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Negotiating about my hours

Ever since Chris was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I had an “acute stress reaction” to the situation (for which read “pretty comprehensive breakdown”), I’ve been working part time. Initially, this was an informal arrangement, and I took a mixture of leave and sick-leave to cover the times I was unable to work. However, it became apparent in the months after Chris died that I wasn’t going to be strong enough to work full-time in the short-term, so I formally moved to part-time working. I’ve been doing an equivalent of a three-day week, but flexibly spread over the full five days.

That’s been working out well. I’m not keen on the 40% pay-cut I’ve taken as a result, but I’d much rather be doing half a job as well as I can, than trying to do a full-time job, failing dismally and making myself ill again.  Both my boss and I are keen that this part-time working be only a temporary solution, and the aim has always been that I should increase my hours – but only when I can do so without making myself worse.  I’m pretty sure that he considers me to be my own worst enemy in taking on more work that I really should, and is extremely diligent about his “duty of care” under the law to stop me from doing so.

He’s right that I do have a tendency to think I can handle more than I’m ready to do. I’m very frustrated at how long it’s taking to get myself back together again – but I know that if I overdo it at work I’ll come down with a three-day migraine.  I’m finding being bereaved to be absolutely exhausting – it takes so much mental energy just to hold myself together. I’ve spoken to a friend of mine who was widowed a few months after me, and she reports the same thing – she is permanently exhausted. No doubt that will improve – in fact I’m already finding it easier than it was – but it doesn’t seem to be a quick process.

The arrangement was originally due for review in May, and it was quite clear then that I was still running on empty and unable to take on more work – at least not sustainably. So we extended the part-time working, with another review due at the end of August. As it turned out, I was on holiday the last week in August. Since then I’ve then been out of the office quite a bit at meetings with various customers, and those times I was in coincided with when my boss himself was off-site on business. But we put a meeting in the diary for the first day we were both in Malvern, with the express aim of discussing my hours and whether I was ready to increase them.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got a letter from HR, two days before I was due to meet with my boss, which said that they had reviewed the situation and were pleased to tell me that they’d put me back to working full-time, back-dated to the 1st September! I nearly panicked – that wasn’t what I’d been expecting at all!  The plan was always to gradually increase the hours and I’m still far too easily exhausted to work full-time. I think my boss was at least as surprised as I was, and quickly rescinded HR’s decision which was a major relief (although thinking about it now, I’ve not actually seen anything in writing from HR  confirming that. I’d better chase them up on Monday).

Over the last few weeks (since getting back from my holiday in fact) I’ve had so many off-site all-day meetings that I’ve been working more than 22.5 hours per week anyway. And if I do the work, I think I really ought to get paid for it. So I was keen to increase my contracted hours – albeit only gradually to start with – by working an extra half an hour a day. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s another 10% on top of what I’m already doing. I think that’s sustainable, but my boss wanted evidence that I could cope before he changed my contract. So we’ve agreed that I’ll work the extra 2.5 hours/week as overtime for the next six weeks, and see whether I can sustain that without making myself ill. If so, we’ll up my contracted hours by that much, and re-review at Christmas.

I’m pleased with that outcome. It gives me the chance to demonstrate that I’m up to doing more, but with a safety net in case I’ve over-estimated my capacity again. And there is so much going on at work at the moment (one major project just kicked off, about to bid for another two projects) that I welcome the opportunity of having  few more hours a week to cram everything in to.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Carol | 24 September 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s nice to hear about employers so enlightened and intelligent. It’s clearly better for them to have you on terms you can manage than not to have you at all. I’m glad it’s easier for you than it was and hope it does get noticeably better in the coming months.

  2. paulD | 28 September 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    ah but 40% pay cut better than 100% one