Communication, flexibility: helping babies and branches to work together
Zoe Croll is joint manager at a busy branch in Basingstoke. She returned from almost a year’s maternity leave to an Alternative Work Arrangement (AWA) earlier this year. Drive caught up with her just over a month into her new working life to find out how she manages to juggle life in a large busy branch at work with a small baby at home.
Drive: Zoe, tell us about what it’s been like to be back at work. Are you enjoying it?
Zoe: I’ve been back working for about five weeks and it’s been mostly great! I will admit it’s been a bit of a shock to the system as I had about almost a year off. But I can honestly say it has been good.
Drive: How much had you planned your return to work?
Zoe: Initially I had thought I would take nine months off. Then as the time got closer I decided to push my return date nearer to the full year.
Before I went off on maternity leave I had a meeting with my HR department. We went through how I wanted to be kept informed and agreed my area manager would call me every now and again. I arranged to meet with him and my HR contact about November to discuss my coming back plan. When this would be, how it would work, how many days I would work and so forth. I brought the baby with me and we went out for lunch!
Drive: What made you decide to take a joint manager’s position in Basingstoke?
Zoe: I decided it was important to keep working in Basingstoke where I live. Before I left I was a branch manager on my own. Then the fleet grew quickly so there was scope for a second manager at the same branch without the need to be relocated.
Drive: What made you decide to explore an AWA as an option?
Zoe: Before I had my baby I wasn’t sure what would work best. Then I talked to other people and explored childcare options and I decided that three days would work for me.
My arrangement is three days a week and one Saturday in every four. I’m working 8 to 6 on two days, and I leave half an hour early one day to pick her up from nursery. The other manager is full time, and we have an assistant manager here too.
Drive: What do you think has helped you in making the AWA work in a rental branch?
Zoe: Georgie in HR has been great. She calls me every month or so to see how things are working and I call her whenever I need to. Every 90 days we will do a review of the AWA.
There was good support beforehand. Four months before I came back there was a maternity session at UK99. It was about how to make simple things work when you come back to work, even how to do the shopping. It was great to speak to other people. Some already had kids and were going back to work again so they shared real life insights.
About a month before I came back, Khaled organised another maternity event where several mums due to come back brought their babies. There were toys and lunch, it was really lovely. I know from talking to friends who were on maternity leave at the same time as me that none of their companies were doing anything like that for them. It felt really special.
Drive: Has there been any difference to how you feel about working in a branch now that you have a baby to care about as well?
Zoe: I think as females we all feel the same about working in a branch and having a baby. Basingstoke has always been very busy. We probably have more challenges in terms of working late, plus we’re a seven day operation.
Initially I worried about how I was going to walk out of the branch when there was still work to do because I had to go home to a baby. No one wants to leave anyone in the lurch and just walk out, but there has to be a happy balance so I can see my baby. Everyone helps me so I get home on time for which I’m very grateful. We do work as a team.
I also know there will be challenges further on as my baby gets older, when I have to leave to collect her, or when she is off school or nursery ill. Hopefully that won’t happen often.
It’s really about getting the support of the branch and making sure they know when you have to walk out of the door they understand. It’s easy to forget why I’m walking out when there is work to be done because I’m not attached to the baby and they don’t see me with her. But they are a great team.
Drive: How do you feel about being a woman and working in a branch?
Zoe: I want to show that it's possible to work in a branch and have a baby. My other manager is female, a lot of our other branch employees are females and there are a lot of females in our area.
One of our trainees has a partner expecting a baby and also has an older kid. It’s good for him to be able to see that if he has to leave early then he can. Someone at one of our branches in Aldershot has also just come back from having her fourth baby. We need to show babies and branches can work together.
Drive: Zoe, you sound very determined. Is it too early to be making plans for the future?
Zoe: I’m planning to continue in my current role for at least the next six months. I want to stay in rental and I also want to have more children. I don’t want this to stop me from working in rental because I really enjoy it. I don’t want to feel like I have to move to a more office based role because of having a baby.
Before going away on maternity leave I applied for a couple of area manager roles. Area manager is my focus, and from talking to other area managers I think it is achievable to do even though it’s going back to a five day week.
Drive: What advice would you have for other women at Enterprise who want to stay in rental and are planning a family?
Zoe: There are four things, really. The main thing is to talk to area managers and HR to find out your options, and for them to know what you want.
Don’t make the decisions before you go on maternity leave. It’s only when the baby comes that your understanding changes, along with your expectations.
Talk to other people in the same situation. There is a lot of support out there. HR was massively supportive and my area manager always tells me to ask for what I need.
Always communicate with your branch, you need to do this in order for AWA to work. Make sure your branch knows when you have to leave, when you need flexibility. If they know they will understand.