Step Back On To The Career Ladder By Becoming A Legal Secretary.

As readers of this blog know, I spent over 13 years working as in marketing and PR for various law firms, rising to Marketing Director in the last post I held before leaving to have Caitlin and Ieuan.

I have to admit, with hindsight, leaving my job entirely was possibly not the best thing to do because, after nearly 10 years out of the workplace, it seems as if it would be a real challenge to return – at least to the level where I once was.

woman at a desk typing on a MacBook

I’m not complaining and I am now a full time blogger and perfectly happy with my lot but I do know other mums who feel as if their career has stalled or, if like me, they’ve given up work, feel stepping back on the career ladder would be a Herculean task.  And what about those of us who are ’empty nesters’, looking for a new phase of life now that the kids have left for university or to start jobs?

There are, however, ways to do it but it requires grit, determination and the frequent need to retrain or adopt some self-study.  Of course, there are costs involved which you may have to fund yourself but, in general, I firmly believe any investment in education is always going to be worth the money.

To give you an example from the profession I left, becoming a legal secretary is a great route back into the job market place and one which, if you work hard and are diligent about learning as much as possible, can take you to the top – partnership in law firm terms.

It’s a great way to develop your career – particularly where law firms offer services such as conveyancing or private client work such as family law (wills, probate, divorce, child issues).

Not only can you find jobs at solicitors’ offices and barristers’ chambers, but there are also job opportunities at law courts, local authorities, government bodies, the police or even estate agents.

woman's hand signing a legal document with a fountain pen

So what does a legal secretary actually do?

As the name implies, legal secretaries carry out secretarial tasks that are specific to law.  For example, they may help with the writing of legal documents, conduct research and read legal articles, as well as general secretarial duties such as answering the phone and dealing with correspondence.

You might also deal with clients and go out and about delivering documents or accompanying solicitors to courts or police stations – depending on the field of law you are employed to assist with.

As a legal secretary, you can expect to earn anywhere from £17,000 as a starting salary rising to around £21,000 depending on experience and some firms will also offer benefits such as a bonus and profit-sharing.  As mentioned previously, it is also possible to use the legal secretary role as a launchpad to higher paid and related careers.

If this is for you, you will need a training course where the qualification is recognised by The Law Society and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority – ideally Legal Secretary Training which is CPD accredited.

CPD is a type of ongoing study which is a requirement for solicitors and other professionals to ensure that their knowledge basis is kept current so that they can offer the best service and client care.

The key skills you need to make sure your course covers are:-

*MS Office (especially Word).  You will be doing a lot of typing and possibly also audio typing.

*A thorough grounding in the legal system

*Customer care

*The various kinds of legal forms

*Contracts – types and how they may be formed and breached.

Ideally, you also want to make sure that your course is taught by a qualified lawyer in a hands-on, practical classroom environment.  The law is continually changing and it is vital that you are taught by someone who is up to speed with this.

You can find a good intensive course where you can cover the basics in a one week (with home assignments) or assisted learning with in house tutor sessions supported by home assignments over one month.

 

woman wearing an ear piece taking a telephone call sat by a laptop

Before you sign up for a course though, you should make sure that you have a good general level of education with good written and spoken English.  You will also need previous PA or secretarial experience or, if you have none, starting off with a general secretarial / PA course will give you the necessary grounding.

The beauty of private courses too is that you are not relying on fitting your study around the academic year – you can start at any time.

As a way back into the workplace, becoming a legal secretary is certainly worth considering and the rewards are certainly there for those who are determined to rise to the top and, given the recent changes to the working landscape thanks to COVID-19, there may be more opportunities to work from home too.

20 Tips To Help You Keep Your Cool With Your Boss

How to keep your temper at work?  It can often be rather tricky, can’t it?  For most of us, there will come a time in our working lives when we feel as if we have been pushed too far.

Whether it’s just one badly conceived project too many with a deadline only God could meet, or a task delegated by someone whose management style close mirrors that of Animal from the Muppets, the urge to lose it rears its ugly head.

But how we respond to this may make the difference between staying employed and finding yourself back down the jobcentre, or endlessly scrolling through internet job sites.

Let me share some of the things I learned during my 20+ years working in a corporate environment, culminating in my role as Practice Director and Head of Marketing for a large law firm.

You might have heard of “The Peter Principle” which says, simply, that “managers rise to the level of their incompetence” and lord knows, I’ve seen this borne out a fair few times.

But when you’re pushed to the edge,  in today’s economically uncertain times and with hoards of younger, possibly better qualified, and more ambitious workers nipping at your heels, you need to think smart and act smarter.  The need to keep your temper at work comes with the territory for many of us, particularly if we work directly with the public.

How to keep your temper at work

Here’s my 20 point primer.  Go get a cup of coffee.  Take 5 minutes.  Breathe and read.

1.  Calm down

You can’t afford to make any rash decisions or take any actions which will result in a summons by HR for performance-related issues.

That way unemployment lies.

You have bills to pay and a career you’ve probably trained hard for and spent years working towards.

2.  Don’t cry

I know some people actually cry when they’re angry, rather than just upset, but particularly in a corporate environment, you’ll look like you can’t handle it.

If you must let it all out, hide in the toilets till you feel you can face everyone again.

3. Consider what is actually being asked of you

If you have a rocky relationship with your boss, it’s easy to assume instructions come with a hidden agenda.

This isn’t always the case.

Sometimes your boss gets dumped on too.

What are you actually being asked to do?

Is it a reasonable request?

4. Don’t take on a task you don’t understand

If you don’t know what you’re being asked to do, ask for clarification upfront.

If it’s a task you are supposed to understand, you need to ask yourself why you’re struggling with it.

Can a colleague help you out?

5. Clarify the deadline

When does the task need to be completed?

Is it reasonable?

Asking for a report by the end of the day may be perfectly reasonable if it’s comprised of data you were supposed to be keeping tabs on.

6. Is it your fault?

Have you let things slide, for one reason or another?

If things have been getting on top of you, rather than going off like a firecracker, it’s time for some honest self-reflection.

If your heart isn’t in your job, you may be better off thinking about making a move.

See my post on hating your job.

7.  Do you need training?

Now is probably not the best time to ask for it, but if you feel you need training (for example in spreadsheets or Powerpoint), make a mental note to discuss this with your boss.

A note of caution though, I’d advise against asking for training for aspects of your job you were expected to know when you were employed unless you can get away with asking for a ‘refresher course’.

8.  Can you delegate it?

Remember that when you delegate, you are delegating the responsibility but not the authority aka the buck still stops with you.

I’m sure you know in your heart which elements of a project are yours and yours alone, and which can be delegated.

9.  Did you delegate it and it’s gone horribly wrong?

Following on from 8. if you did not delegate well, for example, you didn’t give clear instructions and deadlines, then you may have a problem (plus this is a bit of a case of the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think?).

Did you delegate to the appropriate level of expertise?

Getting junior staff to do the bits you don’t like is just asking for trouble.

If they get it wrong, you’re still in trouble and they’re unhappy.  If they do a sterling job, you can bet your boss will know it wasn’t you who did it.

10.  Document it, document it, document it!

For heavens’ sake, make notes, save emails, back up files on your PC, take screenshots.

11. Remember to C.Y.A. (Cover Your A**)

If you delegate something verbally, follow it up with a confirmation email.

Queries to your boss can also be recorded the same way.

Just make sure that the emails are appropriate to the project concerned and written as professionally as possible.

12.  Communicate without emotion, in professional language

There’s a world of difference between “so you want me to prepare a report on XYZ about DrearyCorp for you to discuss at the board meeting on Thursday” and “so even though I’m completely snowed under, you want me to drop everything, stay late and scrabble together some data”.

Repeat after me. “Attitude is a Luxury”.

13.  Manage your time

Break the project down into manageable chunks.

Estimate how long each piece will take.

Assess which tasks can be delegated.

Call a brief team meeting if you need to so that everyone is clear about what is required.

Check in with team members so you know whether you are on course to meet your deadline.

Having a quick look at Facebook and three cups of coffee while you “get your head around it” will not help, trust me.

14.  Offer solutions

I’m sure you’ve heard the hoary old management chestnut “I don’t want you to bring me problems, I want you to bring me solutions”.

Well, sorry but it’s true.

Rather than just carry out the project like an automaton, get involved.

How would you deal with the issue?

What would your approach be?

The solutions you offer may make your boss look good, make you look good and make you a more attractive candidate for promotion.

15. Use positive body language

Parents will be familiar with the phrase “take that face off” or “don’t look at me like that when I’m talking to you”.

Yes, I’m afraid even as adults we are prone to what body language experts refer to as “leakage”.

Looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp when someone is trying to delegate to you is not a good thing!

Also be aware that crossing your arms looks defensive and worse, stretching back and supporting your head with your arms is tantamount to saying “I am listening, but basically I think you’re an idiot”.

16. Build bridges

If you have a rocky relationship with your boss, this could be an opportunity to build bridges and get to know them a bit.

Could you try to suspend your frustration for a short while and see things from their point of view?

17. Socialise

If the boss invites you out for a drink after work, are you the one that always has to rush home? (I’m not including parents in this obviously).

I was a bit like that when I was younger, prioritising the needs of my obese and usually completely inert cat over the social discomfort of making small talk with management.

Looking back, I probably missed the chance to get to know my bosses which would only have improved our working relationship.

18.  Everybody’s Human

And everybody wants to be liked.

Sometimes, your boss will have problems you know nothing about.  It doesn’t hurt to cut them a little slack sometimes.

BUT 

19.  Ask, are you being bullied?

If you feel that you are being unfairly dumped on, or set up to fail, or that your treatment is a form of bullying, then you must take action.

Keep a diary to record the events of bullying.

Keep pertinent emails.

Make sure you ask yourself, however, if you are contributing to the behaviour.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, personalities do clash but are you being unnecessarily unhelpful or combative?

20.  Take it to HR

Human Resources has a difficult role to play, keeping both management and staff happy.

That said, if you feel your treatment is unjust, you must talk to HR.

You will probably find that if you are having problems with a particular boss, others will be too.

Keeping silent helps nobody.

Your complaint may actually help HR to deal with an unpleasant boss, particularly if you can provide solid evidence.

So, keep calm and carry on, as they say, but with a strategy.

A bit of honest and open reflection may save hours of future misery, for you and your colleagues.

Hopefully, you’ll now have the ammunition you need and some ideas about how to keep your temper at work.

Do you struggle to keep your temper at work? What tips would you add?




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The Challenge Of Working From Home With Kids In School Holidays

We’re in the midst of another school holiday and, as usual, it’s shaping up to be a bit of a moveable feast.  We’ve not booked to go away anywhere and the Husband has taken a couple days off towards the end of the break which means I am juggling the needs of the blog with childcare for most of the time. Yes, working from home with kids is a bit of a challenge!

working from home with kids - woman typing on a laptop on her lap next to a redbrick wall

Just the phrase ‘childcare’ makes it sound as if the kids are someone else’s responsibility rather than my own little, um, treasures and there’s the problem.

Men, to generalise, seem to be able to compartmentalise the various bits of their lives whilst we women find it a lot harder.

This may be, of course, because we are juggling more of the housework, the shopping, the cleaning and the myriad of other chores that crop up and have to be dealt with on the spot, even though the Husband will declare them to be hardly a matter of life and death and things which could be dealt with later.

Mat often says that I spend far longer at my PC than he does and that I am rubbish at switching off.  I suspect most bloggers are the same.

I have had a couple of people ask me lately how to go about setting up a blog and it’s only when you stop to think about how you do this that you realise how much work is involved and how many skills a blogger needs to develop – writing, social media promotion, coding, photography, design, marketing, budgeting.

But it is really hard to justify to yourself why you are writing a piece for your blog or scheduling some social media posts whilst the kids are kicking around bored or slumped on the sofa with their iPads.

I do explain to them that, for us, blogging defrays some of the household costs and gives us the odd treat but even so it’s hard to escape the feeling that sometimes we bloggers are ‘pimping our children out’.  Some kids have their lives more instagrammed than Kim Kardashian’s.

Working from home with kids – my biggest challenges

These are my 5 biggest challenges when the kids are home:-

The Kids

Obviously.  With my two it’s usually peace and love or all-out war and it can change between the two in minutes.  If they’re not fighting each other, they’re ganging up on me and have got negotiation skills which, frankly, the Met should be making use of in hostage situations.

Currently, their favourite thing is to sit in separate rooms playing Minecraft in a shared world and bellowing at each other if one dares to destroy the other’s building.

Bored of Coco Pops The Kids Took Matters Into Their Own Hands

They like to appear like spectres in the early morning demanding ‘urgent software updates’ and breakfast. Have they slept in at all this holiday?  Don’t be silly.

Combine this with late bedtimes, shouting at each other across the corridor from their bedrooms about Minecraft designs and I predict a massive slump to coincide with the first day back at school.

Food

I am rubbish at meal planning at the best of times, whereas the Husband will happily knock up something tasty from whatever is festering in the fridge in about 20 minutes flat.

Not for nothing does he call me “The Queen of the Reheat”.  I do mean to come up with exciting meals but frequently it’s the usual fall-backs of fish fingers or pizza.

No excuse I know but despite having a wall of cookery books, cooking from most of them involves a supermarket trip and at least a small basket of ingredients I’ll probably use once and then find them again 2 years later when I get round to tidying up the food cupboards. Asking myself “what would Mary Berry do?” doesn’t help.

Cleaning

It doesn’t matter how many times I vacuum, two minutes later it needs doing again.  Kids rarely put things in the bin unless reminded so I am always picking up yoghurt lids, plastic wrapping and wiping sticky fingers off bathroom mirrors and windows.  I can’t concentrate on writing if the dishwasher’s full or I have a batch of laundry to hang out.  I could happily spend hours picking fluff off carpets.

Social Media

If there is one thing that can suck you into a vortex where time ceases to exist, it’s social media.  I’ve read all the advice about only answering email twice a day, turning your notifications off, writing your blog post first thing, getting up earlier to write before the family get up….. and so on …..  but I can’t quite resist the lure of the instant message nor the suspicion that something exciting surely must have happened in Dinas Powys that I have to read about.

Health

I say health, actually, health anxiety is closer to the mark.  I’m usually obsessing about my teeth, my glasses, my hearing, my tinnitus – and on the back of that all the things I’m supposed not to be doing to keep my health on an even keel. The daily glass of wine is probably one of the things that should go but when the kids are off, the chances of that going are zero.

I keep reading about bloggers who dutifully say they don’t switch on their PC until the kids are in bed and then blog from 9 pm until the small hours but I would be totally knackered if I did that.

If they do, then they have my heartfelt admiration but I suspect they are an urban myth and like many of us have got into the terrible habit of parenting with one eye on a smartphone and one hand on a keyboard.

Let’s not talk about mum guilt.  It never goes away does it? I am earning money for the family and using some of the skills I worked so hard and for so long to acquire.  Hopefully, I’m also teaching them that there are always ways to contribute, even if you aren’t in formal employment.

I know that working from home and looking after the kids is a privilege but I think I am going to have to come up with a better routine when the next holiday comes around or I’ll be blogging about my kids’ childhood rather than participating in it.

And that’s a price no blog is worth.

How To Spend One Hour Of Quality Time With Your Kids

How would you spend one hour of quality time with your kids?

I ask this question because a recent poll of 1500 parents with children under the age of 6 by Thomas Cook discovered that 80% of us know we don’t spend anywhere near enough time with our little ones during the average working week.

Quality time with your kids - do you spend more than an hour at day with them? Mum and son on a sunbed on holiday

Worse, the research found that 50% of British parents spend less than ONE hour of quality time a day with their children.

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43% of families struggle to find the time to sit down together to eat, whilst 25% haven’t even got the time to talk about what’s happened that day.

During the average working week, parents will only read with their children for a total of 32 minutes, and play with them for just 43 minutes.

Only 36 minutes are spent sitting at the dining table together, while meaningful conversations are crammed into just 32 minutes a week.

Long working hours, chores, cooking the dinner and running our kids to and from their clubs and sports mean many of us barely have time to breathe!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, for half of those polled holidays are a top spending priority for 2018, because they give a momentary breather which allows us to reconnect.

That’s fine it you have the budget.  But what can you do to make more quality time with your kids when childcare costs are high and the demands of our employers even higher?

The challenge of being a working mum or dad is endlessly tricky and involves not a little guilt and sadness at the family milestones which are often missed.

If you do have little time, what can you do to make the most of this magical 60 minutes (or even less)?

It depends on the age of your children of course and when you have the time to be with them.

Nothing beats a bath, book and bed routine to help settle kids. Even now I will put Caitlin and Ieuan to bed and allow them to settle by reading for a half hour or so before they put out the light.

Quality time with your kids - always easier on holiday!

Here are some things you might like to try to get the make more quality time with your kids, depending on their age of course.

  1. Sing nursery rhymes or songs together
  2. Read a book taking turns to read each page
  3. Draw a picture of what happened that day
  4. Play counting games or practise times tables
  5. Play with salt dough
  6. Try some simple yoga poses
  7. Kids can learn to meditate or practise mindfulness too
  8. Bake some easy to make biscuits or cupcakes
  9. Play with Lego or building bricks
  10. Build a den or a fort
  11. Lay the table for breakfast
  12. Teach them to clean and polish their school shoes
  13. Get everything ready for the school run
  14. Let them help prepare their lunchboxes and snacks
  15. Go for a brisk walk or spend time outside in the garden or park
  16. Plan a weekend treat together – draw up a bucket list of activities to try and places to go.
  17. Play a musical instrument – we have a piano keyboard
  18. Help them to write a gratitude journal or diary
  19. Phone or Skype the grandparents
  20. Get them to practise their ballet or Tae Kwon-do moves
  21. Pick a gentle family movie to watch
  22. Walk the dog or play with the cat
  23. Play simple card games or a board game
  24. Write a letter to a grandparent, relative or penpal
  25. Help them with their homework
  26. Make puppets and hold your own puppet show
  27. Read or write poetry
  28. Make a vision board together and stick it on your fridge
  29. Create a savings chart and see how much lose change your kids can squirrel away
  30. Make mini entrepreneurs and let them set up a ‘restaurant’ or ‘shop’
  31. Make slime!
  32. Go through old toys and set them aside for a weekend trip to the charity shop
  33. Count the stars – see if you can recognise any of the constellations
  34. Listen to classical music.  Introduce them to composers such as Mozart
  35. Plant bulbs or herbs in the garden, or a windowsill pot

There are loads of things you can do which don’t require money.  And let’s be honest, what our children really want from us it TIME.

Interestingly, Thomas Cook’s research found that parents will spend five times as long reading with their kids on holiday (two hours and 45 minutes), and 10 times longer playing with them (six hours and 50 minutes).

Families will sit together for a proper meal nine times longer on holiday than at home, and perhaps most importantly, conversations will cover four hours a week instead of just half an hour.

Great though this is, our challenge as parents is to find ways to give our kids the time they need without being squashed flat by tiredness or guilt ourselves.

And we need to find ways to do this in the 50 weeks when we’re not on holiday.

Time for more employers to step up to the plate and offer flexible working hours, a wider range of part-time and job share options and help with childcare. HR could assist with supplying information about useful resources, for example, a tutor network such as Tutoo, babysitting networks or even doctor and dental surgeries that offer out of hours appointments.

After all, with recruitment costs spiralling, surely it’s more important than ever for employers to do everything they can to keep their existing talent.

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Does Having a Baby Set A Woman’s Career Back Six Years?

One of the many important questions we women ask ourselves if we have invested heavily in our work is “will having a baby ruin my career”?

The bad news is that having a baby can set a woman’s career back six years, according to a study of mothers carried out in September 2017.

Will having a baby ruin my career? Woman taking notes at a laptop

Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

Will having a baby ruin my career?

Researchers found becoming a mum can lead to missed promotion opportunities, issues caused by staff, management or procedural changes in the workplace as well as the fact new mums arrive back at work with different priorities.

Around half of those polled said having a baby had a negative effect on their career, with 42 per cent of them believing they would be in a more senior position if they didn’t have kids.

It also emerged 37 per cent of working mums believe they have been discriminated against since having a child.

Commissioned by Easy Offices, the research of 1,000 mums with a child aged one to 13 also found four in 10 would advise mums-to-be to be ‘wary’ about returning to work following maternity leave.

A spokesman for Easy Offices said: “Many women will be wondering about how having a baby could affect their career.

“So we polled mothers who know from experience just what impact having a child can have.

“The findings show how difficult it is to adjust to the new priorities that come with having a baby but also suggest it can be hard to reintegrate into the workplace.”

Three in 10 have experienced negativity from colleagues because they have had to take time off to care for their kids.

And over a quarter admit they initially felt left out by colleagues when they came back to work.

Thirty-five per cent noticed a change in work processes, while a third said the dynamics in their team had changed.

Amid this, over a third of those surveyed believe it takes time to regain self-confidence in the workplace following the birth of a child.

Mums believe it typically takes 13 months to get back up to speed upon returning to work after maternity leave.

While half said it took time for them to get used to juggling work and looking after their children – on average taking them 15 months.

But, the survey carried out by OnePoll.com, also found a quarter of those polled have left job roles because they found it too difficult to juggle both roles.

On average mothers said they went on maternity leave for 30 weeks – around seven months – for their most recent child.

However, three in ten didn’t return to the place they worked at prior to having a baby.

Those polled believe they have missed out on an average of two promotions during their time away from work.

A spokesman for Easy Offices added: “It may not be a surprise to learn having a baby changes your life but we might not realise just how long it takes to adjust to it – especially in the workplace.

“The working world moves forward at a fast pace so it’s understandable mums would find returning to work a bit of a shock to the system.

“Perhaps colleagues may not fully appreciate this point of view so mothers might feel more could be done to rectify this.”

For more information visit: https://www.easyoffices.com/blog/discrimination-in-the-workplace/

Working From Home? Are You A Mother Distracted Too?

Ah, working from home.  When I still worked in an office, those words always sounded so appealing.  Your day would consist of hot mugs of coffee drunk whilst wearing snuggly fleecy pajamas.  You’d write in a beautiful pastel colour collection of notebooks and type on a laptop that wasn’t covered in the residue of Boots Shapers Salads.

Woman at a laptop holding an iphone

Although you would be wearing your pajamas, you would of course have your hair in a cunningly coifed messy bun and be sporting a full face of make-up.

To be honest,  many of us working in an office suspected those who worked at home of being secret daytime TV watching slackers on a very cushy number indeed thank you.

Fast forward 10 years and I have been working from home since leaving my last firm of solicitors where I had the dubious pleasure of being their marketing director.  Nowadays blogging is my job, not just a hobby and during term time things are fine but it’s a different matter during the school holidays.

Childcare is a hugely contentious issue for many of us and, as a stay at home mum, I have never felt justified in employing a childminder, even though there have been times when one would have really been appreciated.

So, we all muddle through and, as this video from Furniture at Work above demonstrates so well, it’s even harder when your children are smaller than my two.  Caitlin will be 10 in November and Ieuan is 8.

Caitlin & Ieuan at The Addams Family, Wales Millennium Centre

Well, that’s certainly the right show for us.

We do have a home office in our loft but this is the Husband’s territory and although I go up there sometimes, it’s impossible to keep an eye on the kids.

I sit in an armchair with my laptop and type away whilst listening to Dan TDM (or similar) from Ieuan or watching Caitlin and Ieuan playing Minecraft.  How do they cope with a split TV screen?  It makes me go cross-eyed!

Either that or it’s demands for squash, biscuits, “what’s for tea?”, “where’s dad?” or full-on bickering, door slamming and tweeny huffs.

Nowadays I look back on my office time with almost a fondness – imagine the luxury of having an actual IT Department (even if all they ever said was switch it off and switch it back on again) and people to talk to about adult things.  Alright, the microwave should have been taped up by Scene of Crime Officers and you needed survival skills from Bear Grylls to brave the toilets but you could ACTUALLY CONCENTRATE!

Have a watch of the video and see if it resonates with you.  I bet it will.

#OfficeJoys eh?

Find A Babysitter Online With Childcare.co.uk: Review

The thing about being an older stay at home mum is that it’s pretty difficult, ironically, to find childcare. No, it’s not just a problem affecting working parents. That’s why many of us try to find a babysitter online.

The Husband works away much of the time and my parents, being in their 80’s do what they can to have the children but, as you know, kids can be quite exhausting and I don’t like to ask them to babysit at night.

Baby boy with a blue dummy in his playpen

I have no other close family nearby to call upon so if the Husband and I do want to escape for a quiet child-free meal or a date night, finding a great babysitter is really important.

This is even more important if it’s your first time hiring a babysitter as you venture back into the adult world after possible months of seclusion surrounded by nappies and Milton.

It’s always tempting, of course, to pay a couple of quid to a teenager to sit for you.  I used to earn my pocket money this way when I was about 14 but the children I minded were two doors up from my parents’ house and their parents were friends of the family.

I have never been confident that a teenager would be able to cope in the event of a medical emergency and, in any case, it seems a bit unfair to put them in that situation in the first place.

I cannot find any UK law which is definitive in terms of a legal minimum age for babysitters but here is what the children’s charity, the NSPCC has to say on the subject of leaving children at home alone.  They advise that children under 13 should not be left at home alone for long periods and children under 16 should not be put in charge of younger children.

I am sure most parents wouldn’t even consider doing this but as the long summer holidays approach and stressed parents have to juggle work and family, the temptation to leave kids on their own “for a bit” seems to increase.

Whilst there is no minimum age at which UK children can be legally left on their own, the law doesn’t specify how old someone needs to be to babysit either.  BUT, if the babysitter is under 16 then you, as a parent, remain legally responsible for your child’s safety.

Be aware too, that the Children and Young Persons Act allows parents in England and Wales to be prosecuted for wilful neglect if they leave a child unsupervised “in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health”. That can cost you a fine or even up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Similar legislation also exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It also turns out that there is a whole host of things you need to check before you worry about providing tea, coffee and biscuits to your new babysitter or childminder.

Depending on the nature of their employment with you, you need to check their qualifications, insurances and even whether they have a valid driving licence if they are going to be driving your little ones anywhere.

Then there’s the DBS check (for England and Wales).  These were previously known as a CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau), but are now known as Disclosure & Barring checks.

These provide information about whether an individual has a criminal conviction or has been charged with a criminal conviction which has now expired.  Anyone who works with children should have one so it’s one of the first things you should be asking to see from your prospective babysitter.

So where do you find a suitably qualified babysitter and how do you vet them?

A great way to find a suitable babysitter is to use a service such as Childcare.co.uk which is the UK’s largest online community of parents, childcare providers, schools and private tutors.

I have been a member of their service and have used this successfully a couple of times to find good babysitters close to me.

Basically, their service allows parents to search for local childcare services such as babysitters, registered childminders, nannies, private tutors and nurseries using their postcode search facility.

This gives you an idea of how close the childcare provider is to your home and you can then read the childcare provider’s individual profile to find out more about them.

As a member, you can also post a ‘job’ – a brief post about your requirements – to which interested babysitters can respond.  They can email you or telephone you if you have left your number in your ‘job post’.

You can register for free and add a profile advertising your childcare/tutor requirements.

Here’s an excerpt from my profile to give you an idea.

You choose whether to be a free member or whether to pay for Gold Membership.

As a free member, you can read and reply to messages that have been sent to you from gold members. You can also send messages to gold members and view their direct contact details. As a free member, however, you have to wait for a response to your profile whilst Gold Membership allows you to contact childcare providers immediately using their secure private messaging system.

Gold members can also receive messages from free members and see their direct contact details if they have chosen to add these (email and telephone number).

Gold membership comes with a raft of other benefits such as 30 minutes free legal advice on childcare and family issues, access to 100 free online training courses, online access to Creative Steps magazine and free Tastecard membership.

Currently, the fee for Gold Membership is £24.99 per month or £129.99 per year.

There are no booking or agency fees and you pay your babysitter directly.  You will find an indication of their hourly rates in their profile.

You can also check to see if parents have written reviews for their childcare providers and tutors.

If there is any downside to paying for Gold Membership, it is that once you have found your babysitter or childcare provider you may find that you don’t use the service again until you need another one.  It is easy to find that 6 months have passed and you haven’t visited the site.

BUT, in terms of being able to find a childcare provider quickly, Childcare.co.uk is excellent.  It just depends whether you feel you will make full use of the extra benefits Gold membership provides. You may find free membership suffices.

Once you have found your sitter, however, be aware that it is your responsibility to interview them and to thoroughly check their qualifications – for example, request references and a copy of their DBS check.

This means you will still need to set aside some time to meet them.  I would never dream of letting someone who has never met my children babysit them!

So you will need to be organised and, if possible, start searching for your childcare well in advance of your special event.  This is a bit of a pain if you just want to sneak off to a quiet country pub with your husband but it has to be done.

You will find lots of helpful information, including a checklist to work your way through on Childcare.co.uk’s site.

To be frank, when there is a resource such as this to guide you through the increasingly complex maze of regulations surrounding hiring a trusted childcare provider, not using a site like this is simply not worth the risk.

Yes, you still have to do much of the work such as telephoning the babysitter’s referees to double-check references or checking that your prospective childminder has a valid Paediatric First Aid certificate but when it comes to your children’s safety is there such as thing as too much work?

You may well find your ideal babysitter is just a mile away.

Find out more at Childcare.co.uk.

Hate Your Job? Do These NOW.

There is nothing more miserable than working in a job you hate.  You can’t deal with it, though, by ignoring how unhappy you are.  We get one life.  Time to take ACTION.

1.  Ask yourself – Should I stay or should I go now?

Many of us can’t afford to leave a job on a whim and it takes time to research job opportunities and to assess whether your current skills need honing or even if you need to retrain.

But one thing is for certain, you need a strategy to cope with the misery of working in a job you hate – one that might just possibly turn everything around.  You need to take action NOW.

2. Whoops, is my attitude showing?

If you’re miserable in your job, it’s highly likely that everyone’s noticed – including your boss.  Time to grit your teeth and plaster a smile back on your face.  If you want to leave, leave on your terms, not theirs and moping around like a sad sack is a quick route to the door.  Read my 20 tips to keep your cool with your boss.

3.  Do the job

I know you hate it but spending hours playing Solitaire and messaging your mates on Facebook isn’t going to make you star employee of the month.  And you do know that lots of firms have software now that tracks the websites you’re using?  You wouldn’t be daft enough to spend hours bidding on eBay or doing your online grocery shop, would you?

4. Improve the way you do the job

Go back to basics and try to do the job the way you did when you were a fresh, frisky and relatively unjaded employee.  That means dressing professionally, minding your manners, being friendly to your colleagues and respectful to the management.

It means focusing on the task at hand and doing it the way you’d expect it to be done if YOU were the boss.

5.  Ask for training

If you struggle with a particular area (e.g. spreadsheets) ask if you can have some training. It’s a double whammy because not only will you learn skills you can take to your next job, you’ll look peachy keen to the Management.

6.  Don’t join the office pity party

There is usually a gaggle of employees who band together at coffee breaks (or when the boss isn’t looking) to discuss how the firm is about to go to the wall, how it is a terrible place to work, how bad (or non-existent) the perks are.

You can be sure that these employees will have a hit list of staff they hate (starting with their manager and working down).  They are such fabulous employees they should be paid more, have more holidays, longer lunch hours – you get the picture.

And should the management actually give the staff a treat (e.g. a bottle of wine at Christmas), these are the people who will pretend to be deeply insulted.  “Oh, they think a bottle of wine will make up for all the rubbish we have to put up with”.

Don’t join them.

Management will be well aware who they are and there will inevitably be one of their number who, in an attempt to pull rank and feather their own nest, will be reporting the juicy bits back to management.

7.  But do join in

You’re not that lonely soul who never makes tea or coffee for anyone else and insists on their own special mug (which they clean themselves) are you?

Are you the one who never goes for a drink after work or at lunchtime?  Heck, if you really don’t want to be popular why not take the tested route of never covering your food in the microwave and leaving others to clean up the mess?

Recite after me “I AM a team player”.

8.  Update your CV

And while you’re at it do a little research (at HOME) to see what the current popular styles of CV are.

What is it that you can bring to a job?

If I were to employ YOU as a consultant, what could you do for me?

Get someone else to proof read your CV for spelling mistakes.  Make sure there are no gaps in your employment history – and if there are be ready to explain why in an interview.

9.  Work out what your transferable skills are

In the past, people had one job which they expected to do till retirement. Today it is entirely likely that you’ll have many jobs, possibly even multiple careers.

A helpful way to think is that you are not an employee but a consultant.  Work out what skills you have that could be used in other jobs and write them down to add to your CV.

Great at organising?  A whizz with spreadsheets?  Great team motivator?  Write it down but with concrete examples to back it up.  Otherwise, it’s just hot air.

10.  Register with online job sites and upload your revamped CV (at HOME)

There are loads of sites like totaljobs.com or www.jobsite.co.uk where you can post your CV and apply for jobs in your area.

You might also want to consider registering with a couple of recruitment agencies to see what jobs might be available.  Recruitment agencies are a great place to get some free career counselling and advice on your CV.

11.  Leave an email/paper trail

This is especially important if you feel you are being treated unfairly (or worse, bullied).

Document everything.

Create an email folder and keep all email correspondence safe. Remember to send these to your personal email and then print them out. Note down important conversations.  Never go to an HR meeting without a note pad and write down what is said.  Add dates and times and file it away at home.

12.  Learn your employment rights

Your employer has a duty of care towards you.  It’s not just a one-way thing where you do whatever they say and get paid once a month.  Your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau will be able to advise you. (www.citizensadvice.org.uk), and if things are really bad, you may want to consider finding an employment lawyer.

Some law firms will let you have free initial legal advice which means they’ll at the least be able to tell you where you stand and if you have a case.

13.  Impress the hell out of clients

If you go out to meetings, make sure they remember you by being punctual, prepared and polished. Always remember clients may be potential future employers.  And you wouldn’t be daft enough to run your current employer down to them, would you?  You never know who is friends with whom. That client who seems sniffy with your boss?  They drink together in the pub on Fridays.

14.  Take a break

Working in a job you hate is really miserable.  We’ve all been there.  But you won’t change anything by ignoring how you feel and just soldiering on.

Make sure you are taking any breaks you are entitled to and keep a track of your holiday entitlements and how much you’ve used.

Put in a request for holiday in good time and plan something relaxing. The flip-side of this is not to take the mickey by adding an extra ten minutes here or there.  It will be noticed and endless ‘duvet days’ due to a strange virus is not going to make you seem like an employee your boss will want to keep.

If you adopt some of these ideas, trust me, you will feel a bit better.   And when you feel better, you’ll make better decisions and your work performance will improve.  You never know, on the happy day you hand your notice in, management may be begging you to stay!




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For Mums Returning To Work – Why Not Become A Personal Assistant?

When I left Swansea University in 1985, I had a shiny new English Literature degree and very little practical experience in the working world.  And, if you are in this position, one way to get your foot on the ladder of career success is to become a personal assistant.

At 17 I was a Saturday girl in F. W. Woolworths on the make-up counter and still remember the excitement of Pick ‘n’ Mix sweets.  You could even buy broken biscuits by the pound. Good times!

become a personal assistant - woman ticking item off a list

But it became clear that, at 21, I had to get some practical skills and fast – before testing my parents’ patience to the limit.

So I studied and graduated with the Royal School of Arts Diploma for Personal Assistants.  The syllabus included not only typing and shorthand but also law, economics, marketing and management.

This was shortly before the business world switched on its collective PCs and life was never the same again.

I honestly believe that it was the skills I gained as a PA which eventually allowed me to get an entry level marketing job and work my way up.

It’s not much different today for graduates and school leavers.  Jobs are in short supply and employers understandably want employees who can ‘hit the ground running’.

And it’s even tougher for mums returning to the workplace.

When I left my last job, I was Practice Director and Head of Marketing for a large Welsh law firm. Walking back into that role after almost 10 years would be a huge challenge!

Part-time jobs are in short supply, particularly those with hours that fit around school times.

But one solution may be to do as I did all those years ago and train as a personal assistant.

Today more and more employers recognise the need to attract and retain well-qualified staff and many allow home-working on non-critical days to create a more flexible working schedule.

Lots of office tasks can also be carried out remotely – for example, diary management, organising meetings and preparation of documents.

In fact, virtual assistants are also becoming more popular and I know of some fellow bloggers who employ them to handle their social media work.

These are careers that offer great flexibility and would complement other home-working jobs.

So what exactly does a personal assistant (PA) do?

In my days as a PA to the chairman of a construction company, I found this included anything from buying the wife a gift, picking up dry-cleaning and ensuring the right sandwich was ready to eat at midday precisely.

Things have changed a little today (although if you watched “The Devil Wears Prada” you might take a different view).

PAs work closely with senior managerial or directorial staff to provide administrative support, usually on a one-to-one basis.

become a personal assistant - selection of office supplies

It’s your job to help them make the best use of their time by dealing with secretarial and administrative tasks.

For example:-

  • creating and maintaining office systems such as data management and filing
  • handling travel arrangements
  • presentations preparation (research, document preparation, photocopying, meeting arrangements)
  • screening phone calls, enquiries and requests
  • meeting and greeting visitors
  • organising and maintaining diaries and making appointments
  • dealing with incoming email and post
  • producing documents, briefing papers, reports and presentations
  • organising and attending meetings and ensuring the manager is well prepared for meetings
  • liaising with clients, suppliers and other staff.

Starting salaries are between £17,000 and £25,000 but in central London these can range from £22,000 to £30,000 rising to £50,000 in Executive PA positions, depending on the level of experience and the type of business.

You can find some excellent PA courses in London or you could try contacting your local authority for a list of colleges which might offer something similar if you live elsewhere in the UK.

Make no mistake – a PA position can be very influential indeed and I think it’s an excellent stepping stone to a higher managerial role in time.

There’s nothing like being a PA for learning the valuable people skills you need to succeed – no matter what the job and you’ll find your first assignment at https://uk.jooble.org/jobs-personal-assistant.

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Working Mum Debate: Work From Home Vs. Back To The Office

After pregnancy, many mothers have the choice between going back to work and staying at home with their child.

Nowadays, mostly thanks to the technological evolutions of the past several decades, there are many more work options that enable employees to work from home.

woman in office lounging on a bean bag working on her Mac

This is a concept especially interesting to mothers who wish to both spend time with their young children and not miss out on work.

These types of work often come in the form of “freelancing”, and can be found through simple Google-searches or through any of the multiple freelancing platforms.

These professions predominantly include: freelance writing, freelance accounting, graphic design, web-development, marketing, teaching and translating.

On the other hand, going back to work in most cases means going back to the same company the mother worked at before her pregnancy.

However, there are also cases when a mum may wish to pursue a different career path. In those cases check what are the most in-demand jobs in your area and get yourself familiar with what qualifications you may need. Have a look also at mock interviews online, such as for example nursing interview questions for those interested in becoming part of the UK’s ever growing healthcare industry.

With so many options out there, let’s explore the pros and cons of both working from home and going back to the office.

Work from home

Some pros of work from home are having no commute and cost savings (like those from childcare). You also get to be in your own space, which is said to inspire creativity and improve productivity. Plus, if you need to get recharged and enthused, you can spend time playing with your child instead of scrolling through social media in an office setting.

With some organization (and luck), you also could schedule your day around your child’s general nap or school schedule.

Some cons of work from home include the need for self-motivation and discipline.

You’ll have little to no socialization with like-minded adults, which means you’ll have to look elsewhere to bounce ideas around.

It can also be quite difficult to spend time with your child for 15 minutes during a work break, then having to close the door for two hours while you take a business call and can hear them cry from the other room.

Back to the office

The two main pros of going back to the office are interaction with other professionals and collaboration.

You are also able to focus more of your direct attention on your work while working in an office, as there is no possibility of your 3 old banging on the door and causing a temporary mind shift back into home mode.

Though the idea of absence making the heart grow fonder is pretty out there, it also makes you savor the time reading a storybook with your child even more.

Cons of going back to the office are headed by having to leave your kids everyday. Daycare drop-offs or trying to slip out the door while the babysitter attempts to distract them can be really difficult.

Working in an office can also mean having to put up with your company’s work environment, which can be loud, distracting and not as conducive to productivity as the work routine that normally gets your creative juices flowing.

No matter what work option you prefer, having the possibility to even have this debate is huge.

Without recent technological advances, many would still be debating between raising kids and working.

Now you can change your mind as you see fit and it is up to you to explore what inspires your productivity, suits your family and makes you the happiest with your work-life balance.

Small Business Owner? Will Your Kids See You This Christmas Day?

472,000 small business owners will be working every day over the Christmas holidays without a single day off, according to a survey commissioned by business for sale marketplace, mybizdaq.com.

With the rising costs of hiring staff, small business owners are sacrificing more of their own holiday time to keep their business running and spending less time with their families and kids.

MacBook on Bed

A total of 2.8 million small business owners will be working in some capacity over the Christmas period. 34% of these say they are planning to work as they can’t afford to take the time off. A further 17% of owners say they are unable to take time off as they do not have enough staff to cover this period.

The survey found that the cost of employing staff is a growing issue, with 2.3 million small business owners not hiring additional staff due to the rising costs of employment.

This makes grim reading for parents whose kids are just setting out in the UK workplace and for mothers looking to return to work.

Apprenticeships aren’t considered an option either. Only 14% of small businesses are planning to take on an apprentice in 2017, despite the incentives available for businesses hiring one.

Additionally, the National Minimum Wage and the Living Wage was cited as a growing reason for not being able to hire employees.

Christmas isn’t the only time that small business owners are having trouble taking time off though, as over a third of small business owners (34%) have only taken 10 or fewer days of holiday in 2016.

The average amount of holiday days taken was 17, which is still over two weeks below the entitlement for an average full-time UK worker.

With over 60% of small business owners foregoing their Christmas break and with 43% citing high taxes as a reason contributing towards having to work such long hours, it’s clear the Government has much do to in order to improve the working climate and to reduce the UK unemployment figure.

Will you be working on Christmas Day?

 

Mums Forced Out Of Work Due To Lack Of Flexible Jobs

In my time in the corporate world, it quickly became clear that all jobs were not created equal. Time after time I would see women in relatively senior positions return from maternity leave only to find out that their role had mysteriously been redefined.  Or, if they did request a more flexible working arrangement, this would be frowned upon and deemed as unfair to the rest of the staff (often predominantly women).

women working at pc

Many of the firms I worked for considered themselves above the constraints of employment law – or at least they knew very well how to circumvent them.

As usual, mums and those without kids were pitted against each other.  Occasionally there might be a half-hearted attempt at a ‘job share’ but, in general, the working lives of women returners were often made so untenable that they left.

So it was no surprise to read that Workingmums.co.uk is calling for improved education on employment rights and toughening up of legislation

Nearly one in five (18%) working mums have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down, according to Workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey published on 18th October this year.

The survey of over 2,000 women in Workingmums.co.uk’s 10th anniversary year shows that over a quarter (26%) of mums in work have had a flexible working request turned down. Some 12 per cent said their employer did not even seem to consider their request at all and over a quarter (27%) said the reason given for turning down the request was not one which is allowable under flexible working legislation.

For women currently on maternity leave the figures were higher: 35% of those who had had a flexible working request turned down had had it rejected on grounds other than reasons which are allowable under flexible working legislation. Some 68% said they did not feel the rejection was justified. However, 79% did not appeal. This was not surprising given only 5% appealed successfully. Some 41% of those on maternity leave said refusal of flexible working would mean they might not return to their job, yet 50% said they had not discussed flexible working before going on maternity leave.

The survey shows that availability of flexible working is the key career development issue for working mums, with some element of homeworking the most valued, particularly for those wanting to work full time. Other barriers included childcare costs – half of women currently on maternity leave said childcare costs could prevent them returning to work.

Flexible working legislation was extended to all employees in 2014, but some provisions of the original legislation, such as the statutory right of appeal, were watered down.

The survey shows a divide between those women who have extremely flexible jobs (10%) and those who have no flexibility at all (9%) or whose jobs are not very flexible (26%).

It also reveals that many employers are failing to retain the skills of working mums after maternity leave. Some 60% of women said they changed jobs after maternity leave and 58% say they are interested in starting their own business or becoming a franchisee, with 40% of these actively pursuing ideas and plans. Research has shown that the ability to be more in control of their hours – not necessarily to work fewer hours – is a key driver for those women who want to start businesses after having children.

Some 64% are interested in retraining. A previous Workingmums.co.uk’s survey showed a need for more flexible working and a desire to do something they considered more meaningful were behind many mums’ interest in retraining.

The survey also showed:
– job shares are still not used by many employers. Only 4% of women said they were in a job share, despite 55% wanting to work part time
– 57% of working mums struggle with holiday and after school childcare
– 46% use grandparents to reduce childcare costs
– 38% pay no childcare costs as they use family/friends to cover pick-ups or work school-friendly hours.

Under flexible working legislation employers have a duty to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. Workingmums.co.uk also has concerns about the weakness of the legislation around the right of appeal and clearly the survey bears out those concerns since most who had their request rejected while on maternity leave did not appeal, even though 68% felt the reasons given for the rejection was not justified.

Workingmums.co.uk would like to see more efforts made both to promote the case for flexible working more widely and to educate women about their rights with regard to the legislation. They would also like policymakers to look at the case for reinstating a statutory right of appeal if a request is turned down as this would send an important message to employers that they must give serious consideration to requests and not just dismiss them out of hand.

It’s really not good enough in 2016 is it.  And might I suggest that in this Anti Bullying Week, some employers dogged determination to discriminate against those with kids (including dads, many of whom face similar issues), is nothing less than bullying.