Sally White, teacher, writer and blogger at Wife of a Wig Wearer writes up Norwich: Meet Mother Pukka with Anna Whitehouse
"This week, Anna - perhaps better known as Mother Pukka - came to Norwich to talk about parenthood and flexible working. She is an Instagram joy, a political force and someone we all want to be in our corner in our fight for work that suits family life.
One of the few things I remember from A-level sociology is a that cult leaders are ‘usually attractive, charismatic, intelligent and engaging’. This occurred to me as I sat, entranced, during a talk by Anna Whitehouse. Her wise words and funny anecdotes and ability to be a balm to the neurosis and fear of parenthood had an audience of over a hundred of us nodding and smiling like devoted followers.
And if Anna is our leader then flexible working is her religion. Her mission is to get employers to do the unthinkable and dismantle the traditional 9-5 working day. She aims to preach the word of working from home, shunning the shame of creeping in to work at 9.05 and singing the praises of working hours that suit everyone.
I hadn’t ever given much thought to the arbitrary nature of 9-5. From what I can gather, the roots of those working hours are in Industrial Britain. But so is child labour, inhumane working conditions and slums so perhaps Anna’s vision for a flexible working day isn’t actually progressive, just massively overdue.
Giddy with excitement at having our favourite Insta star in Norwich and tipsy on the delicious free wine provided by Naked Wines, we sat enraptured. And for the first half hour or so Anna regaled hilarious stories. Many relatable - top lip panic sweats, wet wipe crises, marital niggles - and a few not so relatable but utterly hilarious tales - an ‘incident’ on a bus with the Noravirus for instance.
But soon enough, the chat turned to being a working parent and our laughter turned to anger. So many of us have stories of unforgiving attitudes to time-keeping and working for mangers who value hours worked more than efficient output.
Anna’s advice is ‘don’t ask, don’t get’. Employers assume 9-5 and we assume that it’s necessary. But it isn’t. Not really.
Signs You May Benefit from Flex
- you start most days bellowing at your children and manically measuring time (WE NEED TO BE OUT THE DOOR IN TWO MINUTES PEOPLE!’)
- you’ve offered up a life of devotion for a run of green lights and a foot in the nursery door in the nick of time
- you’ve had to commando crawl out of a 4pm meeting uttering ‘sososorrygottogosendmetheminutessorrysorry’
- you’ve received over a dozen passive aggressive time-keeping comments in the last week alone
Signs You Might Be Able to Work Flexibly
- you have a desk job
- a lot of your work is done via email or telephone
- you could do your work from home just as easily as you could do it in an office
Rights to Request
- you have a right to ask for flexible working if you have been working for your employer for six months or more
- your employer can refuse but you can ask again in a year’s time
Ways to Ask
- Anna advises planning a water-tight case for working flexibly. Prepare answers for the questions you anticipate. Have it ready before you ask for a meeting to discuss it because you don’t want to be caught off guard if they suggest meeting immediately
- If they refuse or are wavering, suggest a trial period
- I always think phrasing things as a statement rather than a question can help: ‘I would like to work from home for three mornings a week. (Brief description of how this would work). Please let me know if you anticipate this being a problem. Thank you’.
Things to Remember
- Flexible means bending both ways- you may need to give as well as take
- Job sharing (or job pairing) is a great way of applying for full-time positions so stay in touch with colleagues and consider applying for jobs together
Anna’s practical advice made flexible working seem like such an obvious and credible solution to the most stressful parts of parenting: childcare, nursery drop off and pick up and time-keeping.
We just need to ask for it. No. We need to demand it. We need to demand hours that suit us and not Victorian mill owners. And we need employers to see how a job pairing brings two great, fresh, talented minds to businesses. How letting us work from home means we can devote time to tasks rather than texting the childminder. How starting at 7.30 and leaving at 3.30 can mean they can keep a trained employee rather than have to recruit again.
And trust me when I say, Anna’s words have released some seriously empowered and informed people out in to Norwich’s workforce. Invite us in to your offices and listen to our requests because 9-5 is going to be consigned to the history books and Dolly’s Best of album.
- The Mother Pukka website has great ammunition for your watertight proposal: http://motherpukka.co.uk/flexible-working/flex-you-fools
- TimeWise for flexible jobs and advice https://timewise.co.uk/
- Further and More - A website the pairs up people for job share roles https://www.furtherandmore.com/
- Government Website - Know your rights https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working"
All photos are © Emily Gray Photography