Power league of part-timers proves long hours aren’t the only way to succeed

Several high-profile executives and legal eagles now do their jobs part-time – without anyone thinking they’ve given up on their career

Until recently working part-time was a dirty word capable of stopping ambitious women in their tracks. But a growing band of highly paid part-timers are rehabilitating the term. A part-time “power league” compiled by specialist recruitment firm Timewise Jobs was topped by high-profile executives such as Katie Bickerstaffe, who fits running Dixons’ UK retail business into a four-day week, and Helen Michels, Diageo’s global innovation director, who works three days a week.

A small but growing number of men in senior positions are also choosing to work part-time. Mike Dean is head of Accenture’s business process outsourcing unit for the UK, Ireland and the Nordics, and is responsible for almost 16,000 jobs. But he works three days a week, so he can also spend time running youth groups and enterprise projects in schools.

Forward-thinking companies have recognised this trend and say flexible working is crucial to recruiting and retaining talented staff.

Dean says: “The leadership of Accenture recognises this is the only way to compete in the labour market. The younger generation are not interested in working 24/7.”

But there is a long way to go, particularly in finance and other industries where long hours are seen as crucial to success. Stephen Bevan, director of the centre for workforce effectiveness at the Work Foundation, says: “Commitment is measured in fairly crude ways. If you are in a senior position and want to work four days, most people think you are signalling that you don’t want a career, your ambition is stunted, and you’re not prepared to be full-time on the corporate treadmill.”

Nicola Rabson was the first lawyer to be made an equity partner at Linklaters while working part-time. She works three-and-a-half days a week and has been working “flexibly” (her preferred term) for 10 years, in order to spend more time with her three children.

“You have to be careful in the way you present yourself,” she says, “so people don’t think you are stepping off the career ladder. The way to demonstrate that is in how you work.”

She admits part-timers run the risk of doing full-time work for less pay, particularly in this era of constant communications. “I think that’s the reality of the world. In some cases I accepted that I may well be doing the hours of a full-timer but was able to have my time at home, and for me that was worth it.”

She says being organised is crucial. “My daughter, when she was about three said, ‘Get off your BlackBerry’. I’ve learned to be more disciplined.”

Now, even some of Accenture’s more old-fashioned clients are asking for advice on flexible working. Accenture is a good example to other companies, says Dean, because of its reputation for a macho, long-hours culture. “People are surprised we have the level of flexibility we do. If Accenture can do it, anyone can.”

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