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How to Make Part Time Work for You

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From the Women at Work podcast:

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There are a lot of reasons working part time might make sense: among them, you have more hours in the week to take care of kids or parents, take on freelance work, go back to school. But working part time can stall career advancement, and oftentimes women end up doing a full-time job for half the pay while taking on more responsibilities at home.

We speak with Linda Duxbury about the problems she’s seen some professional women run into when they work part time. She suggests factors to consider before reducing your hours and conversations that can smooth the transition. We also talk to an incredibly organized consultant and mother of three whose part-time schedule hasn’t kept her from getting promoted.

Guests:

Linda Duxbury is a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University.
Kristin McElderry is a management consultant.

Resources:

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Email us: womenatwork@hbr.org

Our theme music is Matt Hill’s “City In Motion,” provided by Audio Network.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GALLO: Kristin McElderry has Fridays off from her job as a management consultant. So, that’s when our producer, Amanda, and I met her at her home, south of Boston, on a beautiful late summer morning. We got there just before she pulled into the driveway after dropping her oldest at daycare.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Hello!

AMY GALLO: Hi!

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.

AMY GALLO: No, we just — I just pulled up. Is it OK to park right there?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Yeah, that’s totally fine. Let me come shake your hand and grab my kiddos.

AMY GALLO: Yeah, I’m just admiring your sunflowers.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Oh, thank you. I’m Kristin.

AMY GALLO: I’m Amy Gallo. Nice to meet you.

AMANDA KERSEY: Hi, I’m Amanda. I—have my hands full.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: That’s fantastic. Good to meet you. I’ll let you guys come in, and I’ll grab the kids really fast out of the car.

AMY GALLO: As Kristin brought her two younger kids inside, we started setting up mics in her living room. We were there to talk about what it’s been like for her working three days a week for a large professional services firm. Because working part time as a manager, especially in consulting, where people often put in long hours and are on call for clients, is pretty unusual. And she says that while her role is complicated — and not typical, her career is going pretty well.

Later in the show, we’ll hear how working part time doesn’t always go as well for a lot of professional women. And we’ll get advice for negotiating for the best arrangement possible and handling common issues that come up.

AMY GALLO: But for now, we’re sitting down with Kristin—baby Emma’s playing with toys nearby—to hear her story.

So my first question is, how long have you been working part time?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: I’ve worked part time for the last five years. But within that span I’ve actually taken two maternity leaves, which were almost a year each, so probably about three years. I actually just went, came back from my third maternity leave last week. Last Friday was my first day. This was kind of my first full week back. So I’m definitely in a transition state right now.

AMY GALLO: Right. And what made you want to work part time?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Oh, after I had my son, my first child, it just, I couldn’t — I was really actually on the fence about going back to work at all. A lot of my friends are actually stay at home moms, and I had really considered it. Or a lot of them work part time, but they work in more traditionally part-time roles, like they’re nurses, something with just a couple shifts a week or every few weeks. In my field, it’s not very common to work part time. But, someone from my project team, my leadership reached out to me and said, Hey, I’ve got this. I know you’ve been kind of on the fence. I think you could do it part time, would you consider it? And so I had a meeting, brought the baby with me. We talked about what that might look like and I came back. And ever since then I’ve been able to continue to take on roles that were part time.

AMY GALLO: Right.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: And they have continued to do this — they’ve said, you tell me how many days you need. And the way it works at my firm is you just take a percentage. So you do 60%, you do 80%, you do 40%, whatever you need. And so I was kind of like, I wrote the terms, they sign the terms.

AMY GALLO: Right. So there wasn’t much of a negotiation?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Not really. I mean they came to me with the role, right? Like they were in demand for my skills, which was a great place, position for me to be in. So I was able to kind of set the terms, which is helpful. I recognize a lot of people don’t have that opportunity.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Right.

KRISITIN MCELDERRY: But I also will say, I was very intentional about working in Massachusetts. So I worked for a firm that you can work all over the country. And I have been on, prior to starting to work exclusively in Massachusetts, I was on an airplane Monday through Thursday. So a lot of my peers work on airplanes. And I kind of was very intentional about trying to get involved with a local account team so that I would be doing local work. And that is what’s been enabled me to continue doing what I do because if I were being asked to do full-time travel work right now, I mean I would say no.

AMY GALLO: Right.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: And I, it’s interesting because one thing that I will say about part time that’s a little tricky is if you do want to make a transition to another firm, it is hard. I get reached out by headhunters fairly often and recruiters. And I’ll always kind of say, OK, well I work part time and, Oh, you have an 80% travel clause, I’m not really willing to do that. And that pretty much abruptly halts the conversation.

AMY GALLO: Interesting.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: And I haven’t been pursuing other work, but it’s just, I’ve been able to establish it through networking and by building goodwill with people, and you can’t do that when you start somewhere fresh.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. And that’s, I hear that advice a lot too, is that you have to be willing to go into a new job full time and then ask for part time later once you’ve proven yourself.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Absolutely. But not everybody is in a phase to do that. I’m not in a phase where I can start over.

AMY GALLO: Right, right. Were you nervous about working part time?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Yeah, I mean, definitely, I had never done it before. I mean, I was nervous. Whenever you’re a new mom, you’re nervous about leaving your child for the first time. We were in a very lucky situation — and I’m not sure if I necessarily would’ve pulled the trigger right away if I hadn’t been in this situation — but my sister-in-law actually came and lived with us for a few months. So she watched our son while I came back to work. And then we ended up kind of moving into more formal childcare after that. But I definitely think that helped me being very comfortable with the childcare kind of take that leap of faith to work part time.

AMY GALLO: And were you worried about not going back full time? So were you worried that the — obviously there’s the childcare considerations leaving your kid, but were you worried at all about your career and the implications of being part time?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Well definitely. I mean I’ve actually had many conversations where I’ve been concerned about what that means. I had a really interesting conversation with kind of who’s my boss now about a year and a half ago, maybe two ago. I had been doing work, I’d been back on the account after leave with my second, and I thought I was doing good work. But I, my confidence in being able to get kind of promoted to the next level of part time — like part of what it is in the firm I work for, you do your project work, but a lot of what helps you get to that next level is all that extra stuff, right? It’s that contributing to the company, contributing to the firm, taking on kind of what we call these plus ones. And I felt like my plus one was doing a full-time job in three days, you know? Like that is my plus one. And I didn’t really feel like I was going to be able to do any extra, anything else. I was kind of at my limit. And I had a pretty frank conversation with him and said, you know, what does this look like? And I actually felt really supported coming out of that conversation. He basically said, You want to make senior manager this year? I said, Yeah, yeah, I do. And he said, OK, let’s make it happen. He’s like, I think you’re on the track, I think you’re doing the things you need to do. And you know, it was fantastic. I did make senior manager this year, actually while I was on leave — this is my second time getting promoted while I was on maternity leave, getting a call saying, Hey, here’s a promotion. And it was fantastic. I’ve definitely felt supported. I mean with that, I just came back to work. I’m working with the same team again, a lot of the same players. And you know, I have, it’s tough. I mean, I feel like moving to the next level — I don’t see, again, I don’t know for sure how that’s going to happen. It’s a little further off. It’s a much bigger jump. I’d be moving more into like a manager, managing director kind of partner level type role. And I don’t see a lot of people doing that part time.

AMY GALLO: So it sounds like you’ve had supportive managers. How have your peers felt about you working part time?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: I mean, I think primarily supportive. I mean I think it’s tricky, sometimes from even just scheduling constraints. I can’t say that there’s been anything like specific challenges, but I’ve never felt specifically targeted. Part of it is because I’ve — and not everyone can do this — I’ve been able to pull my weight, I’ve been able to pull pretty much full-time weight in three days. And I think if I wasn’t pulling my weight on the team, maybe there’d be a little bit more conflict.

AMY GALLO: How do you do a full-time job in three days?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: I’m definitely highly efficient with my time, and I actually think it’s getting trickier, especially now that I have three kids and it’s just harder to even get off. To go out in the morning, I feel like I’ve already lived a full day before the day’s started. [LAUGHTER] I think I was highly efficient with my time, but I think there were, I also wasn’t doing a lot of those extra things I was talking about, right? Where they might’ve had bandwidth to go do those extra things, like I was getting my job done and kind of calling it a day.

AMY GALLO: Right, right, right. One of the, piece of advice I hear given to women who are considering part time is saying — [BABY CRYING]. Oh my gosh, that was amazing. [LAUGHTER] Kristin just threw, you just threw a pacifier to your baby and it landed like directly between her legs it was like a ninja move. That was crazy. You just like grabbed the pacifier, she and then she grabbed the pacifier and now she’s happy. Wow. Yeah. OK. I trust you can do a full-time job three days with that move. [LAUGHTER] That was so impressive.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Yeah, you’re getting that third baby in four years, you kind of have these like ninja skills.

AMY GALLO: Right. You also just pulled it, I don’t know if you pulled it out of a pocket or what, but it like you made it appear out of thin air that was — [BABY CRYING] I know, your mom is amazing. Yeah. So a lot of the advice I hear given to women who are considering going part time is saying, Don’t do it. You’re going to get paid half the amount or 60% of the amount, and you’re still going to do a full-time job. Do you feel like that’s been the case for you?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Yeah, so it’s interesting. I actually got the same advice from one of my main mentors. She kind of said like, everybody I know who works part time works more. And I definitely can see how that can happen. I actually, you know, just came back to work. Before when I returned from leave I like really eased into it. This time I kind of feel like I’ve been, it’s been a little quicker. I’ve gotten dropped into some pretty challenging work pretty quickly. And I’m probably going to up my allocation just a little bit just because I can tell that it’s going to be a little bit tricky to do what I need to do. But part of that is too is like because I’ve advanced, there’s a little bit more expected. I definitely think working part time makes sense for certain roles, and doesn’t make sense for other roles. And it is trickier as you get more senior.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Tell me why.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Well, I think you manage more people. So in one of my last roles I was managing I think 10 or 11 folks. They were all pretty junior, they, you know, a year or two out of college. And they all worked five days, right? So that’s 11 people working five full-time days. And I was working three days. And so giving them like kind of the mentorship that they needed and the coaching and the feedback, you know, that was tricky to do in three days in addition to client meetings and everything else. And so from just how many hours a day you have and managing a big team, that that was really tricky. I also think just kind of the scope of what you do gets a little bigger. I think one of the things that’ll be tricky for me in the next few years is now I’m involved in a lot more work where we’re responding to requests for proposals and we’re writing proposals for people and they’re very time sensitive. Sometimes they ask us for a proposal with a week. And it doesn’t matter what days of the week I have childcare lined up. If the proposal is due Friday, it’s due Friday. And that makes it a little trickier.

AMY GALLO: Right. Do you find yourself working a lot on days you’re not supposed to be working?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Historically, no. I may take a phone call here and there or a text message, because that’s kind of the norm I had established with my team. Because I did have some experiences where I would totally like sign off, don’t talk to me and then work wouldn’t continue. And then I’d get back and they’d say, Oh well I didn’t know what to do, so I just stopped. I was like, Wow, me working part time is not an excuse for you not to do your job. And so I kind of said, You’re stuck, you text me. And so a little bit, not a lot.

AMY GALLO: Have you, do you also communicate pretty regularly with the team you’re working with around what your hours are and what your boundaries are?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Yeah, I’ve definitely had to do that. They’ll set something up and I’ll say, Well I’m not able to attend or let me send somebody because I won’t be there. Also, I even had to tell my boss yesterday, he asked me for about something and I just said, Frankly, don’t have time, don’t have bandwidth today. And I was, you know, kind of teetering, should I send this, should I not send this? And then I was like, no, I have to.

AMY GALLO: How did he respond?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Actually, well. Yeah. I mean, I really have great management. They do really try and be accommodating.

AMY GALLO: So you got a good response to that email in the moment, and it sounds like there you get a lot of support. Do you have any concern that in the long-term, however, that that’s somehow impacting your career or your, people’s impression of you?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: I think sometimes. I think part of it too is that deciding to be part time is definitely making a decision about your career in some ways, right? Like if I was trying to be the CEO or make partner next year, I wouldn’t choose to be part time. Right? Like I am consciously taking, I mean, I hate to say like opting out, but I am, I am choosing to opt out in some ways just because I’m not willing to give work my 100% of my, 40 hours of my week right now, you know?

AMY GALLO: So do you think you’ll be part time forever?

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: I don’t think forever. I think for a while. I think just given my, the demands in our family — I’m actually, we’re trying out some new childcare, we’re getting an au pair in a couple of weeks. And I’m hoping that makes some things flexible. I am hoping to move up to four days. But I just think with the ages of my children — and my husband has a fantastic and demanding career as well — it’s just not going be feasible for me to go full time. I actually don’t know if I want to be full time anytime really soon. I definitely think there’s going to be a point where I’m going to want to kind of ramp my career advancement back up. But this just isn’t that phase right now.

AMY GALLO: Great. Well thank you for talking with us today.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: Thank you so much for coming. It was a pleasure meeting with you.

AMY GALLO: And thank you Emma. Thanks for letting us talk to your mom.

KRISTIN MCELDERRY: What do you say?

AMY BERNSTEIN: So it sounds like Kristin had a particularly good set-up there.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. I mean, she didn’t have to — she barely had to negotiate to get her situation. She didn’t have people who tried to stand in her way, or stop her from going part time. She really doesn’t seem to have been held back in her career. And she’s got childcare shifting needs, which is challenging, but she’s figured it out.

NICOLE TORRES: I am curious what this would be like for other women, you know, who might have to negotiate more to go from full time to part time, people who are scared to ask their boss and unsure of how to frame that question. And what about the stigma that part-time workers face, not being at the office all the time and being less visible.

AMY BERNSTEIN: We’re all curious about that. So we called on someone who could give us the big picture. Linda Duxbury is a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University. About 20 years ago, she and colleagues did a study on women who work part time. They were trying to understand the advantages and disadvantages of going part time and whether it helps ease conflict between their responsibilities at work and their responsibilities to their families. These are questions she’s still watching.

NICOLE TORRES: And Amy B. and I got her on the phone to talk about what we heard in Kristin’s story and how that matches up — or doesn’t match up — with what Linda has seen in the research.

NICOLE TORRES: Linda, thank you so much for joining us.

LINDA DUXBURY: I’m really happy to be here.

NICOLE TORRES: Can you give us a sense of how many professional women work part time?

LINDA DUXBURY: So I think it really depends on the country. So, for example, in Canada, we have a relatively low reliance on a part-time work probably because we have many things public policy things that make it possible for women to combine work and family. In Australia, where I’ve done some research, they’ve got the highest reliance on female part-time professional work, where it’s close to 50% of women just after they’ve had children go to part-time status. In the United States, it again depends on what end of the labor market you’re talking about and what state you’re talking about, but you’d probably have about 20%.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So when you started studying women who work part time 20 years ago, one of the professional women you talked to said that part time is death to your career. What did she mean by that?

LINDA DUXBURY: Yes. So we’ve got organizational cultures that make judgements on people by their behaviors. So the idea here is that we judge how engaged you are, how committed you are, how loyal you are to the workplace by your visibility and by the number of hours you put into work and by not saying no. I’ve been studying the workforce up here for 25 years. And we’re now into a 24/7, always available culture where you’re expected to — even though organizations talk balance incessantly — the reality on the ground is if your organization sends you an email, you should respond. If there’s a phone call, you should respond. If there’s a meeting you should make it even if it’s your day off or your time off on a part-time job. And saying no and putting family first actually is a career-limiting move. So while the organization has these great policies quite often around part-time work, the reality on the ground is quite different.

NICOLE TORRES: But I guess I just want to go back to why women go to part time in the first place. You know, it’s from the sense that going part time, not being in the office 40 hours a week or whatever full time might be, will help them better manage their career and family responsibilities. But you were saying that that is a misconception that doesn’t actually end up being the case.

LINDA DUXBURY: My data says absolutely no. My data says that you have fewer hours, less pay. So say you’re supposed to work 20, you work 30, get paid for 20. You’re supposed to be grateful. Your colleagues look at you differently — Oh, she’s part time. And your partner at home goes, well you’re working part time, so you will do more of this, you will do more of that. And most women say, I’m only working part time so I should do more of this, I should do more of that. And roll overload — so overload is having too much to do in the amount of time you’ve got to do it in, feeling rushed, feeling stressed, feeling overwhelmed — overload goes up, actually, for part-time women. Because if you actually add what they do at work and what they do at home, they’re doing more than full-time professional women, who are working full time because those full-time women are working less at home.

AMY BERNSTEIN: That’s interesting. So you heard Amy Gallo’s conversation with Kristin, who’s been working part time for years through the births of her three children. Why does it seem to work for Kristin?

LINDA DUXBURY: So why it’s working for Kristin is because she has decided that in fact her family is coming first, and she’s under no illusions, quite frankly, that this is not going to damage her ability to compete and to go up the ladder, et cetera. So I thought that was quite interesting. The other thing is she’s working for a very large company. And the reality is they probably have some buffer and they probably have some people who are able to pick up slack for her when she’s not there. But in a smaller business that’s typically not the case. They don’t have the slack, and they’re going to be expecting people to come in. The other thing is she also said, I’m ferociously organized. So I think we have to recognize that in fact, if you are going — and I’m not saying part time work can’t work for you, but I think that what you have to do is go into it with your eyes open.

NICOLE TORRES: So just taking it to, you know, if someone is deciding whether or not to go part time. If you are about to finish parental leave, if you’re panicking about having to come back to work, or maybe you’re suddenly managing eldercare, you’re wanting to go part time, you’re wanting to rethink the balance of work and life responsibilities — how should you think through the feelings and the opinions that are coming from the research but also the people in your life, your friends and family?

LINDA DUXBURY: So I guess again, that’s a nuanced question because I studied people who have eldercare issues, I study people who have childcare issues. It really depends on your life cycle stage, how old you are, where are you in terms of having children, having children and eldercare. Most of the people that I research who have eldercare issues, a lot of them tend to be older and so they go to part time as a way to try to balance the eldercare demands, which are totally unpredictable as compared to childcare demands. Childcare has more predictability in it, actually. You never know when your mother or father is going to fall, break their hip. And so part time tends not to work for those people, and many of them just decide then to quit. So you have to decide what is it? Is it a choice of not going back into the workforce? Is it a choice of taking early retirement? How important is my career to me? How important is my physical and mental health? All of those kinds of things. So what we do know is actually for many people, work provides a protective function. OK? Especially for people with eldercare. So people with eldercare say to me, You know, stress at work comes and goes, but eldercare is different, it hurts the heart. So when I’m talking about people going part time with eldercare, it actually has a protective function. The work function going in, talking to people, getting the social support. On the other hand, with childcare, your kids are growing up. They’re doing new things every day. They’re learning new things. And so there is a different desire to be there for them. The motivation is different. So I think you have to ask yourself some questions. How long do I want to do this for? What am I missing out on in my career? Will I regret this if I do it? Who’s pressuring me to do it? Is this something I want to do, or is this something my partner wants me to do, or is this something my parents think I should do? So there’s a lot of questions. I think you should go part time if you’ve got the income and you’ve got the job security, you’ve got a really supportive set of colleagues and a really supportive boss, and a supportive boss’s boss. And I think the longer you go part time for, the more you’re putting your career on hold and the harder it will be to get back on track. So if your career is really important to you, have an off-ramp but have an on-ramp and a time in mind.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, I want to talk a little bit about the stigma that you alluded to. If women work part time and are viewed as not taking their work as seriously as full-time professionals, how long does that stigma last? If you work part time for a, you know, for a few months, will the stigma last only as long as you’re part time? Is it a long-lasting stigma?

LINDA DUXBURY: So it’s kind of interesting because I think Canada is quite different from the States. We have much more liberal social policies. So we have one year paid parental leave. So people are already used to mothers and often fathers taking time off at the birth of a child. So then when they come back there does not seem to be as much stigma. So I’ve never actually studied the amount of time, but I think several months would be no big deal. But I think we have to put something else into that equation. The more time you’re working part time — so if you’re working part time, you’re probably not going to be given as much training, development, coaching, mentoring because you simply don’t have the time to do it, and you might be seen as less worthy of some of this training development as somebody who’s working full time. OK. So the problem is a lot of these professional jobs require that you stay up to date in terms of technology, theory, all kinds of stuff. I worry that the longer you’re on part time, the more you fall behind in terms of the critical training you need to stay current.

NICOLE TORRES: So what if you, do you have advice on whether you should just work, take a full-time role and then try to negotiate from there to a part-time role? Is that a better option?

LINDA DUXBURY: I think if you come right into a part-time role with no experience with that organization, I personally wouldn’t do it because then they don’t know you as an employee and they’re going to — we stereotype based on easy-to-observe things. The easy-to-observe thing here is you’re working part time. So we’ll stereotype a bunch of things because we see that and then you’ll have to by your behavior, make people change their mind. It’s easier for them to know you, say, Oh my God, this person’s great.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So suppose you are in a full-time role and you want to switch to part time, how do you bring up the conversation with your manager, and what is it that women in particular tend to leave out of the negotiation that they should most definitely include?

LINDA DUXBURY: So what I found is organizations do nothing to be nice and they do nothing to make you happy, you know? So if your argument — and women tend to use more emotional arguments, you know, I feel because of my family, I feel because of this, I feel because of that. So I would take it from the work end and I would say, right now I’m having challenges with respect to balancing work and family. I know I can be a better employee if for the next year I can do this. So focus on the gains for the employer, not how it will help you, how it’ll help your family, how it’ll make you happier, how, talk about how it can help you be more productive and focused at work. And the other thing is we tend to be too nice about it. So you have to set rules. This is what part-time work looks like. And so I would make sure that I had a complete memorandum of understanding. This is the days I work. If I come in, if there’s some, you know, these are the consequences for me, if you want me to flex that. So for example, if you put a meeting on my time off, then the problem for me is that I have to get babysitting. So you have to give me this much notice. So set the rules up, but focus it on their end, focus it on what’s in it for them if they facilitate you working part-time.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So let’s just, let’s just talk about if you’re on the other side of that conversation, you’re a manager in conversation with a woman who is asking to work part time. What, how should you handle this negotiation? What questions should you be asking to make sure that what she’s asking for is realistic for her and for the organization.

LINDA DUXBURY: So I guess if I’m a manager, I’d actually look at what they’ve delivered in the past and I would make a judgment on is this person somebody I really want to keep? Because if I deny part-time work, I probably might not keep them. So my question is, is this a person who I would consider to be talent? Do I think they have a good work ethic? Do I think they work well with their colleagues? Have they delivered to their client? And if I answered yes to all of these things, then I would look at the work itself that they’re expected to do, and I would say, are there discrete tasks and are there ways to hive off some of this role so that in fact, it can be done either five mornings a week or three full days a week? So I would look first at the person. If the person is a great person, then I would look at the task. And so you see, if I’m a manager, I’m looking at it all from the work end, which is why I advised anybody who wants part time to start at the work end and have thought about these kinds of things. Lead with, I’m a great performer. Lead with, you want to keep me. Lead with, this is what I’ve delivered. Lead with, this is why I want this. Lead with, this is how long I want it for. Then as a manager I’m going to listen to this, and I’m going to go, well, I don’t actually agree with your self-assessment in terms of how you’ve done, how you’ve delivered, et cetera. Or I’m going to go, you’re 100% right. You’re a person I really want to keep. And so let’s figure out a way that I can keep you, I can keep your client happy, I can keep your colleagues happy. OK? And that it’s objective, transparent, and fair, seen by others to be objective, transparent, and fair as to why I gave you this while I may not give it to other people. And it’s interesting because your focus is on negotiating with work. I would also advise anybody who’s going to do this to negotiate with their partner. Because you are still working, you know. You’re working at home, you’re looking after those kids, and you’re working at work. And far too often I’ve seen that the part time, by going part time within the family context, the woman’s role is not viewed as she’s still working. It’s viewed as, well you can do this because you’re, you know, you can do that. My career has become more important than yours. So I would really make sure I had a discussion with my partner, too.

NICOLE TORRES: Yep. What do you do when you realize that you’re working way more hours than you are being paid for?

LINDA DUXBURY: That’s a tough one. So we have to realize that because you’re part time, you’re under no different set of pressures than full time. So we’re saying part time are working 30 and paid for 20. But I bet you many of your professionals, accountants, lawyers, doctors, et cetera, are getting paid for 40, 45 — they have a salary, of course — and they’re working 55, 60. So you’re not unique. And anybody, quite frankly, who pushes back and says, I’m not going to do extra, if you’re a professional, you’re putting yourself in danger in terms of career advancement, optics, how you’re viewed. That being said, I would have a discussion, and I would advise this of full-time workers, too. The healthy model of work is hills and valleys. There are crises happen at work. We’ve got busy time at work. When that happens, we all have to step in and we have to work extra. We’re professionals; that’s expected of us, and in many cases, we love our job and we want to do just that. But there has to be valleys. There has to be times when the work calms down and we can make it up. So as a part-time person, or even as a full-time person, if I’m doing a lot extra — and again, track it, have objective data, don’t go in and say, I’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours. Go in and say, last week I was supposed to work 20; I worked 46. The week before that I was supposed to work 20; on these days I did this, this, and this. On this part-time day I was called in. So I would have my objective data, and I would say, I’m just letting you know I’m taking next Monday off in lieu of all this extra time I’ve worked. That’s what I would say.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So how do you keep advancing in your career if you’ve gone part time?

LINDA DUXBURY: That’s a really tough question, isn’t it? Because my data suggests you it puts you at risk. I guess continuing to deliver, making sure that your discussion with your manager, you’ve got performance expectations established. You can see, by the way, I keep coming back to, write it down, make it clear, make it objective. OK? And the more objective it is — we’re expecting you to do this, we’re expecting you to do that — and it can be measured, and it can be measured outside of hours, OK? Then as long as you meet your performance deliverables, I would expect that your career may not advance when you’re part time, but you haven’t put it at jeopardy.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So for the hiring managers and HR leaders who might be listening, what’s your message to them? How can they improve part-time work so it’s a better option both for women and for the organization?

LINDA DUXBURY: So I guess I would make sure that I offered training and development to part-time people. I would actually go beyond the policy, and I would train managers to actually better manage part-time and teleworkers. So I think we have to start recognizing that for all workers there has to be a boundary between work and family and that we have to stop seeing our employees’ personal time as our time. So I would have a discussion on email etiquette. I would have a discussion on meeting preparation. I would have a discussion on training and development. And I would stop using hours as the easy way to judge people in terms of their ability, their engagement, their suitability for promotion. And I would move directly towards a much greater focus on objective core competencies and demonstration of those core competencies. And I would do that by the way, for the whole workforce, not just part-time people.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Linda, thank you so much for joining us.

LINDA DUXBURY: Well thank you very much. It was really kind of fun. And I’m sorry if I was a little depressing sometimes. But I see things are looking up.

NICOLE TORRES: That’s great. Thank you.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I hope so.

LINDA DUXBURY: I hope so, too.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So we’ve heard two wildly divergent views of part-time work. Amy G., How do you square what we’ve heard?

AMY GALLO: Yeah, it’s, I mean it’s difficult because Kristin has such an ideal — well, in many ways an ideal — situation. She has the childcare, she has a supportive manager, she has an understanding team, even an understanding client, even an understanding spouse. The stars have aligned to really make it work. I do think that the reality for most people is probably closer to what Linda has described though.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah.

NICOLE TORRES: And one of the things that she talked about for how part-time work can disadvantage women, it’s in the context of their careers. So if you work part time, that can hold you back in terms of advancing your career trajectory. Certainly if you’re thinking about a career as a traditional — you’re with one employer for a very long time and that employer really values long hours spent working at the company, that’s how they determine your loyalty and your value to the company — then in that way working part time would be really difficult to advance at that company. But I think a lot of, in a lot of cases today like career is much broader than working in one place. Like you can have a career as a freelancer, you can build a career at many different employers. And I think if you think about it that way, maybe working part time is not such a career-killer like it might have been 20 years ago.

AMY GALLO: Well, and that’s sort of how I built my current career. I mean, I’m part time at HBR, and then I do work full time because I have other things I do. And I’ll admit that it takes me out of the traditional career trajectory that you’re talking about. I’m not in line to be, you know, take over my boss’s position, become editor-in-chief. It’s not, I’m not in that traditional career ladder, but I’m OK with that. And it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, it feels like I’ve made this decision to be part time so that I can do lots of other things. And that works for me. So Kristin actually had a manager come to her and propose part time because they knew they really needed her back from maternity leave. But I think more often people are going to their manager and making an ask. Amy, you’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation, what’s going through your head when that ask happens, and how do you evaluate whether to grant it?

AMY BERNSTEIN: So this has only happened a few times, but my inclination is to say yes and then figure out how to make it work. If someone wants to go part time, usually they tell you why. But I don’t think that that should be a requirement. But the reasons people have come to me are reasons that you know — who am I to argue with a family that needs more of their time, for example? But equally, who am I to argue with the idea that there’s something else they need to do or want to do? It doesn’t really matter if they want to go part time, then my view is we have to figure out how to make that happen.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. But do you have a moment of panic of like, Oh gosh, this is really a full-time job.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. Listen, I don’t want to sugarcoat it. It’s a managerial burden. You have to figure this out. You have to lay the ground rules. You have to make sure everyone respects the ground rules. You yourself cannot fire off an email, you know, to Amy G. on Tuesday if Amy G. isn’t working on Tuesday. I also have noticed that sometimes people will work part time, but not really work part time. They’ll do a full job.

AMY GALLO: Yeah, like Kristin.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, exactly. And then, and then you know, there’s something else to be done, which is to make sure they’re paid for their full-time work. I mean, the amount of work you do in a compressed period of time is really about the amount of work you do; it’s not about the compressed period of time, right?

AMY GALLO: Well, I’ve had people come to me asking, should I go part time? And my advice has always been no, because you’re going to end up doing your full job, just in a shorter amount of time, and get paid less. So just find, figure out what boundaries you need around your work life and try to set those boundaries some other way. I’m not sure that’s great advice, but that’s been my experience.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I mean, maybe the advice should — I don’t know that it’s not great advice — but maybe the advice is are you ready to take on a smaller job? Are you ready to tap the brakes on your progress, if that’s the way it works in your organization? I mean, there are so many implications, and it really, you have to think them through.

NICOLE TORRES: So the career stuff is like one lane to think through about whether or not you should go part time because there are implications for your career, although I think they’re changing and they’re different in different industries. But one that I think everyone who is part time will have to deal with, or think about are those boundaries and how you set them. Because not only are you probably going to be paid for 20 hours, even though you’re working 30 or 40, but at home if you’re part time, then you’re maybe the part-time partner. And so you’re expected to do a lot of the, like, house care, child care, caregiving responsibilities. And that adds up to way more than, you know, an additional 20 hours.

AMY GALLO: Right. Linda called that role overload. And I have to say, I heard that, I was like, Oh, I have that. That was like, yeah, that’s, that’s what I have. [LAUGHTER] And I think — too many roles, too little time. And I think that that is true. I think the times in my life when I’ve worked less than full time, it has not felt at all relaxing. It’s felt completely crazy. So if I was working, let’s say 20 hours, that extra 20 hours I was trying to fit in like 50 hours of stuff, and I never felt like I was focused on anything. It was really hard for me personally to manage. And I think you do have to have such clear boundaries with your partner, with your children, with your boss, but also with yourself. Like what am I willing to do and what am I not willing to do?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah.

AMY GALLO: One other piece of advice about asking that — this is my favorite piece of advice about anytime you’re asking for something — is to propose it as an experiment. So rather like I’m going to be part time for the next 20 years is, can we try it?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Let’s give it a shot, yeah.

AMY GALLO: Yeah, let’s try it out for two or three months.

AMY BERNSTEIN: That takes so much anxiety out of it.

NICOLE TORRES: I like that.

AMY GALLO: Well because then that also helps the manager. You mentioned it’s a burden, right? It’s a managerial burden. So like let’s just see how much of a burden it really is.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And then agree to come back together in some set period of time. We’ll talk about this in three months and see how it’s working.

AMY GALLO: Yeah.

AMY BERNSTEIN: But you have to give it a chance to work out.

AMY GALLO: Right.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Everyone has to go in with, you know, with a pure intent, right?

AMY GALLO: Yep.

NICOLE TORRES: Can we do a thought experiment?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yes.

NICOLE TORRES: OK. Just like really this is purely a thought experiment.

AMY BERNSTEIN: No, you cannot work — well, OK, I’m not your manager. [LAUGHTER]

NICOLE TORRES: Because we’re very, you know, like we’ve talked about positives, we’ve talked about negatives of part time, but what’s very clear is that there are really hard trade-offs that you have to make when you’re going part time, when you’re asking to go part time, and if you’re managing someone who is valuable, who wants to go part time. So let’s say I’m weighing this thought, and I come to you, Amy, not as my manager but as like someone to ask advice for. You know, like what my goals are —

AMY BERNSTEIN: As your sponsor?

NICOLE TORRES: As my sponsor. But you know, what my like, what my goals are, kind of where I want to go. Career is very important to me. Like how would you advise me?

AMY BERNSTEIN: So I’d want to know, you know, I’d want to know what you were willing to give up. I’d want to know if you were willing to give up the rate of progress you are making. I’d want to see if you had thought about how to parcel out or how to handle the assignments so that they were still manageable on some level. You know, would you continue to do some of the stuff you’re assigned to do? Are there people you would hand it off to? You know, had you thought through the implications of, for the work. I’d also want to make sure that you had thought through the kind of the social anxiety of not being around all the time.

NICOLE TORRES: You know me! [LAUGHTER]

AMY GALLO: She’s reading your mind.

NICOLE TORRES: It’s true. Yeah.

AMY GALLO: What do you mean? Like FOMO?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Oh, maybe it’s FOMO, but you know, when you’re not here, you’re not here. And so much of what happens in an office happens in the halls and at the coffee and you know, it’s when you run into each other at a corner. A lot of stuff gets transacted. Plus, there’s just that thing about feeling tied in, you know, sort of woven into the fabric of the organization, that when you’re around and you see each other and you greet each other and you have a kind of every day — when you see each other everyday, there’s a comfort that you get.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Yeah.

AMY BERNSTEIN: You’re not a visitor.

AMY GALLO: And there’s one other thing I would — can I play your thought experiment?

NICOLE TORRES: I would also ask you for advice. [LAUGHTER]

AMY GALLO: Good. OK, good. [LAUGHTER]

AMY BERNSTEIN: Her team.

AMY GALLO: I would also tell you to think through the finances because you’re going to take a hit in income and possibly a lot of places also reduce your benefits if you go part time or eliminate them. And can you, can you handle that? And I think that’s a big question for a lot of people when considering less than full-time work. But then if it’s something you really wanted, I mean, I think with all those considerations, then it’s about constructing the ask.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So, and the other thing is that, you know, there are certain opportunities you get because you’re available, and people want to push you out there.

NICOLE TORRES: Totally.

AMY GALLO: And you have to be more intentional when you’re part time about being visible.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Totally. You also have to own that it becomes harder to schedule around you. And that’s not a small thing.

AMY GALLO: Yeah.

NICOLE TORRES: Yeah.

AMY GALLO: Well, and I think you have to be confident in saying, I don’t work on Thursdays — because you’re going to have to say it 50 million times. I don’t work on Thursdays. I don’t work — and not be apologetic. Just hold that boundary and keep to it.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah.

NICOLE TORRES: But just to close out the thought experiment.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yes.

NICOLE TORRES: Thank you both for your advice. I’ll take that into consideration. Very helpful.

AMY GALLO: So would you consider going part time? I mean, not in this job, but in the future, in your career?

NICOLE TORRES: Oh gosh. In my mind, I would not go part time unless it was really out of necessity because I like working full time. I can’t predict what will happen in five years, but I like the idea of taking time off and going to travel, or having a side gig that takes up just as much time, or, I don’t know, people go back to school, and that’s another reason why people will either leave their job or cut back their hours. It’s all those things could be in play.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I think more and more of that’s going to happen. And so it’ll change the way organizations at large think about them.

AMY GALLO: I hope so.

NICOLE TORRES: I hope so.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I mean, I think you’ll see more of it in pockets. And then it’ll kind of spread as it can from there. I mean, some places it’s just not going to make sense.

AMY GALLO: I’d also like to see the de-gendering of — is that a word, de-gendering? — of part-time work.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, definitely.

AMY GALLO: See more men saying, I’m going to go to grad school, I’m going to take time off as a parent, I’m going to travel, I’m going to write a book, all of those things, and therefore I’m going to work part time.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I totally agree with you.

NICOLE TORRES: It should not only be associated with women taking time off to take care of others.

AMY GALLO: And therefore opting out of their careers. Yeah, we need to get rid of that.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And it should not be seen only as an end of career option. Right?

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Like something you do that’s ending your career.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Right, or something that you do as you taper off your career. I mean, it should be something — wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was like a faucet we could turn on and off?

AMY GALLO: Yes. That’s a good metaphor. No more career ladders, we have career faucets.

NICOLE TORRES: That we control. [LAUGHTER]

AMY GALLO: I’m at full flush right now. [LAUGHTER]

AMY GALLO: OK this is getting silly.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah.

AMY GALLO: That’s our show! I’m Amy Gallo.

NICOLE TORRES: I’m Nicole Torres.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And I’m Amy Bernstein. Our editorial and production team is Amanda Kersey, Maureen Hoch, Adam Buchholz, Rob Eckhardt, Mary Dooe, and Cori Brosnahan.

AMY GALLO: And a special thank you to everyone who came out to our live episode taping in Boston last week. It was so great to meet so many of you.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, it was a whole lot of fun. And the promised snacks were delivered, and I’m told they were delicious.

AMY GALLO: They were delicious. Wait— did you not have snacks?

NICOLE TORRES: They were delicious.

AMY BERNSTEIN: No. No, I did not have snacks [LAUGHTER]

AMY GALLO: They were really good.

NICOLE TORRES: The snacks were great.

AMY GALLO: High-quality snacks.

NICOLE TORRES: High-quality snacks. There was pate. For those of you who could not make it to the event, you will still get to hear our conversation about navigating conflict at work. It’s next week’s episode. So, until then!

Source: HBR.org