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Civil Service

Be a parent or pursue a career? I choose to do both

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A great place to work, Diversity and inclusion, Smarter working

Five years ago, on 15 March 2013, my life changed. It was the day my gorgeous daughter Eila was born.

Before that day, my energies and focus had revolved around myself, really. Of course, I knew that my life would change, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much: nappies, burp cloths, milk powder, folding prams, high-chairs and tears. My goodness, lots of tears – some of them Eila’s!

Four years on, Eila has grown into a walking, talking, fully functioning human being and she is still very much in charge. Like most kids, she is on an exciting journey, with the slowly unfolding wondrous possibilities of the world before her – nursery school, birthday parties, trips to the park, swimming lessons and so on.

I feel a bit like a combination of butler, servant, cleaner, valet, private tutor and personal comedian. But, demanding though it is, being a parent for most of us remains only one of many priorities in our lives. We still need to earn a buck and continue our own personal journey through life.

Things are changing

I am pleased to belong to a generation where dads are playing more of a role in childcare. For my dad, and his dad, their role was seen to be the breadwinner. In many ways this was unfair to mums, but to the dads too. Long hours spent at work meant only rare sightings of my dad when I was a child. I believe that things are now changing for the better. I would do anything for little Eila, but I am also proud of my career. I am lucky to have the support from my manager and workplace to ensure that parenting isn’t a binary choice between being a perfect parent and pursuing a fulfilling career.

Father and young daughter on river boat
Jamie with Eila

And I am proud to say that where I work – the Government Property Unit – was one of the pioneers of Smarter Working, a policy that has helped empower the way I live my life. It has already helped change the lives of thousands of civil servants, and I am pleased to say will continue to do so. These principles are now enshrined within the next generation of Civil Service workplaces – government hubs, offering flexible working environments and world-class IT that allow people to work more productively from a variety of locations, rather than being tied to one place.

Technology has facilitated this new way of working. We now equip the person, rather than the office. I can now work from my home, nearby café or in the lobbies of other departments on my laptop, or check my emails on the mobile phone during the commute or on my way to meetings. And, to me the most important thing – provided I meet my objectives – I have the ability to choose how, when and where I work. This is a choice that just wasn’t available to my father.

My choice is respected

And no, I’m not expected at, or frowned upon for not making, breakfast meetings because people know that at that time I’m rushing to the school gate. Nor am I criticised if I have to leave early one afternoon to do the picking up. People respect my choice – not because of charity, sympathy or a desire to be politically correct, but because I deliver, and I do so in an environment that is focused on outcomes and not process. And where the environment encourages everyone to work flexibly, I don’t stand out.

I will go above and beyond for my manager, my team and my department because I know they will support me.

I am a dad and I have a rewarding role in the Cabinet Office. Thanks to the progressive, flexible working policies of the Civil Service, I can be proud of both.

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'Taking shared parental leave can give parents a real opportunity to enjoy the early months of their children’s lives. The Civil Service goes beyond the statutory minimum provision and offers an occupational rate of pay for some of this leave.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is running a national campaign to encourage more people to consider #sharetheleave.

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  1. Comment by Andrea Ronan posted on

    Brilliant Blog Jamie - thanks for sharing. We are making great strides in flexible working across the Civil Service - I work in HMRC - CDIO Digital and we are embedding this into our culture. I have a team working in a very flexible way to meet their needs and the needs of the business, and it really does make a difference to them and to me too. I feel we are all in a much happier place 🙂 it does help that we love our job though.....

  2. Comment by Angela posted on

    What a wonderful story but unfortunately, the support of home working is not afforded everywhere in DWP. Like many of the comments here, home working is not embraced or even considered an option unless you are a senior manager or suffer illness. Is this being equal to all? Many staff, during times of stress, whether short or long term should be afforded the same opportunity to address home life balance and well being.

  3. Comment by G posted on

    Great article.

    I myself work on the frontline for the HO, working shifts around a 24hr business need. I have a young son and have been fortunate to arrange a flexible working pattern with my senior manager. I am grateful for this opportunity which allows me to be involved in the day to day role of being a dad. A child needs both parents just as much as each other as both play an equal role. I am delighted to be able to bond with my son while he is young and changing day by day.

    I hope that once the HO catches up with the IT (currently outlook 2007) of other govt depts the opportunity for smarter working in non front line jobs will increase and not only for senior managers.

    It would be interesting to see some productivity/sickness/stress level stats of smarter working Vs office based working. Or even some details of govt depts who offer smarter working so we know where to apply to in future 🙂

  4. Comment by J posted on

    It's encouraging to see that some areas of the Civil Service trust and empower their staff to do this.

    In HMRC with the move to Regional Centres, the time spent outside of the home by those individuals who choose to move will get even greater, regardless of the age or size of their family and commitments. In the same way, the cost of building/maintaining the new buildings is already sizeable in comparison to the money that could be saved in allowing this sort of flexibility around working elsewhere/at home. The technology is there in the form of Surface Pros and work mobile phones,why not use it for the good of the department?

    In recent years I have carried out remote roles within my department and on each occasion asked for the tools to allow me to manage myself and the work that I was doing without the need to take up space in an office. The response was always a wry smile with no explanation as to why.

    HMRC need to enact a new culture in the way that their management views the option to work flexibly.

  5. Comment by Phylicia Jarrett posted on

    Absolutely inspired!

    The Legal Ombudsman had a flexible working policy when I began, but has recently increased this flexibility. I have been here just over a year now so I am keen to utilise the flexible and smarter working to ensure that I deliver for the organisation and more importantly, find the right family balance.

    I am inspired not only because you are a parent trying to balance the responsibilities of parenthood and work, but more so because you are a father, and often women are sometimes seen to be the ones juggling the trade off between work and caring for the children.

    As a mother I have always been keen to defy the odds by having a fulfilling career as well as supporting my growing family. In my view, a career is progressive. It is a journey that starts somewhere and ends up wherever you are prepared to go with it. I think the mistake we often make is assuming that how our career starts is how it will always be. We should not over pressurise ourselves to have it all, straight away; but realise that as our families grow (and usually that means our children having greater independence and less dependency) the balance will eventually shift to mean that as individuals we can achieve fulfilling careers.

    For now though, I will enjoy part time work, part time study, full time Mommy and enjoy the journey :)!

  6. Comment by Sharon Robson posted on

    Excellent blog, I struggled immensley, juggling being a new mum and trying to maintain my hours at work.
    It eventually took a massive toll on my health and I ended up on longterm sick.
    Fortunately, I now have the support I desp needed from the management team, and its great to see things are changing for the better.
    Flexible working is a must for anyone who has caring responsibilities and this will benefit the employees and businesses alike.

  7. Comment by Maria Johnson-Sach posted on

    A really great read filling me with hope that one day, my department in HMRC may embrace Smarter Working.

  8. Comment by Vijay posted on

    Excellent blog

  9. Comment by Jacinta Santos posted on

    It is brilliant that we can have a life working balance. PHE is leading the way to achieve less stressful environments and happier parents and kids.
    I'm blessed to also have that flexibility and a very understanding line manager and that is the motivation to enjoy working and being a mum.
    I hope that all managers embrace flexibility across the board and everyone can be allowed some flexibility to help parents, relatives, the terminal ill, neighbours and have more time in general to spend for their wellbeing by being happier at work and outside work.

  10. Comment by Mark Wilson posted on

    Great article. I'm in a similar position to you Jamie, with a young family and an ambitious wife who wants to get on with her career. She was offered a lucrative job a few years ago, miles away from Defra's main hubs. Of course, in days gone by, I would have had to face up to a choice of a long daily commute, or to hand in my notice. Fortunately, we have understanding managers within my directorate within Defra - they permitted me to work flexibly from home, to work the hours that suit me best, and only to travel to the office when business needs dictate. This allowed my wife to accept her job and for the family to move to a new location, and for me to remain full time working around my childcare responsibilities. The trust that my managers have placed in me has been empowering, and I hope that I have repaid that trust in spades.

    I hope that your article will inspire others, both managers and staff alike. I recognise that working from different locations won’t suit all managers and staff of course, especially for teams who have more ‘operational’ or ‘support’ objectives, however, more can be done to get colleagues to think about new ways of working and how to break down barriers. Developments in technology is allowing teams to operate effectively based at different locations, including from home.

  11. Comment by Andy Daniels posted on

    Thanks for your insight on parenting and working flexibly, it's something I can relate to also, and where I thank my team and management for the assistance they have given me over the last year. It's truly the way forward.

  12. Comment by Jan posted on

    Yes I have worked in CS offices where everyone except me (an AO) can work remotely and I'm looking forward to the time when I will also be afforded the flexibility of WFH instead of having to take leave everytime I have to be at home or with family for any reason. Bring it on not just for Management!!

  13. Comment by Stuart Ward Learning and Development Officer and dad of 3 posted on

    Excellent stuff this Jamie and great to have that first hand account of the changing civil service. As a parent of 3 myself I can empathise with your school run story and juggling priorities to meet deadlines at work and home!

  14. Comment by Arran Price posted on

    Really great blog - which (as a dad of two young children) I can absolutely relate to!

  15. Comment by Anon posted on

    Nice to hear that this happens in certain areas of DWP, but it does not happen everywhere!!!!

  16. Comment by C posted on

    It is as important for Dads to have that bond with their children as it is for Mothers. My children are independent now, and we were lucky enough that my husband was in a position to spend time with them. So I can see how valuable that was for them, and us. It is fantastic that the Department supports flexible working, so that you can parent without the guilt, and still give everything to the job.

  17. Comment by Karen Smith posted on

    What a brilliant blog - I joined the civil service many years ago for just this reason. For me there is no better place to work for a parent and for me now a carer for my Mum and Sister. I have been so lucky over the years to not miss the precious times, sports day assemblies and any other activities my two (now grown up) children had.

  18. Comment by Wiki posted on

    I do like the idea of Flexible working and think that it makes HMRC a good place to work even though we dont appreciate it all the time.

    I do hope there is more consistancy around all the business units to keep the culture the same. Managers need to understand working from home or out the office is a Fantastic option and not seen as a doss away from the office.

    I do know of some managers that are against the idea as they dont have the facility to monitor what the staff are doing when they are away from the office. Is that a reasonable excuse or just lack of trust in our colleagues?

  19. Comment by R Smith posted on

    A really nice read first thing this morning as I start my early shift and I totally agree with you Jamie it is life changing being a parent but one like you I have embraced and love.

    2013 for me too changed when my daughter was born. Leaving the hospital with this little person, strapped in a car seat, is exciting but when the lift doors shut and you are about to get to leave through that last automatic door, it all suddenly dawns on yo, that quiet calm panic arrives, for a moment or two, and you ask yourself what do I do now... When my second child arrived in 2015, it was no different, when the time came to leave the hospital the same sense re-appeared especially as I was trying to fathom how will I be able to cope with two mini ones!?

    I was intreagued to read your glowing praise for your dept and the support you have received with your flexible working arrangements. Unfortunately, at present, it appears some areas of the business do not seem as accommodating. My current area of work have told me that I am unable to work with a flexible arrangement, primarily due to staff shortages. Which in turn has a knock on effect with my wife who is a teacher and unable to look for perminant work, due to me not being able to obtain the same days off within the week during term times, she has turned to agency work who always seem to require her assistance when she is unavailable to work due to child care as a result of my shifts.

    Fingers crossed my working situation changes and I am able to obtain a work life balance similar to yourself. Your positive blog certainly has shown me, which at times I have lost sight of, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    Thank you.

  20. Comment by G Schermuly posted on

    All well and good for those that can use it, no help whatsoever for Frontline staff working fixed team rosters on shifts. I missed out on both my children growing up.

  21. Comment by Samantha Kelly posted on

    Splendid blog - I loved the job description for a parent, particularly the personal comedian.

    However, I find DCMS has a very tolerant culture all round. I have elderly parents and have had to leave in a flurry of paper, or hurriedly arranged leave, on several occasions with no more comment than "just go" from my line manager. Smarter working means that I can attend appointments with them AND get work done. It's a win-win situation.

  22. Comment by Ian Johnson posted on

    The Civil Service has always been ahead of the curve on work life balance. I joined in 2008 partly because I knew that the civil service offered flexi time (my wife worked for HMRC) just when my daughter started school. This allowed me to drop her off twice a week and pick her up once a week something my private sector job didn’t.

    In the preceding 10 years I’ve worked part time at one point to allow me to take more of the burden when my wife wanted to increase her hours.

    Now I do compressed hours plus work from home which means I’m around enough to embarrass my now 14 year old in front of her friends

  23. Comment by Christopher Stephen Kabinetschultz-Headley posted on

    Very inspiring - posts like these make me proud to serve.

  24. Comment by M posted on

    Excellent blog - as someone who had the privilege of working for GPU/A, the culture works: it's hugely empowering, efficient and leads to better outcomes and you miss it when you're gone.

    Keep up the good work with spreading the word!

  25. Comment by Kate Foley posted on

    Great article - smarter working isn't just for mums and delivers great benefits, not ony for individuals but also for the business.

  26. Comment by Aileen Wiswell posted on

    Fabulous blog Jamie -we truly are blessed to work in such a progressive thinking dept . I remember the heart breaking decisions about going to work or not when my children were sick and crying for me - a decision no parent should be torn between making - hopefully those days are behind us now with smarter working gaining more ground x

    • Replies to Aileen Wiswell>

      Comment by M posted on

      Not all departments are so forward thinking. There is a common response in one department I worked at, where if family was sick, people were told
      "We don't employ your family".

    • Replies to Aileen Wiswell>

      Comment by Isabelle Denis posted on

      Unfortunately those days are not 'behind' and sending your child to school ill is still a very common occurrence for a lot of us who do not have the luxury of home working, laptops or mobile phones. Flexibility very much seems grade-related in our department. I recently had to take annual leave when my children's schools were closed due to the snow, when a colleague without children who could not get in to the office was able to work from home. The only difference? He has a departmental laptop and I don't. It is good to see that things are changing in some areas of the Civil Service and I can't wait for the day we are all able to write blogs about the wonderful family-friendly environment we work in. A lot of work still needs to be done in that area and let's hope this is the start of a series of improvement across all government departments.

      • Replies to Isabelle Denis>

        Comment by Tom posted on

        This was an interesting article but some of the comments leave me slightly surprised. I'm a single parent who works at the DfT, and I manage to balance my responsibilities towards my daughter with earning a living very well due to the policies and culture the DfT promotes.

        However, it does annoy me that people expect to be able to 'work' from home when their children are away from school (for holidays / snow / illness etc.). Looking after young children is not something that can be done as well as working from home - it's one or the other. I work part-time to allow me to do this, and I don't see why I should have taken a pay cut when other people seem to think they can draw a full time salary whilst also doing their child care on the tax-payers' time...