Your work problems solved

16 February 2015

Q: I graduated from a red-brick university 12 years ago with a good degree, speak three languages and had initially worked my way up in a charity, only to be signed off with stress when I hit a medium level of responsibility. After relocating and having two children, I now work two days a week at a tiny local charity but it is easy and unchallenging work and I am increasingly frustrated at how my career is turning out.

I have no idea what I want to do. Should I use my languages? Should I refocus in the charitable sector or move to a new career in something like, accountancy or even PR or sales? I'm a little bit lost and don't want to get to 40 and realise that I've wasted my life.
KH/via email

A: I'm sorry to hear about your frustration with your career and, of course, you have not wasted your life. Having a setback at work doesn't have to be negative if you have learnt from the experience.

Firstly, it is important to understand more about why managerial responsibility caused you such stress? Was it an unsupportive boss, the workload, the people you were managing? Often the third sector is one of the hardest places to hold a managerial role as there can be a lack of direction, accountability and resources and it is a very political environment, so I'd stay away from that sector for now.

I'm interested in why you want a career at all? Is it because you feel you should have one because of your academic and language success or your social group? Being a mother can be very rewarding and if you are the main carer, this will shape your options. Ultimately, it is about choosing something you have an interest in and that will challenge you in a intellectual way.

Accountancy can be a good career if you are interested in how businesses work but I expect you may find PR and sales a stressful environment to establish yourself in now. I would also consider running your own business, teaching or translating from the options you have given me.

I think you would benefit from a one-to-one session with a careers coach to discuss your motives and preferences for your future career.

I hope it goes well.

Q: I've recently returned to work from maternity leave and have been shunted to one side rather than offered my old role back. Is this fair or legal? I have returned full-time and have not requested any flexible working (it's a 9-to-5 job and my mother looks after my son during the week), so there is no need to prevent me from simply taking up where I left off. How can I sort this out?
RJ/via email

A: What do you mean about being shunted to one side? Is it a job at the same level but a different area? Whether it is fair and/or legal depends on how long you took off for your maternity leave. Was it more than 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave (OML) or did you take the full 52 weeks (additional maternity leave or AML)?

If you only took OML, you should have been offered your old job back. Assuming you took AML, you should have been offered your old job back, unless this was not reasonably practical. Small organisations in particular struggle to keep jobs open for a year, especially when they are customer facing.

If it wasn't possible to offer you your old job back, you should have been offered a job that is suitable for you and appropriate in the circumstances, on the same terms and conditions as your old job. For example, your pay must be at least the same as your old job. If you don't feel this is the case, I would advise you to speak to Acas for further advice on 0300 123 1100.

So to answer your question, yes, it's probably legal but often it doesn't feel very fair. The best thing you can do is look ahead and really perform in the role you have been given.

Q: I have recently found out that one of the people I manage earns a lot more than me. Since I discovered this, it has really started to bother me.

I have told my superior who promised to look into it but I do not know if this will be done with any urgency (if at all). Is it fair to manage someone earning more money? I believe it compromises both of us and is very unhelpful to the staff/ management dynamic.
MS/via email

A: Alas, what people are paid is all driven by market rate and it is more common than you think for managers to earn less than the staff reporting to them. It is most common in specialist roles or where a company has a pay structure that rewards long service.

Often graduates that join the legal and accountancy professions can come in on higher starting salaries than the intake above them because the market has driven it. Likewise, think of the world of football. Managers earning significantly less than the players.

All that said, if you feel you are earning less than your market rate (check data with a recruitment agency) why not put a case together for your manager to consider? Focus on comparables and what you have achieved. Merely saying it's not fair won't do much more than mark you out as immature and while it's important to you, it's not business critical or urgent. My best advice is to suck it up and wait for the right opportunity to promote yourself with your manager.

Q; My company has turned down my request for flexible working (working one day a week from home) but has said that I can work a day less if I want for a 20% pay cut. I don't want to do that. Is there anything else I can do to get the company to agree to my flexible working request?
PK/via email

A: Every employee has had the statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks' employment service since 30 June 2014.

If you are within three months of your request being turned down, you can appeal. Failing that, you can apply again in 12 months as you can only make one request a year.

I don't know what work you do but not every role can be carried out from home. Ultimately, any request should focus on how the business will still achieve its objectives rather than on your personal desire to be at home.

Can you look into how others doing the work you do have worked from home and productivity and/or quality has increased? Any request that has a compelling business reason behind it is normally granted.

A four-day week is quite a common working pattern and is much sought after. The alternative is a compressed week where you work your full hours in four days but, again, such a request would need to be made in line with the rules.

Ruth Cornish is an HR consultant with more than 25 years experience. Visit for more info.

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