survey case studies: ‘Flexible working is a lifeline’ spoke to June Smith about why caring responsibilities and health issues mean flexible working is a lifeline for her.

View of older hands holding the hands of a lady lying down depicting care’s annual survey was published last week and shows that a high number of those polled want more work life balance and flexible working. We spoke to one woman who says flexible working is a lifeline for her.

For June Smith* hybrid working is ‘a lifeline’. In the last years she has had a lot to deal with alongside work – the menopause [which almost caused her to lose her job] and caring responsibilities for both her parents. Her mother recently died after a long illness and her father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He lives over 60 miles away and June, an only child, has to travel up and down regularly to care for him.

“There are many people like me in their 50s with relatives who are living longer but often in pretty poor health. When you have children you get paid maternity leave, but that is not the case for carers. You have to take a cut in salary. The assumption is that carers have money. Yet I am in effect looking after an 85-year-old baby.”

Over the last year June, now 53, has cut her hours as a data analyst at a northern university in order to care for her parents and has dropped her teaching load to focus on research due to the unpredictability of her caring responsibilities. She says her manager has been very understanding, but reduced pay means retirement is further off, even though she would like to retire earlier than 67. “Alzheimer’s can last a long time,” she says. “I may never be able to retire.” She is exhausted by all that she is managing and says her dad’s diagnosis “blew me apart mentally”.

Despite all of this, June is doing a master’s alongside her work because she doesn’t want to be written off. She says the intensity of her work can be difficult to manage, however. “In academia there is a lot of flexibility, but also an expectation that you will do extra work. And it is very competitive. There is a lot of pressure to publish and to work outside your hours which I cannot do,” she says.

She finds homeworking useful for health reasons – she has rheumatoid arthritis which is controlled with medication, but she still suffers with chronic pain and commuting makes this worse. She says: “If I sit at a desk all day it is worse. I’m much better at home where I can do regular stretches. I find commuting an incredible struggle. Yet if you read the press it seems some people are trying to force people out of homeworking. They do not understand what a lifeline it is for older workers. Before Covid I used to stand on the train platform and think I would not be able to do the commuting at 60. Covid turned my life around. I got more sleep and my health improved. If that homeworking was to go I would have to look for something more local. I can’t go back to what it was like before.”

Currently she has to be in the office one day a week as she works part time. “It’s fantastic for me. I’m much more productive at home. I get more done and often work later as I don’t have to commute,” she says.

*not her real name

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