How to Advance Your Career Whilst Working Part Time

career development d&i strategies managing working parents return to work smart and flexible working working parents Jan 26, 2018

Last year, I was delivering one of our most popular workshops for one of our Swiss corporate clients, and I took the time to review the workshop evaluation feedback on my train journey home.  One attendee shared that she would have liked to have spent time looking at: How to advance your career whilst working part time. It’s a topic we often cover in our workshops but it didn't come up for this particular group of women - at least until they filled out the feedback forms at the end.

For some reason, her question has stayed with me since and I felt inspired to write a blog post about it.

As I started to apply our own experience as well as the wide amount of research that exists on  on this topic, I quickly realised that you can’t answer it from an employee only perspective - ie. How do I advance?

I also felt the need to answer it from an employer and governance perspective. To not only help the individual understand the broader aspects at play but also help organisations and leaders understand the role they have in influencing and shaping the future of work.

This question is not only relevant to working parents but to anyone who wants to pursue their professional aspirations and personal goals.

This blog post is the first in a three part series, and touches on the individual perspective and how you can get out of your own way to achieve your career goals and ambitions, whilst working reduced hours.

In weeks to come I will be posting the remaining articles offering the other perspectives:

  • the second will be focussed on the employer perspective, taking a closer look at inclusion in action and the line manager’s responsibility: How do I enable employees working part time to advance in their career?
  • the third will take a look at governance - both from organisational policy and legislation angles: How do we make flexible workplaces the norm?

We can all identify with feeling overwhelmed with our responsibilities; between workload and family life, it can be hard to prioritise. That’s why professional women, particularly mothers, often look for support from their companies when it comes to receiving flexible or reduced work hours.

It’s not only working mothers who prize flexibility at work but also other men and women, who are not necessarily parents. They too value their time and ability to work flexibly. An aging population is forcing many of us to accept the fact that we will have increased carer responsibilities for our parents and elderly family members and the younger generations value work life balance more than any other.

The length of parental leave has become a deciding factor for parents looking for a new job, or when weighing the option of staying with their existing employer. Moreover, more companies are trying to improve their internal work culture by providing “perks” for new mothers such as traveling nannies and egg freezing. While the intentions behind these initiatives are to make full-time work more appealing for employees, we’ve found that women believe these perceived “perks” are in fact perpetuating an all-access, all-the-time culture.

Many of the parents we train and coach seriously consider requesting reduced hours or flexible work arrangements from their employer. In the most part, employers are generally supportive of this and the arrangement allows them to retain talented employees in the business. If the employer is not openly promoting or supporting this possibility - and yes this includes the line managers doing their part - I truly believe many wouldn’t dare to ask.

Many parents assume, that their line manager would reject their request AND that once part time, their career would stall.

For some, this is acceptable. They don’t feel ambitions to pursue a promotion, a new opportunity or the need to invest in their professional development.

I don’t want to sound like I’m judging this decision in any way - this is perfectly OK.

For others, they may try to hide their disappointment or make defend it, even though deep down they still dream of being a leader in their organisation or being able to manage exciting projects that stretch them out of their comfort zone.

Here are some of the excuses and stories we often hear:

  • I have not seen any real examples or role models that prove this is possible
  • I can’t be a good parent / mother / father and pursue a career in leadership - the hours and demands of this level are too high!
  • My employer never considers part timers for promotion - especially for management roles
  • Having flexible hours and working from home prevent me to be visible at work and have opportunities to network with key influencers

And the list goes on….

Now, I’m certain these excuses are nothing new, and as you read you may have even heard yourself claiming similar beliefs.

Yes - some of these statements may well be true - there’s plenty of research available on the internet which proves it to be so.

For example, a UK based not-for-profit, Timewise, published research showing that a quarter of Britons now work 30 hours or less, but a survey of 1,000 employees earning the equivalent of £20,000 to £100,000 a year suggests those who have opted to do shorter working weeks often "hit a wall" and see their careers stall.

In addition, Korn/Ferry International conducted a global survey of 1,300 executives and reported that telecommuters are less likely to get promoted than peers who head into the office every day.

Yet there are is a striking number of exceptions out there which do prove that you can advance in your career whilst holding a part time role.

I have hundreds (yes hundreds) of examples of women and men who have proven the opposite is true.

Lynda Thomas, chief executive of cancer charity Macmillan is a great example. She and her job-share colleague, Hilary Cross, were promoted together four times within a decade, rising to board level in 2007 with their joint appointment as director of external affairs.

I love to look for patterns and trends and have discovered 7 key factors that have made a difference for these individuals.

I have summarised these below with real examples to inspire you to pursue your aspirations whilst working reduced hours:

#1 Don’t apologise for your hours.

Never - yes - NEVER put the word ‘just’ before ‘part time’ when describing your work patterns. Instead communicate your commitment, skill and experience. Christina Dove found herself becoming a role model when she considered moving back to full time hours. To her surprise, her colleagues made it clear they didn’t want her to do this as her part time working arrangement was setting a positive example to them and other employees. This really resonated with Christina, who, since then, has taken it upon herself to support and help men and women at Mercer to achieve their career goals whilst working part time or flexible hours.

#2 Be willing to take on more responsibility.  

You must develop the drive or have a knack for working smarter and efficiently in those hours that you have. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, what a full time worker can do in 8 hours you can very well do in 6 hours. It does not mean that you take up more responsibilities that you can possibly perform in the 4-6 hours work day, but don’t shy away from challenging projects just because you are working part-time. Katie McQuaid, UK Director of Fulfilment by Amazon, developed her career whilst working part-time. Even now she takes the time to always look at how she can deliver on agreed goals, whilst taking on what she calls ‘stretch activities’ to help her career development. Katie also claims it’s about prioritising, delegating and being more ruthless when tackling challenges.

#3 Get absolute clarity on the targets that are expected of you.

Then demonstrate your success when you hit them. Don’t give others an excuse to point to your hours as a reason for not delivering on work.

#4 Stay ambitious.

Seek out mentors / sponsors / people who can help you to grow your career, just as you would if working full time.

#5 Don’t be part time and under the radar.

Keep colleagues both above and below clear about when you’ll be in the office, when else you are available, when you expect work from them and vice versa. And don’t be afraid to speak up – if teams keep setting meetings on your day off – say so. Georgina Ode did just this. As is a common trait with people who work part time, Georgina found herself feeling obliged to say yes to all work that came her way and achieve it in the hours she worked. Unsurprisingly, this was a struggle and, with the help of her role model, Christina, she learnt to be empowered to communicate her remit more clearly so she could manage her hours and workload accordingly.

#6 Develop your time management and organisational skills.

The biggest trend amongst all the examples I have researched point to this. This lawyer shares her story on what this helped her to achieve, whilst working in a notoriously in-flexible sector. This list of time-management hacks are great for time crunched working parents.

#7 Sell the benefits of part time and job sharing to your employer.

You can do this by helping your employer to measure your performance and productivity against that of your full-time peers. You can also help them realise the benefits by sharing published examples and asking them to trial this with you. There are many studies which prove that productivity – output per working hour – improves with shorter hours. Job share Swiss ambassadors for Thailand did just this - allowing the couple to stay together during the Thai-based posting whilst both advancing their careers.

Through our corporate services at Thriving Talent as well as through our brand, Thriving Parents, we support and enable working parents to realise their career aspirations whilst enjoying their family life. If you would like us to help your employer build a more supportive environment or you would like to be part of an exclusive support group, please get in touch.

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