When I took voluntary redundancy from a high-street bank after the birth of my second child, I vowed no-one I employed would suffer the same negative and inflexible experience I endured since becoming a mum.
Seven years on, I’ve been true to my word and I now employ three very happy part-time staff in the head office of my personal assistant business, Pink Spaghetti www.pink-spaghetti.co.uk all of whom work around their busy family commitments.
But first, my story. I'd worked in project management for the same high street name since starting as a graduate trainee. When I became pregnant, I put in a request for a three day working week. This was declined and I was told four days was my only part time option. A job-share was not discussed.
An even bigger blow came when I was then told my current senior management position was not practical on a part time basis and that I would need to take on a lower role in middle management.
I had been their golden girl but when I returned from maternity leave, I felt my position within the company was tainted. My opportunities for promotion and respect were gone and so three years later, after the birth of my second child, I took voluntary redundancy.
After taking some time out to spend with my young family, a chance meeting at a baby swimming class saw the beginning of a partnership that would see my dream of creating flexible employment come true. A poolside chat with my now business partner Caroline Gowing revealed we had all-too-similar experiences and after discussions about our respective talents and experience, we laid the foundations for an award-winning flexible business venture.
In 2009, three years after our first meeting and with my youngest child still at home, we launched Pink Spaghetti, a home-based, pay-as–you-go personal assistant service. Clients aren’t tied by a monthly retainer and only pay for the hours they need, which is a major selling point for the predominantly female, home-based clients who are often juggling work and childcare.
Pink Spaghetti’s strapline is 'Let us be your 25th hour' and will take on any task from our clients. A Pink Spaghetti to-do list frequently includes the bizarre alongside the every day. Sourcing reindeer for a Christmas event and attending a client’s wedding as a paid witness have featured alongside travel booking, running social media accounts, holiday cover, managing email newsletters and book keeping.
Our flexible formula has proved a success and after three years of steady growth, we decided to accelerate our expansion through franchising. As of July 2015, Pink Spaghetti operates in 10 UK territories, from Chester down to Portsmouth. Three more are due to launch this September.
The flexibility we needed in our own lives has proved a major pull for our franchisees. Almost all of them have children and share tales of inflexible employers forcing them out of the workplace.
They come to us with years of valuable business experience and yet find themselves unable to find a job that fits around their families. How can this be right? We have franchisees from all backgrounds, but they all share the same desire to not have to choose between work and family.
From our own experience, we know that our business model works both part time, to fit around the school day or nursery hours, and that it can also be scaled up as the children get older.
One of our franchisees has proved just how scalable the business is by buying a second neighbouring territory and taking on part time employees of her own. We also have franchisees with very young children who work just a few hours each day. They know that the building blocks for expansion are there once it suits their family.
Ever since that first meeting in the swimming baths, flexibility has been the driving force behind Pink Spaghetti. We have the flexibility to manage our business in a way that suits us. For clients, the pay as you go Pink Spaghetti service frees up much-needed time, without generating massive overheads. And our business model allows our franchisees to grow their businesses at their own rate, to fit around their other commitments.
But most importantly, we have been able to provide flexible employment to other busy working parents. Pink Spaghetti’s head office, in Northwich, Cheshire, employs three part-time members of staff. Lucy works during school hours only, four days a week. Katherine does three days, two to fit around school times and a third shorter one to allow for a nursery pick up on the way home. Leigh-Anne is currently on maternity leave, but before the birth of her second child she was able to work two long days at the office in order to make the most of her son's hours at nursery. When she returns from maternity leave, she has opted to switch to two short days.
Our flexible and family friendly approach was cited as a best practice case study in a report handed out at a recent Working Families conference. The charity was greatly encouraged that our employees can pick their own working hours and are able to change them at short notice.
By accommodating our employees' needs for flexible working we are offering them the kind of benefit that money can't buy. In return, they work harder and have more work satisfaction. We believe this is key for staff retention. After what I went through in my previous job, I feel very strongly that I want to set an example to other employers.
And from my own point of view, I couldn’t be happier. I work from home. I can do the school drop off and pick up and I don’t have to miss important milestones like sports days. I love my work, both servicing our own Pink Spaghetti clients here in mid-Cheshire and supporting our franchisees to grow their own businesses around the UK. When I took voluntary redundancy seven years ago, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. It’s been a fascinating journey and I wouldn’t change a moment of it.