A personal account of flexible working at the RFCA by Claire Styles

Back in 2018, I entered into a job-sharing arrangement with East Anglia RFCA and now four years later, I can say it’s been the best experience; one that has enabled me to progress my volunteering & community interests as well as have a great work-life balance.

Claire styles portrait photo
Claire Styles, Communications & PR Manager at East Anglia RFCA

I returned from maternity leave having realised that my replacement over that period was a real asset to the organisation. Together we worked up the pros and cons of an arrangement that enabled us both to stay on as Communications & PR Manager. We submitted our request under the association’s flexible working policy, and thanks to the support of the senior leaders, this was accepted. The RFCA has a policy that enabled me to request a flexible working arrangement. These requests are considered on a case-by-case basis and my request to reduce my hours was approved.

Sarah and I planned out how our job-share would work, in collaboration with our line manager; how we would play to our strengths and support each other to demonstrate the advantages this arrangement offers. The systems and processes we already had in place at work made it possible for us to fulfil the responsibilities of the role, and we used our complementary skills & experience to boost our outputs even further. We have access to each other’s inbox, and a shared folder, but most importantly we trust and empower each other.

I’ve been working at the RFCA since January 2016, and I’ve always felt like the ethos and values of the association matched with mine.

I was a school governor already before covid, and during lockdown I completed a year-long Leading Governance course with Department for Education funding, which equipped me to take on the role of Chair of Governors. I still hold this role today, and that’s only possible because I work part-time. In addition, I was elected last year to represent maintained primary school governors on the Essex Schools Forum, a statutory forum consulted by the local authority on financial matters. Being able to make a difference to young people’s education, helping them to reach their full potential, is a value I share with the Cadet organisations we serve at the RFCA.

I was able to complete three online IBM cybersecurity diplomas and maintain an allotment during covid too. My new cybersecurity credentials helped me get a seat on the IT committee at the RFCA, creating opportunity for me to put my learning into practice, support my colleagues and add more strings to my proverbial bow.

I started volunteering for my local council’s tree-planting initiative, whose tree-planting and tree-care excursions exclusively happen during the working week,. They’ve been a great way to be active, discover new green spaces in my area and meet like-minded people.

I could have possibly still done all this volunteering and community work if I was working full time, thanks to the RFCA’s generous policy on volunteering. But, having tried to balance volunteering with full-time work in the past, I know it’s easy to stretch oneself too thin, especially when you have a young family. The job-sharing arrangement has meant I’ve not had to give up a career or my interests to raise children, and vice-versa.

The only aspect that I ever worried about with this job-share arrangement, was whether there would be any stigma around working part-time, or if I wouldn’t be able to build as strong relationships with colleagues. Any concerns I had about that were futile; it’s a privilege for me to work alongside such brilliant colleagues, whether at this RFCA HQ, other RFCAs or our fantastic Permanent Support Staff embedded into the County Army Cadet Forces.

This month I was appointed a Director of a new Community Interest Company called Mental Health HQ, which provides counselling and workshops for teenagers and their parents in London and the South East of England. It’s another opportunity for me to add value to my community, using the skills I’ve developed in my career. All this started because at the time, I felt like I was in a tough spot trying to make a living and raise a family. But thanks to the support of my employer, I’ve been able to accomplish more, both at home and at work, thanks to the support of my colleagues at East Anglia RFCA. If anyone else is thinking they might benefit from a flexible working arrangement, I encourage you to reach out to your line manager and find out more, because while there’s no guarantee that a request will be successful, it could change your life like it did mine.

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