By Debbie Schultz of Fuel50 Career Engagement Group

Employees are asking for it, organisations are formalising it,
and there are clear business benefits for the part time
professional role, but how do you actually make it work
successfully in your organisation?

Step in the right direction

Vodafone announced recently that it would offer 16 weeks of paid
leave to new mothers in all 30 countries in which it operates. They
also now offer returning parents the option of working a 30-hour
week, with full-time pay for the first six months they’re back. The
policy change is aimed at attracting and retaining talented women,
and has been described as ground breaking and a step in the right
direction, supporting women to re-enter the workplace after having
children.

Offering reduced hours is certainly a fantastic step in the
right direction, and with policies like this, and the general shift
away from the traditional 9 to 5, we are likely to see more and
more talented employees working reduced hours in all levels of the
organisational hierarchy.

Popular option

Working mother keypadIn fact the demand for part time hours appears to be on the
increase. Our global research on career trends gathered feedback
from 1,000 participants from around the globe. Our aim was to
better understand career drivers and aspirations in order to better
inform talent, diversity and retention programmes.  We found
that 61% of respondees were interested in working a 4 day week or 9
day fortnight and would gladly sacrifice salary to do so.

There is also a growing body of research to suggest that
flexible work practices pay off for employers. A Working Mom’s
Research Survey of 50,000 US employees (reported by the Corporate
Executive Board) found that people who are happy with their
work-life benefits are also likely to work 21% harder, and are 33%
more likely to stay.

The attraction of working reduced hours is pretty
straightforward: flexibility and time to care for children, while
at the same time still contributing to the family’s income. There
is also usually a very strong pull to continue to contribute to
their profession in a meaningful and rewarding way, leveraging
years of experience and acquired talents.

On the whole, reduced hours can look like a very alluring
proposition – the perfect middle ground – a mix of fulfilling and
stimulating work, and an opportunity to play a significant care
giving role, but not predominantly one over the other.

There are clear benefits for both employee and employer, but the
critical question remains, how do you actually make it work
successfully in your organisation?

How do you make it work?

How do you make shortened hours work for employees, the
organisation and the teams they work in, particularly in senior
roles?

There are many examples of successful arrangements, with both
organisations and individuals balancing give-and-take to make it
work.

However, occasionally well intended arrangements go awry for a
number of reasons. Sometimes the role is still really a full time
job, masquerading as part time. In some cases team communication
suffers as people struggle to find meeting times to suit all, and
work may bottle neck as key decisions are delayed while part timers
are out of the office.

Also career progression for professionals in part time roles can
sometimes falter. It may be that they are overlooked for critical
stretch assignments and professional development opportunities,
limiting future career growth and advancement.

However there is another much less discussed barrier to success
which interestingly turns out to be the very phrase
‘part time’.

The problem with the word ‘Part-Time ‘

Research into unconscious bias suggests that just being labelled
as a part timer can potentially reduce your status in the eyes of
others. This happens in organisational cultures that value and
reward face-time and visibility in the office, and perceived
commitment (demonstrated by working full-time and often long
hours). Because of this, the contribution of part time workers may
be undervalued and not rewarded.

Some part timers don’t help themselves in this regard, often
referring to themselves as “only part time”, further reducing their
value in their own eyes and the eyes of others.

Unfortunately in an effort to demonstrate commitment, some
flexible workers end up working much longer than required to prove
themselves worthy.  Making up time in the weekend and
evenings. Researchers have coined this phenomenon “the flexibility
stigma”, as discussed in a recent article by the Atlantic – The
Hidden Cost of a Flexible Job.

So, how are organisations tackling this?

There are many organizations tackling these issues head on and
presenting a range of innovative solutions to encourage more
flexibility at work and acceptance of different work habits.

One New Zealand bank we have worked with recently has had great
success in this area, winning an international diversity award for
its efforts.

Something as simple as a job title change can make all the
difference. Critical customer service staff covering only peak
hours were historically referred to as casual staff, and
now are known as key time staff in an effort to boost confidence
and status of this very important group of workers crucial to the
businesses customer service delivery.

Leadership programs

Targeted Leadership programs were also offered to people
leaders. Their purpose was to combine the latest thinking in
conscious and unconscious bias, with tools to support leaders to
have tailored and customized career conversations with all team
members to facilitate optimal career-life blend.

Leaders worked through a range of practical tools and ways of
thinking to support these conversations, such as discussing and
better understanding typical career stages, career derailers, the
benefits of a lattice approach to career pathways (highlighting
lateral and diagonal career movement which provides more varied
options for growth and development) and career diagnostic tools to
uncover preferences such as work pace, desire for reduced or flexi
hours and current bandwidth for extra work.

All of which provide leaders with the confidence and support to
discuss and put in place flexible arrangements successfully.

Peer support

Sometimes success can come from the support of a peer network of
people in a similar position to you.  Global organisations
such as J.P Morgan are supporting workers getting back up to speed
after maternity leave by offering peer support in the way of
organised return-to-work programs. The group provides support where
vulnerability can be discussed openly, and a forum for exchanging
advice on personal and professional challenges.

Initiatives like these are critical in order to ensure that key
talents are not wasted because women and men can’t find a way to
use their skills in a way that won’t compromise their desire to
play a larger care giving role at home.

Perhaps the word part time needs a makeover to
something that fully represents the value and commitment this
growing group of professional women and men bring to the world of
work.

Acknowledgment

Debbie Schultz is Head of Client Partnerships Australasia for
Career Engagement Group, designers of interactive cloud-based
career path software Fuel50. Debbie partners with her clients to
consult, design and deliver powerful OD Strategies that span
employee engagement, career and leadership development, culture,
diversity, and talent.  Visit Fuel50 or connect with Debbie on LinkedIn.

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