First-Class Coach

For several months, I have considered changing my working hours to go part-time.

by Miranda Kennett

I know that my boss doesn't approve of such an idea, and I need to find a way to convince him that it is the best solution for me and that my productivity will not suffer. Is there a good way to go about this?

A: Why do you want to go part-time and what do you intend to do with the extra time, if and when you get it? I'm not sure it should make any difference how acceptable your boss will find the proposal, but in practice it does seem to matter.

Those who wish to embark on MBAs or other respected further education are usually successful in persuading their firms to allow them time off, and may even receive financial sponsorship. Presumably, there is seen to be a benefit to the business from professional development, although, ironically, a high proportion of MBAs leave their companies within 18 months of completing their qualification.

Wanting to spend more time with the family is slightly lower down the ladder of acceptability. Though your boss may sympathise with this motivation, he or she may have their own work/life balance issues, so may be disinclined to approve of your solution. If you put your family first, the reasoning goes, you are putting the organisation lower down your priorities. Wanting to start your own business, or to supplement your income, or even just to have more time for yourself can often be regarded with suspicion, and your loyalty is likely to be questioned.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to go part-time, consider how you might present them to your boss in ways that make them most likely to gain acceptance.

Your own needs are not the suit to lead with in this negotiation. Better to start with what's in it for the organisation and how it will work in practice.

The main objections to part-time working are logistical: how will you manage to accomplish in only four working days or fewer the work you used to do in five? And if you won't be able to do it all, who can? Are there tasks and responsibilities that someone else with spare capacity could handle? Having thought this through properly and prepared a coherent plan before you broach the subject with your manager will be a major help in gaining their acceptance.

Of course, some roles do not lend themselves to part-time work. If yours is customer-facing on a daily basis, it may be difficult for your organisation to allow you to change your hours of availability, unless you have competent support or someone to job-share with.

Oddly, some senior head-of-department roles can be successfully handled in fewer than five days a week. Mia Kennedy was already working a three-day week after the birth of her first child when she was invited to become strategic planning director for AMV BBDO, the UK's largest advertising agency. She managed this new role by being highly organised, having an efficient PA, making sure she was involved in the important things where she could add value but delegating those areas where her input was not vital. She had three competent lieutenants, whom she encouraged to step up to the plate by supporting the development of their management skills.

She was also very diligent, making the most of every hour she was in the office and used travel times for business reading to keep up-to-date.

In the US, some enlightened businesses term employees who do not work full-time as prime-time workers, recognising that they get the best input from someone who works just those hours in which they can bring their full energy.

Back to your conversation with your boss. As with any negotiation, it is important to work out what you really want and what the tradeables are. Value any concessions you're prepared to make in terms of their attractiveness to the organisation. For example, if salary budgets are tight and you are prepared to take your salary pro-rata, the savings might appeal; if you were prepared to do it on a trial basis and review it after, say, three months, that might also sugar the pill. You have the option of the ultimate sanction, only to be used if you are sure you are valued: if part-time cannot be agreed, you will leave, taking with you all your knowledge and contacts, and your boss will have the expense and effort of hiring a replacement. Let's hope it's a threat you don't have to use.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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