I’m not necessarily the best person to write about this. I have a very full time job. Both maternity leaves, I came back part time, and ended up full time quicker than I intended, as it just seemed easier to go in for that meeting every single day…
But I feel I do a reasonable job as a boss, in a large corporate, of making it work for my team. Usually I think that what I do is just sensible – it’s not that easy to get good staff these days. But then I run into people who tell me that flexible work is impossible in their teams (monthly deadlines, etc, etc) and I think that maybe I have some insights.
I have a team of nearly 40 people. In that team, I have various flexible arrangements:
- most actuarial students are studying some pretty tough exams. They have a day off a week study leave, during their peak exam season (2 months or so before the twice yearly exams). So all actuaries are used to organising who gets which day off (Wednesday is always the most popular – usually the senior students get that one).
- a uni student who comes in a day and a half a week. She does the mundane data crunching that everyone else turns their noses up at
- a guy with irreplaceable corporate knowledge, who was keen to take serious paternity leave when his wife went back to work. He is working a day and a half a week, one full day, and the rest what he can fit in, while we try and make sure we take advantage of his substantial experience
- Someone who works from home three days a week, two in the office – a completely full time load. I thought I had her forever, with that set up, but unfortunately a 50% pay increase was enough that she was prepared to go into the office five days a week again for another company (the extra pay was enough so her husband could stay home with the kids).
- My deputy is four days a week (but five days for three months a year during year end). He started doing that when his youngest child was three – five years later, he would go full time again for the right job, but hasn’t found it yet. His wife is now working three days a week, so he values his day at home more than ever
- Two more people work 60% jobs, one of them two days in the office and one at home, and the other 9 – 2 every day.
And the one that cause me the most soul searching. I replaced one of my senior managers recently. The best candidate, by far, was someone who wanted to work three days a week. She had been doing that for the last 8 years. I really didn’t think the role was doable three days a week, but talked to her anyway. She convinced me that she was good at managing it. Three months later, it is working out much better than I expected. If she was working full time, she probably wouldn’t have taken the role – she would have had a bigger choice, and taken something more senior, with more challenge. But with the savings from her working only three days, I’ve hired an extra junior person in her team. She is giving space to her team to grow and develop, but at the same time adding much needed experience to the team.
Part of the reason I took the risk on my new hire was that I passionately believe that the workplace has to change to give opportunities to people to work less than a five day week. I have the opportunity to make that happen, in a small way, in my team. So I went for it. But next, I realise, if I really believe in this stuff, I need to show my colleagues how well it works – to help them realise how much wider your talent pool can be with a bit of imagination.
In this current depressed environment, there are opportunities – many companies are actively asking people to go part time. But many more should be taking the opportunity to get a bit of experience at a cheap price, by going for someone who is keen to do a part time role.