‘PEOPLE HAVE BEEN CRAVING FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTION’: HOW ONE FEMALE ENTREPRENEUR HELPED BUSINESSES CONNECT DURING LOCKDOWN
hen women support women, wonderful things happen: a motto we truly believe in at Content Planning Wizard HQ. That’s why our latest story features a female entrepreneur who has used her knowledge and contacts to help new businesses connect with others online while we have been in lockdown.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, nearly half a million new start-ups were registered with Companies House last year and in a survey of people’s career plans for the next year, 18% of respondents plan to launch their own business in 2021.
We spoke to Janine Friston, Founder of Promoting Trafford and The Accountability Lounge Facebook Group. We discussed the new business owners she has been supporting this year to find out why people are taking the plunge during these challenging times.
She told us: ‘I think Covid 19 has brought people, communities and business owners together in a way that will hopefully continue.’
Supporting local businesses
Twelve months ago, Janine was running Promoting Trafford, an online directory and mobile app that shares positive stories and helps raise awareness of businesses based in Trafford. She was looking to potentially franchise the business into other areas when the pandemic hit.
‘At that point, the focus became about promoting the community spirit, sharing what was going on in the community, positive stories, and just trying to keep people positive and let them know what help and support was available for them.’
It was a similar story in her popular ‘Local Women in Business’ group, which now has over 650 members all from the area in and around Trafford, to help them make local connections:
‘We were meeting every month, getting to know each other, supporting each other, doing spotlights and presentations… it has been a fantastic group to share good days and bad days, asking for advice and improving confidence.’
Janine says she feels business owners having to connect online has meant friendships have formed faster over the last year, with many feeling the benefits of these collaborations with people they might not otherwise have met:
‘We’re going to more meetings because networking on Zoom is easier for people in business generally. Normally, you’d have to spend time travelling to get somewhere, and it can be half a day gone sometimes by the time you get home.’
‘Networking online is quicker and more convenient for many people.’
What’s most important, is that Janine’s networking groups are allowing real, successful relationships to be formed:
‘I am often told how much the networking groups have built both friendships and businesses on the back of it. A number of the business owners’ original clients, who now go on to recommend them, came from being part of my business network.’
With government restrictions slowly being lifted next week, I asked Janine if she has any plans to return to face-to-face networking, or if she will continue to arrange for people to meet online?
‘I’m actually now in the process of planning our very first ‘Women in Business’ get together. I’m hopefully picking out a local restaurant for about 30 or 40 of us to get together, socially-distanced and within the restrictions of a restaurant.’
‘I think people are craving face-to-face interaction, I asked the group if anyone fancies a get together and the response was positive, even though it feels a little odd.’
But, she is very conscious that the relationships she has built for herself and helped others build online over the last year will continue, so the option to connect via Zoom will still be there for those who prefer to meet online.
The Accountability Lounge group
Whilst running her two groups, Janine has identified a group of business owners that need support and help when starting or running their businesses. As a result, she set up The Accountability Lounge group on Facebook.
‘When new business owners are starting out they need to grow their knowledge and confidence. For those already running a business, they may struggle to complete all their goals as they work IN their business or feel overwhelmed.'
‘The Accountability Lounge really came about because I like helping people. I’m not a coach, I’m not a trainer or anything like that, but I can give them my experience and my mentorship. I can give them my time and support, to listen, talk through their ideas or questions, make a plan with them and help them achieve their goals by being accountable for completing their to-do lists.’
The idea for the group is to provide courses, challenges, freebies, support and tips. Janine wants it to be a place where people could come and ask questions, where she, and members of the group can give them information to help, so they can work through at their own pace.
‘I want to be able to help people by saying, ‘I’ve been where you are now, I’ve been through the questions you’re asking. Questions such as; Do I need to have branding? Do I need a website? What social media platforms do I need? How do you go about networking? All these questions and thoughts that people go through or worry about.’
‘I just like seeing people doing what they want to do. If you’ve got a passion to start a business, an idea or talent I can help you to go for it.’
So, what one piece of advice would Janine give to anyone just starting out a new business?
‘Do something you really love. You are going to work long hours, particularly in the early stages of starting out… You need to make sure you do something that you’re passionate about, and you know about, because you are going to be living and breathing this every day.’
Celebrating local business successes
While talking to Janine it’s clear that she, like us here at Sparkle Up North, is keen to celebrate the many success stories of some amazing, innovative business women in the north. There have been some positive tales from the past 12 months and she wants to share those.
That’s why, in June, she set up a ‘Local Hero’ award: her followers were invited to nominate someone who was making a difference in their community during the pandemic, and she would send them a virtual certificate for them to print out and display at home.
Earlier in 2021, she followed that up with another awards ceremony, The Trafford Business and Community Awards, which gained a lot of interest. It celebrated local businesses, community groups and individuals, and what they’ve achieved in the last 12 months:
‘In my head it was a small way to say thank you, but it just grew and grew into an amazing online event. It’s a mixture of ‘Businesses of the Year’ in different categories and also community information as well – so superheroes of the community that have gone above and beyond.’
‘We had an online event, I had over 5500 votes within a week and myself and my two sponsors did a live Facebook stream to announce the winners. I couldn’t believe the amount of nominations I had, but since then 1000s of people have downloaded and watched the awards.’
‘That was what people needed at the start of 2021, as we were in lockdown again… Even at the end of the night everyone was asking when the next event will be! ’
For Janine, these are proof that anyone who has an idea for a business or campaign must do what they can to make it become a reality:
‘You never know what’s going to come from your idea, think big and be positive.’
Since then Janine has won the local ‘Business Leader in the Community’ award for International Women’s Day, as well as been a finalist in the Altrincham and Sale Chamber of Commerce Business Awards for Micro Business of the Year.
Things are on the up for this female entrepreneur, with more initiatives in the pipeline – including a local online business magazine and a ‘Women in Business networking group and podcast!
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Janine for sharing her story and wish her the very best of luck in 2021.
Flexible working could be the key to saving our economy, but it will fail if the government doesn't get behind it
2020 has brought an unexpected lift to the flexible working revolution; but adopting it as ‘the new normal’ will fail if the government doesn’t get fully behind it.
With opposition leader Keir Starmer calling for a two-week, ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, many parents across the UK are bracing themselves for a return to working from home whilst caring for their children.
The ONS say 50% of workers are taking up the option of remote working and 9 out of 10 want to continue doing so, even once the danger of the pandemic has passed.
But you’d be forgiven for thinking differently given the government’s mixed messages on working from home versus getting back to the office.
Someone needs to tell Boris Johnson and his team that, if they took it more seriously, flexible working could be their secret weapon for getting the economy through this pandemic.
What have the government said about flexible working?
The Conservative messaging around remote working has been, at best, confused: flitting between insistent we all work from home, to saying the economy needs us to go out to work, before returning to asking us to stay in our houses once again.
Comments from those in charge have consistently played on people’s concerns about flexible working and dismissed all notion of moving away from the 9 – 5, office-based roles as nothing short of disastrous.
In August, while a law was introduced that meant employers had the right to request employees to return to the office, the cry from Johnson was that we all needed to ‘get back to work’.
His preference for a culture of presenteeism is not a new phenomenon, he’s made his feelings on that matter quite clear in the past.
When then leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn discussed Labour’s policy of the four-day week during the election campaign last year, Johnson visibly laughed and called the idea ‘cockamamy’.
On a conference call with over 200 senior civil servants, he said it was ‘more efficient and productive’ to go back to the office than working from home.
(Those comments, by the way, were at complete odds with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said working from home had become the ‘new norm’ and that there was a ‘big argument that home working had raised productivity’.)
Johnson wasn’t alone in sharing this message that businesses would fail if we all stayed at home: later that month, the Treasury Secretary Steve Barclay said we need to return to help the economy ‘get back to normal’.
Companies then spent considerable amounts of time and money making their offices ‘Covid-safe’, only for their staff to be told to return to working from home before the end of September.
As Wired’s Jessica Carter rightly points out in this article, that was resources that could have been better spent on looking after and improving things for the staff that were working from home.
In an age where we literally need to have the option to work from home to protect our health, I find it baffling that the people in charge of this country appear so ill-informed and so outdated on this topic.
They are saying ‘businesses will fail if we don’t all get back to the 9 – 5’, but that is far from true.
But isn’t it down to businesses to adopt flexible working, not the government?
It’s true that the responsibility of delivering flexible working options does lie on the head of the business owners, but we know that simply ‘hoping’ they will embrace it isn’t enough.
Statistics have shown that, previous to the pandemic, especially among parents, huge numbers of employees wished to request flexible hours, but less than half had actually done so, despite it being their legal right.
Research has repeatedly shown that the ‘key blocker’ is resistance from management, people are too afraid to ask because they fear it will have a detrimental affect on their career.
One has to wonder why there has traditionally been so much negativity around remote working.
Despite early fears when the pandemic hit, many companies have actually reported productivity has improved during the changes and huge names like Microsoft and Twitter are leading the way by allowing staff to working from home permanent.
Reports showed an initial impact on work as people adapted to this new way of life and overcame initial barriers, but productivity soon surged and the evidence showed that looking after the wellbeing of employees was the key.
There is an excellent article about this, here.
Being concerned working from home won’t work isn’t an excuse anymore
For remote working on variable hours to be successful, it needs to be adopted across the UK by as many companies as possible, so that it becomes the norm.
It isn't just about allowing people to have a four-day week or allowing people to work from home, it's about giving them the flexibility that they have to be able to get a good work/life balance.
It’s about challenging the belief which is ingrained in our society, that if you are not in an office
Monday – Friday you are lazy and you do not have a proper job
The government have a responsibility to not just implement policies that force this to happen but become advocates for it.
I loved this quote from William Copley, MD of network and communications company Armstrong Bell:
‘Despite the significant impact on the UK economy, it could be argued that the first wave of COVID-19 has introduced several positives by teaching business leaders the importance of flexibility.’
‘Demonstrating that those who were able to think quickly and change their work model during the peak of the pandemic, were those more likely to survive long-term.’ Link
This is the message our government needs to be portraying.
What can be done to help flexible working succeed as part of the ‘new normal’?
To me, it is an absolute no-brainer for the government to become a much more vocal advocate of flexible working and to support those who want to adopt it.
By preventing a situation where all staff are required to return to the office, we reduce the numbers of people having to be around one another unnecessarily, we reduce the risk of spread and we reduce the pressure on our NHS.
Last year, a bill reached parliament that would have required employers to offer flexible working in employment contracts and to advertise vacancies as suitable for this.
The bill failed to complete and so it seems it will make no further progress. I’m unsure whether this was due to Covid, but I’m definitely sure this makes me cross!
If the government wish for us to all return to working from home, if they do decide to ask us all to go into lockdown for half term, they need to do more to make sure this can happen successfully.
They need to do more than they currently are to champion businesses that are investing in the resources needed and financially support those who cannot afford it.
At the very least, they need to lose this outdated attitude that the economy will fail if we don’t all go rushing back to our desks.
Let’s make sure flexible working works for all
Those of us who work from home are tired of hearing the same old rubbish that, because we are at home, we aren't doing a proper job.
It isn't ‘cockamamy’ to work a four-day week, because you feel that is what will fit your life best.
It doesn't mean you aren’t committed to your role if you have to prioritise your home life and leave early to collect the kids from school.
In fact it shouldn't even be considered ‘finishing early’, because you are still doing the work, you are just doing it at a different time.
This could be a momentous opportunity to change the way we work for the better, let’s not let that pass by.
As the UK prepares to come out of lockdown, many parents will be getting back to ‘normal’ in the coming weeks. But how have working Mums been affected by Coronavirus?
It’s been a long two and a half months, what with balancing remote working, home-schooling and, in my case, looking after young children, and there has no doubt been an impact on our productivity.
So, how will this time of isolation have affected working Mums adversely? The stats are beginning to show that is likely to be the case.
Research in Canada shows what economists are calling the ‘she-cession’.
Working Mums are finding it harder to return to work than Dads (employment raised by 1.1% for women compared to 2.4% for men) and that is mainly being attributed to issues with childcare.
Among parents of at least one child under the age of six, men were around three times more likely to have returned to work than women, while women of children under the age of 18 are more likely to be working less than half their usual hours.
It seems women in Canada are taking on the bulk of the childcare, and the same is true in the UK.
As we deal with schools and nurseries being closed, we too are facing a ‘motherhood penalty’.
How are working Mums affected by the impact of Coronavirus?
The Institute of Fiscal studies and University of London recently revealed that for every three hours of uninterrupted work Dads are managing to do, Mums are getting one.
And it doesn’t stop there, working Mums are 47% more likely than Dads to have lost their jobs or quit during the pandemic and they’re also more likely to have had their hours reduced substantially.
I think many of us respond with a knowing nod when we read these statistics, possibly while muttering, ‘no s**t, Sherlock’ under our breaths.
It’s something I have been hearing about since we were first asked to stay at home, and it’s the reason I began creating my video series, Working Parents on Lockdown.
Although there are many examples of families where the parents have found a good balance, the vast majority will back what the IFS survey says: Mums are taking the majority of the load when it comes to looking after house and kids.
Mums are getting up early and staying up late to get their work done while the children sleep, meanwhile the Dad is locked away in the spare room getting his done in peace.
Mums are having to request to be furloughed because they simply cannot manage both parenting and working.
Mums are buckling under the pressure of trying to be all things to all people… while their other half plays games on his Playstation (nope, not even kidding, that was one I saw on Facebook).
'I absolutely need to get back to work again'
I asked some fellow working Mums how they feel their work is being affected by Coronavirus:
Jemma from Thimble and Twig told me, ‘My children are in the years that have been asked to go back but their school is only taking back reception class children.’
‘We also rely on grandparents two days a week.’
‘I’m a teacher but haven’t been able to access the keyworker scheme which then impacts the support I can offer my own school – it’s bonkers!’
Emma Reed said, ‘My child is Year One and I was all geared up for him going back, but just before half term the school sent an email to say they are only taking reception.’
Clare Lush-Mansell explained, ‘I’m self-employed so I absolutely need to go back to work to start earning money again.’
‘My son in reception will be returning to school, but I have another in Year 3 who won’t be returning and a one year old who is usually looked after by family several days a week, but they are shielding.’
‘Having one child back at school will help, but I still won’t get much work done.’
Amy Fell agrees: ‘I’m self-employed and initially when lockdown hit my work disappeared overnight.’
‘Things are starting to pick up again but my kids are still off school, so I’m trying to get work done in the evenings and weekends.’
Gender equality mustn’t be reduced to a Mums vs Dads battle
When the BBC reported on the IFC survey results, I was disappointed to find the reaction online was one of defensiveness from both men and women:
‘My husband isn’t like that at all,’ they cried. ‘People need to stop grouping all men in one stereotype.’
And I understand, if the results from the survey don’t apply to you it is easy to feel compelled to stand up for yourselves, to show the world that there are great Dads out there.
My own household is a perfect example of this as my fiancée and I have divided our time equally: one of us stays in the study in the morning while the other looks after our two sons and then we swap at lunchtime.
But, whilst I acknowledge the positive stories of balance that do exist – that does not prevent me from wanting to talk about and stand up for the working Mums who are being affected by Coronavirus.
Talking about the cases where women are struggling is not a direct attack on all men, but all men and women can help make a change for the better.
Why are working Mums more affected by Coronavirus?
It’s important to look closely at the reason working Mums are more affected by Coronavirus than Dads and the simplest answer to that question is: tradition.
These scary statistics and case studies are the result of years of family life being lived in a certain way: Women are expected to prioritise raising the children while men must prioritise earning an income.
Changing that part of our culture is a long battle and it's not just about supporting Mums who want to work on their career.
We know Dads want to spend more time with their children, but are frowned upon for having this belief, that they are scared to ask for flexible working because it will stigmatise them as not being committed.
How do we stop working Mums being affected in the future?
John from Dad Blog UK looks at this topic in his recent post: ‘Ultimately, the IFS’s research is further evidence that poorly designed parental leave policies and employment policies place the childcare burden on women.’
For my Working Parents in Lockdown series, I spoke to Debbie Ingham from How Do You Do It, an organisation who support working Mums and Dads by helping organisations drive change through flexible working.
Debbie says they have heard from men who have said this has been a real eye-opener for what happens on the home front.
‘The number of men who work part-time shift patterns is much lower than women and it will be interesting to see if there is any shift there when we do return to some form of normal… that can affect things like the gender pay gap and career progression.’
Meanwhile organisations are being forced, voluntarily or involuntarily to ramp up their efforts to provide the resources needed for remote working:
‘The world of work could look really quite different after all of this.’ Debbie said.
‘It’s going to be a very long time until we are back to how things were and for many businesses it won’t be possible to wait that long to get everyone working.’
One thing this situation and this article proves is that we all face different circumstances and different expectations when it comes to balancing work life with family life.
Flexible working needs to reflect this, it needs to be adaptable to each person’s situation to allow them to be productive in their work, but also to have the time they need for their personal lives and personal health.
As Debbie explains perfectly: ‘It’s not so much that we are all in the same boat, but that we are all in the same storm.’
Now could be the time that we see a huge shift in the way we work, we must acknowledge and learn from the experiences many working Mums are having at this time.
I really hope the world doesn’t let this chance to change pass by.
Has Coronavirus affected your ability to work? Let me know in the comments below.
If you've enjoyed this article, please share it with anyone you think might find it useful. You can tag me on social media too: @MumFullofDreams
The Coronavirus means many of us parents are working from home whilst also looking after our children, and as a result there’s been an overwhelming number of articles giving advice on how best to handle this.
They make it sound so easy, which might leave us thinking, ‘here’s my chance to embrace the flexible working revolution and get a taste of ‘having it all’.
Because working remotely is supposed to give us the freedom to spend more time with our families, right?
Well, yes, it does. But not under these circumstances.
This is not what flexible working is really like
As a freelancer, I’ve been working from home for three years, so I’m well practiced in the delicate act of balancing my career with my family.
I, for one, feel the ‘Top Tips for Working from Home’ blogs are all well and good, but they fall short of being helpful.
They offer guidance based on the misconception that you’re simply moving your desk from your office to your spare room.
In reality, you’re dealing with the added diversions of being responsible for your offspring too.
Remote working has been proven time and again to increase productivity, by making a worker more efficient with their time, but I think it’s unreasonable to expect that to be the case now.
Simon Gregory from GPS Return has written an excellent blog about how companies mustn’t use this time to judge how successful a flexible working policy will be for them.
My concern extends to the employees, I don’t want anyone to come out of lockdown and think: ‘Meh, I tried that working from home thing and it really wasn’t for me.’
Because things are tough now, we’re living in unprecedented times (there’s a phrase you hadn’t heard for at least five minutes), and what you are going through every day is not indicative of how great flexible working really can be.
Working from home under quarantine
I’ll talk you through a typical day in isolation for the Fieldhouse-Downes family, which consists of myself (a freelance writer), Luke (a teacher), Harry (aged 3) and James (aged 7 months):
You never really get to completely focus on what you’re doing while the kids are around.
You feel rushed because you feel bad your partner is on his own with them, and that he needs to get his work done too.
By Tuesday you’re exhausted.
You’re literally on the go 24/7 (especially if, like me, have two kids who do not sleep well at night).
Even the weekend brings no relief, because, actually, it brings no kind of break from all of this.
Every working parent is a hero to me, even more so if you are parenting alone
We’re being the worker, the teacher, the coach, the entertainer (how does Mr Tumble stay that positive all the time?), the nurse, the chef, the social life and, not forgetting, the parent.
On top of all that, we are dealing with an incredibly stressful time where there is a constant barrage of worries:
What if we get ill?
What if this lockdown lasts for six months?
What will we do about Harry starting school?
What can I do to find more work?
What will Luke be asked to do for his work?
What about all those things we’re having to cancel?
Try to remember the positives.
If you’re reading this because you’re a working parent who’s finding these circumstances hard, please remember what a flipping awesome job you are doing.
I’d also like to point out some of the great things that are going on at the moment, that you might not have noticed under the exhaustion of day-to-day life:
How much better does it feel not having to battle through the rush hour commute?
How much more time are you getting with your kids every day?
How much more confident do you feel having more control over your workload?
How much are you not missing all the pointless meeting you used to have to go to?
How much nicer has it been getting to know your neighbours a little better (from a distance)?
Those are just some of the positives working from home can bring you all year around.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, please share it with your friends. Or tweet me and let me know how you are getting on with balancing work life and family life!
After two years of freelancing while keeping an eye out for vacancies with permanent jobs, I made a big decision at the end of last year – to commit completely to becoming self-employed.
Having submitted countless applications, only to never hear back or find I’d been unsuccessful, I became fed up of going for roles that weren’t 100% suited to me.
The final straw came after an interview in Bradford for a marketing job at a law firm.
I got back into my car, frustrated because I felt it had gone awfully, and ranted to myself all the way home about what a ridiculous waste of time it had all been.
‘I don’t want to work in f***ing Bradford anyway. What am I even doing here?’
Once I got home, I settled down to focus on my freelance work and answered an email from a client asking for support on setting up a Twitter account.
What he needed was a bit of confidence for posting things and putting himself out there – something I feel totally at home providing for others.
That was when I realised – it was time I put a stop to trying to find work at a large, faceless company, and time I put everything into working freelance, for a variety of clients where I could make a difference.
Since then, I genuinely haven’t looked back. I’m absolutely loving the freelance life, not least because it allows me to fit my career around having a young, growing family. I’m honestly getting the best of all worlds.
So, today I wanted to celebrate the freelance lifestyle by sharing my story, and those of others, to show the world just how great it is (and also how flipping hard we all work!).
Catherine Gladwyn, Delegate VA
It’s enabled me to adjust to a life of medication, fatigue and lots of hospital visits following a brain tumour.
It’s enabled me to learn things I’d never have learnt as an employee (and I’ve still never needed to put anyone in a sling!).
It’s enabled me to earn more than I could’ve ever earned in my home town, unless I was willing to be stressed out 24/7.
Berenice Smith, Hello Lovely Graphic Design
I went freelance to make a change in my life after failed IVF and recurrent miscarriages.
It’s meant I’ve had time to explore my grief and create opportunities to support others who are childless, not by choice, and may need an empathetic designer for their ‘Plan B’.
Freelancing has enabled me to have the time to be creative and relieve the artist in me, it’s created a reprieve from the anxiety and depression a committed role seems to bring me.
Freelancing allowed me to actually be able to work and contribute financially to our household.
My son is disabled and returning to work full-time wasn’t an option due to me being his primary carer – there’s no such thing as childcare in school holidays for kids like mine!
Being able to freelance as a Facebook Ads Manager also helped massively with my mental health and enabled me to feel like a useful member of society again.
It’s allowed me to work around chronic illness (endometriosis), to carve out and financially support time for my own writing, to build a thriving business of creative writing courses and workshops at affordable prices, to charge what I’m worth as an editor, and to evolve the shape of my life.
I’ve been able to skip the worst of recession through remote working, reduce food waste, manage stress breakdowns and support myself when housebound.
Being freelance enabled me to work around my kids – I’m lucky enough to have been able to walk them to and from school every day, get to their sports days and afternoon events, take them to their out of school activities, etc.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to share their childhood with them, when many parents I know aren’t able to.
I have a rebellious streak and little patience for corporate bulls***, which is why, ultimately, I had to get out of the regular world of work.
From an early age I knew I’d end up self-employed. I’m happier, more productive, more fulfilled and receive 100% reward for my hard work. No money in the world can make up for corporate politics.
Having worked in a corporate role, feeling massively undervalued and belittled, I suffered a burnout which meant three months of work.
I had time to re-evaluate what on earth I was doing and for what purpose, my children were pushed to the side as I fought for a career that was not actually serving me in any way.
I planned my exit and got a part-time role in a new industry, now I’m setting up a recruitment business.
I feel completely different: my confidence is returning and there’s no looking back.
Sarah Johnson, Flourish Retail
I became a freelancer mostly to work around my kids, I’m lucky I can be there before and after school. But what has really changed my life is that I can help other businesses.
Something which in the corporate retail world might have been standard practice, can have an instant impact for small brands and it’s amazing to see how my merchandising skills can help others.
I’m also now able to give back, helping other merchandisers come into the world of freelance, giving them the flexibility that I enjoy.
I’ve walked my kids to and from school most days, my eldest has just started high school. You can’t buy that time back.
But it has also allowed me to say ‘yes’ – to after-school clubs, friends round, activities in school and all kinds of different and interesting work.
I have done a bit of contract work following regular office hours and I’ve really noticed the lack of flexibility.
Freelancing makes our family work, it’s as simple as that!
Lucy Whitehall, Transform and Thrive
I always knew I would run my own business one day, after too many years on the corporate merry-go-round that led to burnout and depression.
I can now combine my experience and expertise from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines, instead of feeling boxed in by one dimensional descriptions of what I do and who I am.
I have a strong desire for autonomy, developing new business opportunities and earning my own money (vs lining the pockets of VC’s and corporates).
I feel like I can support my clients much more effectively now, using my own judgement rather than having to go through hurdles of decision making by people who may not necessarily know what they’re talking about or who feel they need to follow ‘process and procedure’.
The flexibility freelancing offers me almost goes without saying.
Many thanks to the members of the Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group for sharing their incredibly inspiring experiences, what an amazing bunch of people that goes to prove what huge talent there is out there in the freelance world.
If you’re a freelancer or thinking of taking the plunge, I’d highly recommend joining the group - it’s a really supportive forum that offers support, advice and just general pep talks whenever needed!
Working from home has many positive sides, especially if you’re a parent. But one of the drawbacks is that you can become a lot less active.
You’d have thought it would be easier to fit in an exercise routine when your time is your own, but it’s not always that easy. For me, there is a need to prove to the world that I work just as hard as everyone who's in an office all day, so I always feel guilty for taking any kind of break.
On top of that, it’s amazing the difference not having a daily commute has made to my fitness. The short walk from my flat to the train station, the train station to the office and then back again at the end of the day, all added up to a decent amount of walking.
But when you’re at home, the furthest you walk is to the kitchen to make your lunch and it can be so easy to spend all day sat behind your laptop… before you know it, it’s 4 o’clock and time to collect the baby from nursery – which you do by car to save time. Well, I do anyway!
I’ve been through a few exercise ‘fads’ since becoming a freelancer and have always enjoyed the benefit of getting out of the house and blowing away the cobwebs. Couch to 5k is a favourite of mine and something I plan to go back to next year, while the Wii Fit suited me because it removed the excuse of ‘oh, but it’s too cold outside’.
So, why can’t I follow these keep fit routines consistently?
The truth is, there’s always something that gets in the way. It’s part and parcel of being a working parent, life is busy and you have no control over what happens with your child from one week to the next.
Illness crops up, or a bad night’s sleep. You’ll have an appointment to go to or some housework that needs doing. Even on your busiest of weeks, the children have to come first - that’s just the way it is.
Then there’s work. As a freelancer, it’s easy to ‘over-service’ a client because you want to do a good job. You set yourself stringent hours to follow, but sometimes something unplanned comes up that you need to get done there and then. Again, exercise has to take a back foot.
For that reason, I’ve never been able to justify the cost of signing up for a gym. I worry I’ll be paying all that money every month, but won’t ever be able to make the most of the membership.
So, when I was offered the chance to try out Pudsey Leisure Centre’s facilities for free for a month I jumped at it.
Would I be able to change my routine enough to fit in exercise, or would I end up realising I was right all along and, while I’m a parent of young children, it’s just not worth it?
I turned up in my jeans and t-shirt, expecting just to be shown the different machines. But the staff member I met was really friendly and spent more time with me than I imagined. We chatted while I had a go on everything and got to know how to use the equipment.
Helpfully, he also created a plan for me to follow every time I visited. It can be so daunting going to the gym for the first time, wanting to do a work-out that makes a difference but not wanting to push yourself so much, so having this was a great starting point.
I decided to go twice a week to begin with, perhaps once in the gym and once in the swimming pool because the membership here covers both, as well as giving you access to all the classes they have to offer.
I returned the next day in better attire and got straight to work on the treadmill. ‘I’ll just have ten minutes walking on here, don’t want to push myself on the first go’, I said – only to find it was really easy going and I went a little faster and for a little longer than planned. Go me!
I followed that up with some time on the bike and rowing machine and even a short go on the cross trainer – I do not like the cross trainer!
The whole trip to the gym made me feel good: I was happy to be out of the house and happy to not be looking at my computer or phone screen for an hour. It was the one time that week I was truly doing something for myself and it was nice to put work on the back burner for a bit.
Plans to head back for another session went out of the window when I found I hadn’t done as much work as I wanted to. Immediately, I felt like the couple of hours I’d spent at the gym were to blame, even though they weren’t.
Mum guilt kicked in, so I stayed at home and got through my to-do list.
I did manage a session on the final day of the week, though.
My son, who’s almost three, goes to nursery for four days a week, but I’ve always insisted on us having a ‘Harry and Mummy day’ on Friday. I assumed this would mean no time for working out – but actually it ended up 'working out' quite well going up to the gym once my partner, Luke, got back from work.
It was great to give myself a bit of a break from parenting ahead of having a full weekend with him. I love my son, he is my favourite person in the world, but he’s also an absolute arse sometimes so giving my head a break was beneficial.
I didn’t manage to go earlier in the week as I planned, work was so busy and I felt like the house was a mess. By the time I'd worked out my to-do list, my day was full with no room for more. I started to wonder if it really is possible to balance it all – work, family, home... and health?
But, I was also conscious the pressure I was putting on myself to do it all would not be worth it. Exercise can be so good for your mental health, but not if you’re making yourself feel bad for doing it.
For my own peace of mind, I resolved to focus on work and the worst parts of the house (the mountain of washing that I was struggling to get dry because we turned the heating off the week before), and let myself off the gym hook.
Having got down my list… well, mostly… I nipped to the leisure centre for a short session and was so glad I did. Clare, who arranged my free pass, was there and we had a little catch up, which cheered me up no end.
It’s another drawback of working from home – some days the lack of human interaction can make you very lonely. So, being able to go up to a community space where you know you’ll be welcomed is a good thing and made me want to keep coming back.
Claire and I had a laugh because I came out in a top that was stained from the bolognaise I’d had at lunch. Only a little bit, but it was almost enough to make me not want come out at all – it's amazing how many different silly excuses I came out with over these four weeks.
On Monday, Harry came home from nursery with a funny tummy and we were subjected to the dreaded 48-hour rule. ‘No problem’, thought I, ‘I’ll just pop on a film and get some work done while he watches that’. Yeah, right.
Tuesday morning rolled round and Luke was ill too, so I had both of them to look after. I decided to focus on the ‘absolutely must be done’ tasks for work, balancing Harry on one knee while I did them.
Come Wednesday I was shattered. Harry was fine in himself, running amok and causing chaos, but his nappies were still not back to normal and I realised I was going to have to keep him home for another day.
By Thursday, it had all become too much, I was behind with my work and I couldn't get any of it done with a toddler tearing round the house.
I bemoaned the crappy 48-hour rule, I bemoaned the fact that being the Mum meant I was the one who had to miss out on work. I bemoaned the fact I’d been so rushed off my feet I was now feeling ill myself.
To be honest, that week was so rough, the thought of going to the gym barely crossed my mind. I’m a firm believer in self-care, but when family life hits a hiccup like this, something has to give.
By the following week I had a back log of work that really needed to be finished and, having hit a low point with my mental health, on the Thursday I put all thoughts of exercise to one side. I needed to focus on removing the things that were causing me stress and then going back to square one with my routine.
That month, I truly felt the benefits from getting out and exercising and I’m sure I’ll get back on it again one day. But, I’ve also realised that we working parents have enough going on and adding the pressure of trying to get fit or lose weight is just one too many.
That said, the membership prices at Pudsey Leisure Centre are reasonable. You can use the membership card at other centres too, so it’s easy to fit the Active Leeds lifestyle into your own. At £25 a month, just one visit a week means you’re getting your money back.
I know what I needed was a boost to get me going, so I’m excited to be able to offer my followers that same kick up the bum today. For those of you based in Leeds, Clare Brooke is able to offer a seven-day pass for free. Just give her a call on: 0113 336 7686
Give me a shout if you do go up – I’ll pop along and keep you company if you like… assuming we haven’t been hit by some kind of family lurgy again!
It’s been great to see the public support for Mental Health Awareness Week, so many people have bravely shared their stories of depression, anxiety and more in the hope that it will help others.
Sometimes it feels to me that ‘mental health’ has become something of a ‘buzzword’. It’s great to pop on a leaflet that you focus on your employees’ mental health, but do employers really take meaningful action to support those who are struggling?
Clearly, based on the stories I've read this week, there are a lot of good managers doing some really good work to make sure their teams look after their mental health as much as they will look after their physical health.
Mental health problems in the UK cost businesses almost £35 billion a year in sick pay, an astonishing amount. Topics like ‘burnout’ and ‘work/life balance’ are always being discussed, and yet they can easily be addressed and solved.
So, how can organisations make changes within their culture that will actually encourage make a difference?
As a Mum of one, working as a freelance social media manager for a variety of clients – it’s strange to think how much my life has changed in the last three years. When I was ten weeks pregnant in 2016, I was made redundant from the first ‘secure’ job I’d ever had and it threw me into a spin.
I sort of muddled through I think, trying to balance my new life as a Mum with this burning desire to get back to work and sort out my career. I really missed being employed and hated the thought of every minute of my day being about having a child – I needed something for me.
Once my son, Harry, had been born I looked into ways I could return to work and – thankfully – found freelance roles with two PR agencies (Turner PR, who specialise in the charity sector, and Chocolate PR, who are based in Leeds).
Social media management was a completely new path for me, but one I’d wanted to take for years, having been involved in a few campaigns in my previous role. I found myself working through the agencies with a variety of clients and learning a lot in a short space of time.
This, the lingering anger over losing my old job and balancing a family life that I really didn’t think I was any good at, started to become too much for me. After a particularly bad week where I’d had some negative feedback from a client, I had a meltdown in the middle of a street in York.
I knew then that I needed help; so, after a visit to the doctor I self-referred to the Leeds IAPT service and was lucky enough to be booked on for CBT within just a few weeks. I began taking anti-depressants too, which I’ve since been able to come off with no side effects.
The reason I’m sharing this story is that a huge step in my recovery was being able to reach out to my employers and tell them what was wrong. So many people are too scared open up to their boss in case it leads to being discriminated against.
That needs to change.
So, what do employers need to change to help support everyone’s mental health?
Encourage an open dialogue between employees and their line manager:
After being diagnosed with PND, I knew it would be important to share this with my manager, Jenny Turner. When I picked up the phone to call her I was nervous, but I needn’t have been.
The conversation was supportive and kind, she made it clear to me that my health was the priority and we made some changes that would enable me to continue working. Just a few weeks before I had felt my only option was to quit, so this was a huge relief.
Check in regularly:
This is particularly important when you work remotely, as all of us do at Turner PR. We are a busy team, but Jenny and her partner Lucinda place a lot of value on making time for a phone call that asks, ‘are you okay?’
Most importantly, they genuinely care about the answer and I think it’s so important that businesses make that a core part of their culture.
Allow them to work the hours that suit their lifestyle:
Having flexible hours is the main reason I decided to work as a freelancer, they not only allow me a Friday off to spend with my son, they also allow me to focus on my mental health. If I’m feeling low on any given day, it’s possible for me to take a couple of hours away from work, I might have a nap or take myself somewhere nice* for lunch (*for ‘nice’, read McDonald’s!).
With my head clear, I come back to my laptop and do what needs to be done far more efficiently. It is my firm belief that all companies should offer this, because both they and their staff will feel the benefits.
Offer flexibility in other ways, so changes can be made when people are struggling:
After I reached out to Jenny for help, she was able to say to me, ‘take a step back and focus on doing only what you can manage’. Offering flexibility at work shouldn’t just be about the amount of hours staff work – it should also be about allowing them to say ‘no’ to anything they don’t feel comfortable doing.
All too often I hear people with depression saying they can’t refuse work, even though it is making their condition worse. More managers should respect and support an employee’s right to choose.
When someone says, ‘I’m fine’, don’t just leave it at that:
I’ll never forget the head of department in my old job taking the time to discuss why I was struggling with my workload. We discussed how to manage projects in a better way, sure, but she also asked me if I was okay and gave me encouragement to reassure me I was doing well, even though I didn’t think I was.
As it transpired, I had an underlying problem with anxiety and I wish to this day the company had given us all more space to address things like this.
Give regular, positive feedback:
The main thing that served my anxiety and depression was a constant feeling that I’m not very good at what I do and I’ll never amount to anything. Fast forward a couple of years and I’ve been in receipt of some lovely feedback from clients.
The Adult ADHD Channel, in particular, have been great at taking the time to let me know how pleased they are with the content I’ve produced and it genuinely lifts my mood daily. It’s a quick thing that we can all do, and it does make a difference!
Support your teams with their own personal goals:
I know you want your business to make money, but you can’t expect that to be the main driver for each of your employees too. Find out what their dreams are and ask how working for you can help them achieve that, this will breed loyalty and a renewed motivation at work.
I recently began working with a wonderful company called GPS Return and decided to inform them early on that I am currently pregnant with my second child. Managing Partner Simon could not have been more supportive, he was genuinely excited for me and I swear that has added to the loyalty I feel to his company.
If you’re doing all these things… well done. Now shout about it and lead the way for others:
There is still a damaging attitude that mental health issues cause problems for business and it is the employees who need to fix the problem. Actually, the responsibility lies with the employer to help their staff prevent things from becoming so bad they can no longer work.
What have you done this week to make sure your teams are okay? And don’t forget to ‘check-in’ with yourself too!
‘Working remotely has made me a monster’, reads the intriguing opening line to Jo Ellison’s Financial Times article on remote working.
In a sea of reports claiming that flexible working is more productive, less stressful and increasingly the most important thing we ‘millennials’ seek in a job, Jo’s piece certainly goes against the tide.
To me, it reads like the brain dump of someone who is clearly rushed off her feet and very good at her job – written perhaps after a frustrating week where she is craving the greener grass of the ‘simpler’ office environment.
I feel your pain Jo: remote working does have its challenges. But it has its advantages too and I’d like to take you through them:
Whether you're working from home or working remotely – it’s all hard work.
Firstly, kudos to you for having such a successful career as a reporter. As someone who’s wanted to be a journalist since her teens, you are the type of woman I look up to and the fact you’re doing it with children is just - wow.
Being a reporter is an incredibly hard job with lots of running around, feeling like a headless chicken. But I don't believe being out of the office is what's making your time so challenging: whether you’re submitting work using the free WiFi at Wetherspoons or sat at your desk with your colleague next to you – it will remain a tough job to do.
By its very essence, your career requires you to be able work while out and about. Becoming accustomed to remote working and having adaptable hours does not cause the stress in this role, in fact it should help take some pressure off.
Not working in the same office doesn’t mean you’re not working in the same team.
So, what about if the whole team is working remotely, doesn’t that make it harder to get things done? You certainly seem to think so, Jo, but as someone who works as part of several teams like this, I know that not to be the case.
It takes time to get used to this set-up, sure, but it is amazing what a difference can be made by allowing everybody to work hours that suit their life, the trust and respect you have for one another grows quickly.
It's important to make sure you set aside time for 'catch-ups', to update each other on what you’re doing and run ideas past one another. We often find ourselves 'brainstorming' during phone calls, and it's even important to just make sure you’re all okay.
In my experience, this is something that often gets overlooked when you're working together for 40, busy hours a week - so there is an argument to say that communication has improved since I branched out on my own.
For me, working remotely has seen an end to the pointless, hour-long meetings, where nothing actually gets decided, followed by a round of emails with the agenda typed up by some poor sod who drew the short straw and some ignoramus only then deciding to raise an important issue... so you have to arrange yet another meeting.
Being away from each other makes us, in my opinion, more succinct in our work and more organised. You plan your time more efficiently because you know you aren’t going to be able to just lean across your desk to ask a question, or change your mind on what you’re doing.
What’s more, once you’ve had those catch-up calls you can go away and get the job done. When I was in an office, I’d get back from a meeting and there’d be someone waiting at my desk to ask me a question. POOF – the moment was gone, the ideas and motivation I had evaporated in a second.
Remote working promotes independence and the chance to show your own initiative, you place a real trust that everyone in your team will get their job done. I thrive so much better when someone shows that faith in me, instead of having someone looking over my shoulder all the time.
What makes remote working work best? Good communication.
I actually prefer talking via email because it gives you a trail that you can follow. When you’ve done your work, you can go back through it and check you’ve done everything that is being asked of you.
Jo, you mention in your piece that emails have become short and reduced to emojis. But, in my opinion, that might not be a bad thing - no-one appreciates a rambling, self-absorbed waffle when a few lines will do. Instead, write down what they need to know, add in a 'hope you're well, because we all appreciate manners, and it's job done.
And if you really don’t like emails, there’s plenty of other options like Slack, WhatsApp... the list goes on. We’re in an fast-changing, digital world, where new ideas appear every-day to help you with your work - there’s no excuse really for not finding something to make your life easier.
I’m a slave for you, my phone.
What this regular communication does mean, is a deluge of notifications on your phone. Sometimes emails are just so hard to ignore, and it’s even worse for me because, as a Social Media Consultant, I’ve got the little Twitter icon constantly popping up too.
But Jo, I’m afraid this has got nothing to do with remote working either – the answer, actually, lies in finding a system that works for you.
I was given the sound advice to be more disciplined on checking my emails. It’s incredibly tempting to read and reply as soon as they come in, but that breaks the flow of your work and makes you less productive.
So, I try to follow the lead of a recruitment agent I know who checks his emails twice a day, once at lunchtime and once at close of play. I’d be lying if I said I don’t keep an eye out for any coming in from my boss – but in general it’s a great rule to keep.
And in the evening, when I am focusing on being with my son and partner, I make an effort to put my phone away. The other day, my two-year old son Harry took it off me saying ‘phone away’ and I think that was the stab in the heart I needed to break the habit of having it constantly attached to my hand.
Whatever it is that’s popping up on your phone really can wait, the world isn’t going to fall apart if it doesn't hear from you until the morning... and if it's really important, they'll call.
Work/life balance: the holy grail.
Which leads me on to my next point – family time.
For so many of us, remote working with flexible hours is the answer to being able to spend more time with your family, to stave of the guilt off being a working parent, while also keeping up that career that you've worked so hard for.
I’m sad to hear, Jo, that you haven’t experienced the benefit of that yet - there is no worse feeling than having your child right next to you and not being able to give them your full attention.
Recently, I was speaking to a friend who works in local media and he too has struggled to find the balance between an amazing career and spending time with his young child. The hours are long and the travelling tiring – meaning he doesn't get to be with her for as long as he'd like.
Having struggled with PND last year, I made a commitment to allocating Fridays for me and my son. In cutting the working week by a day, I am able to switch off my laptop and have special time with him. Because, after all, being a Mum is more important than the rest of it.
Believe me, making a commitment to keeping family and work time separate is a challenge, and I understand that this isn’t always going to be possible for you because of your job. But when there are times that you can do it, you should definitely take advantage, it’s totally worth the few drawbacks of remote working.
This plan doesn't always run smoothly every week, the picture on this blog is from two Fridays ago when I needed to get some content scheduled for a client. It was a short job, so I popped on Lightning McQueen to distract my toddler...
Do you know what he did? He came and sat next to me, he passed me our blanket to put over both our knees and he held my hand. I continued my work, one-handed, while he watched the film, talking to me about it the whole time.
It took twice as long as it should have, but Harry and I had our morning together and he knew I was there for him. He’s going to grow up knowing that his Mummy sometimes has to work, but that she does it because she’s committed to providing him with a good life, and a good female role model.
Go a little easy on yourself, Jo, because while your kids see you on a laptop they’ll be seeing the same thing too.
The one thing I do miss? An IT department.
There is one thing about remote working I would love to change...
Last week, my computer decided to go on strike on the Wednesday afternoon – annoyingly I was just about to finish work for the week as it was half term and I had family staying. After trying the old ‘switch it off and on again’ method a few times, I gave up and decided to leave it to ‘rest’ overnight.
Thursday came and went, and it wasn’t much better, so in the evening I decided to download an anti-virus and see if that helped. It didn’t… until the next morning when, for some, reason, it finally clicked into action (I think the anti-virus had updated) and I was able to do the last couple of hours work I needed to do.
I HATE it when this happens. I rue the day I decided to work from home and long for the IT team that I used to be able to pop and see whenever something went wrong with my computer.
But, you really do learn to adapt - just like you do when making better use of emails and blocking out time for family. When I was moving house I didn’t have broadband for 3 days, and had to spend all of them working at the nearest Wetherspoons – so it wasn’t too bad!
Remote working a cruel and misleading concept? Jo, with respect, you’re just doing it wrong.
And so, we come to the paragraph that compelled me to write this piece:
‘Has there ever been a concept as cruel and misleading as remote working. 81% believe it would be more productive. What rubbish. The allure of working is a myth built on a lie. The fantasy of slopping around in your pyjamas and being there to see your children? Total nonsense. You half see them over your laptop, as they wonder why you’re always sat at your computer. And then the geography of the office assumes an endless horizon from which there is zero escape.’
As fantastically written as this is, I'm compelled to disagree with the sentiment.
You claim you’re working three times as hard now than when you worked in an office, but I just can’t relate to this I’m afraid. Without a shadow of a doubt, my productivity has improved since I started working from home. And, for the most part, my confidence too.
I can plan my own day, I don’t have to work to other people’s meeting schedules, and I’m not constantly being interrupted by someone coming over to my desk to ask me some inane question.
I used to take my iPod in purely so I could stick my headphones on and shut out the world when I needed to. Tracy and Sharon opposite talking about their weekend plans, Derek asking me to go and approve some artwork, Jo pulling me from my desk to show my face at a meeting that I really didn’t need to attend. (*names are hypothetical!)
When I’m at home I have none of that, I can zone out and focus on the task in hand and it’s honestly the best work I’ve ever done. I get that it’s not suited to everyone, but for me, remote working and flexible hours has been a life-changer - which is why I'm so passionate about making sure anyone who wants that option can have it.
So, Jo, please don’t project your experiences on to others, especially those of us who are working hard to make flexible working an option for all.
Jo’s article can be found here.
The hardest thing about being made redundant is the feeling of having absolutely no control over what is happening to you.
It’s not often you find yourself in that situation and when the thing you’ve lost control of is basically the most important thing in your life, your career, it’s really difficult to take in.
The day it happened to me is still so clear in my mind, despite it being almost three years ago. I still feel like I’m reliving the moment my boss called me to the little room in the far corner of the office.
He said to me, “please don’t worry Amy, it will all be okay”.
“You have no idea”, I wanted to scream at him. This was nothing short of a disaster for me.
He wasn’t to know that I was eleven weeks pregnant at the time and terrified about the effect the stress of that day would have on my unborn child.
Such was the shock of that experience; I had nightmares about it for many months afterwards. I still think about it now, as I lay in bed at night, and each time I do my blood runs cold.
Redundancy affects people in so many different ways:
I knew I would eventually become the latter, I just couldn’t work out how I was going to get to that point. Things could have been far worse, I knew others who had mortgages to pay and children to feed, but that didn’t take away from the pain I was feeling. It was all so unfair.
You see, when I finished university nearly 10 years ago, my move into the working world sadly coincided with the country going into a recession. After that, my career path went somewhat ‘off track’.
I took on various jobs, from supervising in a restaurant to looking through people’s bins (with their permission, obviously!), but none of the roles offered any opportunities to develop. That was until I got my first permanent job and the first that paid over £20,000 a year (for a graduate it seemed ludicrous that I had been on no more than £16,000 until I was almost thirty).
The position not only brought with it a chance to use my skills but also the peace of mind that I had a secure job that I could start using to plan long term. Waiting to be in this position was the main reason I had held off so long to start a family and being so settled was the main reason I chose to go ahead with the pregnancy.
When I lost my job I didn’t just lose my income: I lost my plans for the future and all the pride I felt for the hard work I’d done. All that effort seemed to count for nothing and I was terrified to face that uphill struggle for employment all over again.
The world was passing me by.
When I look back on that day now I always picture myself being thrown off a moving train: I’m safe at the side of the tracks, but watching the world continue to pass me by and I don’t really know how to get back on.
For a while that’s exactly how being made redundant felt: life was the blur of a fast moving train. I couldn’t think coherently and, to be honest, I didn’t want to because there was so much to process.
For the first few days I just felt numb. I couldn’t do anything useful, I don’t think I even used social media (if you know me, you’ll know what a big deal that was!).
I couldn’t go back to my own flat which I’d moved into just six months before, it hurt too much. Moving there had been the start of a wonderful new life for me: a settled life where I was finally living in a place I loved, close to a job that was helping me develop.
My head was spinning and I just needed to be somewhere different, somewhere I could cut myself off from everyday life. Luckily for me, I had an incredibly supportive partner who asked me to move in with him straight away.
But, while he was at work it was very lonely and as much as I tried to distract myself with chocolate and box-sets of my favourite TV series, no amount of Ross Poldark could take my mind off what happened.
So many people have said to me, “it’s not personal, you mustn’t think it is something you did wrong”. But I just can’t seem to agree with them, no matter how much I think about it.
I have always been a great believer in hard graft, often complimented on my ability to get my head down and just ‘do what needs to be done’. I was never one to play games or boast about what I had achieved, I just got on with it.
For months I beat myself up about this, I was forced to question everything I had done and, worse, everything I believed in. I hated that I had allowed myself to be walked over, for years I had watched people being tactical with the jobs they chose to do and the people they chose to work with, but I always shied away from that approach.
You spend quite a bit of time feeling resentful of the people that are left behind too, why me and not them? How had my approach to work been the one that was wrong? It made me question huge parts of my own personality.
You see, when I was made redundant, something shifted in me. A part of me will never be the same, the part that trusted people and tried to put the needs of others first.
With a little help from my friends…
There was one good thing to come from all of this: I was humbled by the way my closest friends rallied round to help me through the fallout. My lovely partner Luke is included in that.
My best friends told me to write a list of all the things I would be able to do now I didn’t have to trudge into the office every day. And so I did: top of the list were ‘spend a week with my parents’, ‘find places to go for walks’ and ‘get back to writing’.
I looked around Luke’s flat with Captain Ross smiling toplessly at me from the television screen and literally felt my vision start to become less blurry, my head less fuzzy.
As things stood, I had no idea what was going to happen next but I did know it would all work out okay, it had to. Having my list to focus on didn’t stop the hurt I was feeling, but it helped a little to clear the way to better times.
Without thinking about it, I felt myself reach down to my tummy, placing a protective hand on the bump that hadn’t yet started to show. In the mess of all that was going on, there was only one thing that really mattered.
This blog was first published in January 2017, it was the first piece I wrote and the inspiration for Mum Full of Dreams. I have come such a long way since then, and there is still a long way to go! I hope you will join me on the rest of my journey.
After I was made redundant, the days seemed to pass in a blur. My moods swung from anger to despair, exaggerated I’m sure by the hormones racing round my 11 week pregnant body.
I couldn’t think straight because I didn’t really know what to do next. Should I be snapping into action and looking for a new job straight away? Or, could I be permitted to mope around for a little while?
Having suddenly had all this free time imposed on me, I found myself pulling together endless ‘to-do lists’. There were things that I knew I needed to do, but importantly there were also things that I simply wanted to do.
Some jobs were a priority: moving out of the flat where I had settled just six months before, signing off the paperwork for the redundancy and telling people what had happened.
The first to receive that call: my parents.
I’ve been made redundant, what do I do now?
My partner and I had decided to wait until after Christmas and New Year before revealing the exciting news that my folks would soon be welcoming their first grandchild. But, losing my job had added a horrible complication to that plan, now I had to explain I had also lost my job.
Both pieces of news would be a shock and I was scared they would be worried about me.
I needn’t have been, of course: My Mum was ecstatic, I could tell she was concerned about how I would cope with a little one and no job, but it was obvious she was over the moon! My Dad was more subdued, absorbing the news carefully before offering me sensible advice, as is his way.
One thing they have always said to me is that if ever need them I can always go and stay with them. This was definitely one of those times.
You see, my parents, who have always taught me to strive for my dreams, live in the beautiful county of Cornwall. Leading by example, a few years ago they fulfilled their lifelong dream of moving to a seaside home near the harbour town where they shared their honeymoon.
When I hopped on a train to the south coast it was ‘off-season’ down there, perfect for what I needed: some peace and quiet and time to get my head together. Being a Daddy’s girl, a week spent with him visiting beautiful places like Chapel Porth beach and the Eden Project was ideal.
In my short time away I learned how important it is to have some proper ‘time off’. I began to understand the need to have time away from work, the monotony of house chores and the daily grind of the commute.
This was the first time I hadn’t thought about what was going on in the office for months, probably even years. There was no quickly checking my emails to make sure I wasn’t overwhelmed by them on my return to the desk. There was no obsessing with the social media feeds to see if they had featured any of my latest work.
The only thing I thought about was me, and boy did it felt good!
When was the last time you took a ‘proper’ holiday?
I think we are all guilty of not using our holidays for actually taking time out. We never just use our days off for relaxing and doing nothing. For some reason, we believe showing resilience and working tirelessly on any given task is the way to prove our worth.
But, if you have no time to rest, how can you expect to be at your best?
My week away unexpectedly served to give me a lot of clarity on the job I had just left. Frustratingly, I found I had new ideas about how to make projects in my old job a success, a fresh perspective on the problems we had been having and sensible theories on how I thought those could be resolved.
It was too little too late for me, but hopefully a lesson to others that taking a week away from it all really can make you a better worker. This new found focus wasn’t wasted though, it brought me the opportunity for a fresh start.
In my quest for a stable job that would allow me to pay off my debts and have my own family, I had lost sight of what it was I actually wanted to achieve in my career. I realised this about six months before and, the truth is, I had been looking to change jobs. I wanted to make better use of my skills and do more of the things I enjoy.
Now, I knew that redundancy could get me back on track and started to wonder if this could be the chance to work on the writing career I have always wanted. I honestly think this holiday saved me from the fallout of my redundancy; it gave me the space I needed to be able to cope.
The anger about losing my job lessened. It was still there, but I could reason with it.
The grief for the loss of the life I had planned, turned to hope that I could now begin a new, more exciting one.
With my head clear, I could build a plan of action for what to do next. I formed a list of things I needed to do to stabilise my working life, both before and after my new baby arrived. These were things I had simply not been able to think about at home, while my head was still spinning from what had happened.
And I guess that is the reason I’m writing this post. To say to you – please, take some time out.
If you’ve lost your job, or you no longer enjoy it, or if you’re feeling totally burned out – take a week off work and get out of town. The space you’ll give yourself will work wonders.
This post first appeared in January 2017.