far more important than my career, this demotion will of course have repercussions when I next apply for a job. It has not done a lot for my sense of self-worth either, and came at a time that I was feeling particularly delicate.
My employer did nothing to help me feel comfortable about re-entry to the workforce, in fact the whole experience was extremely stressful. They made me feel that I should be grateful to have any job at all, whatever it was.
Find out your legal rights as a working mum
Have you had a similar experience? You can read more stories and learn about your legal rights as a working mum in these articles:
- Your employment rights during maternity leave.
- 10 ways you can baby-proof your career.
- Returning from maternity leave – your legal FAQs.
- Your legal rights when you return to work from maternity leave.
- True story – how one mum was forced out of her job.
- How one mum DID manage to negotiate a flexible role.