How to thrive as a part-time worker

Career Progression’s annual survey highlights the number of part-timers who are not able to progress their careers, but what about those fortunate enough to work for managers who see the value of ensuring the experience and potential of all members of their team are developed. Rebekah Boston, analytics research manager at IHS Markit, writes here about her positive experience of reducing her hours. All opinions are solely her own and do not express the views or opinions of her employer.

A recent article by the BBC got me thinking – is my positive experience of working part-time for almost 12 years the exception to the rule? The women in the article felt that they had no choice but to leave as their ‘way of working’ wasn’t accepted. In the same week I’ve had two very interesting conversations. A colleague of mine, who recently returned from maternity leave on part-time hours, told me that since returning she has felt she has started to stagnate. There was nothing specifically wrong with the team or her manager, but she felt before she had a career and now she has a job. The other person I met this week was at a conference. As we got talking I discovered she had left her role, working in HR for a bank, despite successfully negotiating a formal part-time contract, because her manager had basically taken her previous job description and removed all the interesting parts of the role and left her with what she felt were the ‘admin’ parts.

So is the BBC right to paint such a bleak picture?Are we all doomed to some sort of failure when it comes to part time? Having worked part-time for 12 years I would say no. Working differently from those around you in the corporate world is still the exception to the rule and consequently it is harder and bumpier and, as career experts Amazing IF say, more squiggly. So what advice can I give to those women who feel that the options are either to stagnate or leave, even after they have successfully made the business case for part time? I suggest a few things:

  • Revisit your business case for flex. Applying for formal flexibility, at least in the UK, requires a formal process that includes stating your business case for flex. If you feel you are stuck in a place of stagnation or feel that your role has become a job not a career take another look at the business motivators of your choice. If you feel like this needs a refresh please see my page on how to make a successful application. By going back to basics you are then able to think again about why you originally thought flexibility would work for you and the business. This is a process you may need to revisit a few times over the years of working flexibly to make sure that the same business drivers apply as your role changes. Once you are clear about the business case take the time to have a chat with your line manager. Do they have the same perception as you, for example, they may think they were being kind reducing your burden or they may have misunderstood your career aspirations. Try to work together to turn your role back into a career.
  • Learn to job craft. I recently learnt about the idea of job crafting and it has really revolutionised how I think about my career – please see my blog post here. We are told again and again by those around us that we are responsible for our own careers, but sometimes as a part-time worker, and especially if you are also a woman, it can feel that you are just surviving. There was a period in my career, probably just after my second child, where I definitely felt I had a job not a career and was stagnating. I really do believe that if I had known about job crafting then I would have been able to make better choices and turned my job into a career much sooner.
  • Focus on your best work. I recently visited a large multimedia company that has inspirational quotes covering the downstairs walls. One in particular caught my eye: “Are you doing your best work?” Colleagues who work there have told me that this means doing their best work each and every day. In reality what they are doing is prioritising their time towards the work which will bring the most value to them and the company – as a part-time worker this is the most important thing you can do. My guide to doing your best work can be found here.
  • Take or make opportunities. Over my career journey I have not taken as much time as I could have to take or make opportunities – this is something I cover in more detail in my letter to my younger self. I felt I would be perceived as selfish by family (mostly this was in my head!) for wanting more, while at the same time undervaluing the skills that I did have. This meant that when opportunities did come my way I didn’t always take them. More recently I’ve learnt that it’s not just about taking opportunities but also about making opportunities. Creating my personal board of directors has been a revelation for me. Building a network was something I was initially very uncomfortable with, it felt too bullish, too male – basically I created a fake wall of excuses around me and then proceeded to tell myself I couldn’t do it because there was such a massive wall to climb. In fact I’ve found building my personal board of directors has been relatively easy and painless – people love to be flattered and generally genuinely want to help. My board of directors has helped me create opportunities through both mentorship and sponsorship, allowing me to feel that I can have a career working part time.

While working part time is not the easy option and it is definitely exhausting and can feel like a roller coaster at times, it has allowed me to balance my family and career. I do genuinely feel that the options around part time are not just to stagnate or leave. Rather I believe that you can thrive and grow.

*This post was first published here.

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