Envelope announcements

Advertising and branding on envelopes, a great idea that plenty of organisations do successfully. Sometimes though, it can go awry, like it seems to have done for Transport for London recently.

Taking to parenting website Mumsnet, a pregnant Londoner recounted how she had sent off for a Transport for London ‘Baby on Board’ badge – which acts as a visual cue when asking for a seat on crowded trains. She requested it be sent to her work address. Rather than arriving in a plain brown envelope as one had in a previous pregnancy, the badge turned up in a ‘Mind the bump’  emblazoned envelope complete with a picture of the badge – in front of colleagues that she hadn’t mentioned her pregnancy to yet. Not good.

The branding is due to a commercial partnership between TfL and online retailer Not On The High Street. Commercialisation is the name of the game in the public sector at the moment. Ever decreasing funding means that as well as cutting costs and becoming more efficient, projects that bring in extra income are a big focus. 

Partnering with a big and well-regarded online retailer seems a good match for TfL, and the branding is nicely done. Unfortunately, with the envelope, they seem to have missed the fact that many women apply for a badge in their first trimester, a time when they may not look visibly pregnant yet could feel absolutely awful, but are not ready to tell everyone they know about their pregnancy.

With pregnancy discrimination a real issue for some women, this branded envelope could have caused a real problem. As it is, there seem to have been no repercussions in this case, apart from a complaint to TfL apparently resulting in the folllowing paragraph being added to their online badge request page:

Baby on Board badges come in branded envelopes. Please make sure you order your badge to a suitable address if you have not yet announced your pregnancy.

I wonder how many envelopes they’ve already had printed. There’s a lesson there for us all.


Let’s get flexible

Brightly colored drinking straws with flexible head
According to research released this week, 90 percent of UK businesses are open to flexible working, but only 25 percent say so in job adverts. With nearly 17 million people working part-time or wanting to work more flexibly, organisations are doing themselves and potential applicants a disservice by not being upfront.

A Flexible Future For Britain? has been published by Timewise, a social business and recruitment consultancy focused on part-time and flexible working, the research states that 8.2 million people already work 30 hours a week or less, but a further 8.7 million full-time workers would like to work flexibly, whether that’s shorter or compressed hours, job-sharing, working from home or other alternatives.

Flexible working is a subject close to my heart. The willingness of the council I work for to consider and agree to job-sharing has meant me being able to keep my career going while my children are small. When the post was advertised we could take our pick of quality applicants. It’s worked well so far, with benefits for all parties. I also have colleagues who work compressed hours, have reduced their hours in the lead-up to retirement or who regularly work from home: after all, with modern technology it’s easier than ever to work remotely.

Until now, anyone could ask their employer to work flexibly, but only employees caring for a child or adult had the legal right to request flexible working. This will change from 30 June, with all employees with 26 weeks service or more having the legal right to make a request. Organisations can still turn down requests if they have a good business reason. It’s great that the playing field is being levelled, but what about people applying for a new job or a promotion?

According to the Timewise survey, most managers are pleased to hear from potential candidates enquiring whether a post advertised as full-time could be worked flexibly; although 30 percent get annoyed and 10 percent consider their time is being wasted. Although a call at the start of the process must be better than having the conversation at interview stage, which 57 percent say is when it tends to be raised.

As you climb the career ladder, flexible working options also reduce. Surveyed managers were asked what kind of roles they’d consider advertising as having room for flexibility:

  • Junior: 43 percent
  • Manager: 30 percent
  • Director: 14 percent
  • Leadership: 9 percent
  • None: 21 percent

This is further underscored by the belief that flexible workers are less ambitious than full-timers, stated by 69 percent. But if flexible conditions are thinner on the ground at managerial level and above, how can the ambitious flexible worker move to the next stage of their career? It’s a vicious circle.

It would be great to see employers approach flexible working as an opportunity rather than a burden, and drop the assumption that it’s the choice of those lacking in ambition. Until they make a change to their thinking though, they’ll never know.

With the potential for all workers to ask for flexible working options, forward-thinking employers who put real time and thought into modernising their working arrangements could well find they can skim off the cream of the recruitment crop.

Creative Commons: Flexible drinking straws with flexible head by Horio Varlan on Flickr

CIPR member on child-related leave?

Piggy bank money slotsChildren. Lovely dots who can reduce your bank balance at a frightening rate. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) have some great concessions for members on maternity,paternity or adoption leave, or who work less than twenty hours a week. I didn’t know about them until recently so thought it would be good to share.

Payment breaks for child-related leave

Rates of statutory maternity and related pay can be a shock when you’re used to your normal wage. With membership fees of up to £217, the six-month payment break the CIPR offers for members on maternity,paternity or adoption leave of more than 12 weeks is not to be sniffed at. I’ve just successfully applied. One phone call to the membership team, and one emailed copy of my maternity leave letter from work, and it was done.

Continuing Professional Development points

The 60 points a year you need to accrue over the CIPR CPD year can be difficult to reach when you’re on leave after a birth or adoption. Again, the CIPR has considered this and can award discretionary points to help maintain your CPD record – and Accredited Practitioner status if you hold it. I contacted the CPD Coordinator and was awarded 50 CPD points for this year, which is a major help. Done easily and with no fuss. Great. Thanks to Laura Young, @RedFraggle80, for the tip-off.

Part-time membership payment reduction

If you work less than 20 hours a week – which I do  – you can apply for a 50% reduction in your membership fees. That’s a massive saving and one that will make a big difference to me. I’ll be applying as soon as I get back to the office after maternity leave.

Other reductions and the benevolent fund

When it comes to membership fee costs, the CIPR has also considered people on career breaks and retired members. You can find out all of the details on the Institute’s membership renewal page.

There’s also a benevolent fund – Iprovision – to help members who are seriously ill, in hardship or out of work.  Members pay a small levy each year; I make my donation alongside my membership fee. While you hope you’ll never need it, it’s good to know it’s there.

Creative commons credit: Piggy Bank Coin Slot by R Nial Bradshaw

Does local government PR need some PR?

Three sewing dummiesA few years ago I went to a PR student speed dating event. I was one of about 20 practitioners speaking to undergraduates about the sectors we worked in and what our working days were like.

Students from two colleges spoke to each of us in turn for five minutes. The group was mainly women – two thirds of practitioners are according to the CIPR’s State of the PR profession survey –  and, when I asked which sector they were thinking of going into, a high proportion said: “fashion PR”. As far as I can remember, not one mentioned any kind of public sector PR.

I’ve pondered for a long time about why this might be.  When you’re in local government, you realise just how fast-paced and varied public relations is. No day is the same as the next. The media want to and will engage with you. You’re dealing with a range of services, specialists and communities. Politics – local and national – is fascinating. You can help make a real difference to people’s lives. There are some remarkable things going on, especially with digital, and it’s a sector where people want to share and do.

I know that local government PR isn’t all rosy, that the nature of some of our services mean that when things go wrong they go seriously and life-threateningly wrong. That you generally have a budget of nil to work with and need to counter general negativity towards councils; but I do believe that the pros outweigh the cons.

If I know this, and others in similar jobs know it too, why didn’t these students know? Why hadn’t we told them? Why did their eyes invariably glaze over when I told them where I worked?

I can take a stab that plenty of 18-21 year olds probably aren’t that engaged with councils and neither know nor care what we do – I know I didn’t . Perhaps we’re guilty of not offering enough entry-level positions like Solihull Council’s graduate internship. If we gave more people their first break, we might be more visible on career radar.

And while I understand that fashion PR probably sounds a lot more glamorous than working at a town hall – where it’s more brew than Bolly – it seemed a crying shame that these students as a whole were missing the vast potential of exciting jobs they could be taking on. Perhaps our branch of PR needs some PR.

Photo: SewingMachine-0281 by University of Derby Teaching & Learning via Flickr


Full coffee cup with a heart shaped into the top of the drinkI went to #Brewcamp in Birmingham yesterday (6 October). It was cracking.

I’ve been reading about the #Teacamp movement on Twitter and online for a while now, and wanted to see for myself just how it works.

About 15 local gov types pitched up in their own time to share ideas and listen to three interesting speakers. Add hot coffee and what’s not to like?

We heard from Nicky Getgood about issues her residents’ association has faced in trying to connect with the council, Stu Lester about open source mapping and the potential it has to save money and build community ties, and from Si Whitehouse about the freshly-launched Birmingham Civic Dashboard.

It was a eclectic mix of subjects but they were all relevant and thought-provoking in different ways. Everyone was passionate about their subject, making each talk really grab you. I gained more from two hours sitting in a coffee shop than I reckon I would in many an expensive training session (of which there seem to be so many for social media).

West Midlands public services are using social media in positive and open ways and have organised lots of ways of getting together to do and share. It’s hugely impressive and something that other areas can learn a lot from.

A huge thank you to Dan Slee and everyone else for making me feel so welcome and giving me lots of food for thought. Hopefully see you all again in the future!

Creative commons: Cafe D’atre Latte Art Cropped by I Need Coffee / Coffee Lover on Flickr

In praise of flexible working

The word 'flexible!' on a container of fish oil capsulesOne of the thing that local government does really well – and I feel isn’t lauded enough for – is promoting and supporting flexible working.

I applied after having my first child. Having weighed up the eyewatering childcare costs, and the fact that I wanted to have time at home with my daughter while she was little, I was delighted when my application to work two days a week was approved.

When we advertised the remaining three days of the shiny new job-share post, it attracted a huge volume of applications. There are plenty of communications professionals who would like to work part-time it would seem.

Benefits for me have included being at home with my children, keeping childcare costs down and still keeping my career ticking over. My employer has retained my experience, boosted my loyalty and gained another communications professional in my job-share partner. Two heads really can be better than one.

Challenges have included adjusting to a different way of working, keeping up with an often fast-moving agenda – a lot can happen in the three days that I’m not in – and needing to work harder to establish and maintain relationships with colleagues, councillors and other contacts.

I feel that the benefits have outweighed the challenges.

And it’s not just parents – that’s parents, not just mothers – who apply to work flexibly. Some workers want to wind down before retirement, some to pursue outside interests and a growing number have responsibilities for ageing parents that can be hard to reconcile with a full working week.

Flexible working should also be seen as an opportunity in these constrained times. Must posts be full-time and, in the main, office based? There are plenty of people out there who’d like to work more flexibly. Local government could be missing out on a lot of talent by sticking to the standard script.

For a comprehensive overview of the advantages and different types of flexible working visit Directgov here

Creative commons: Flexible! by chrisinplymouth on Flickr