WANTING IT ALL: In my experience, when you try to turn a full-time job into a part-time one, you tend to lose all the fun bits and be left with the boring bits,

WANTING IT ALL: In my experience, when you try to turn a full-time job into a part-time one, you tend to lose all the fun bits and be left with the boring bits, - I have worked part-time twice during my career. On neither occasion did it work out. The fir

by DEBBIE SANDFORD, formerly worked at McKinsey and Random House
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I have worked part-time twice during my career. On neither occasion did it work out. The first time, I was a management consultant at McKinsey and, after my first child was born, returned there to work four days a week. Three months later my timesheets showed an average 55-hour working week.

As I was fully occupied with baby Tess on my day off, work really was crammed into four days and it was ugly - you can do the maths. McKinsey very decently backpaid me for the extra day, but this wasn't really the point.

I had also taken a project role that I was probably too comfortable with. This meant that while working furiously to deliver, I was, if not exactly bored, then certainly not challenged by what I was doing - a recipe for disaster. I left and went to work a full-time 55 hours a week in book publishing - as exciting as it was completely new.

Four years on, following the birth of my second daughter, I again returned to work four days a week. I was now MD of Random House Children's Books and my hours were compatible with four days. Yet despite good feedback from my superiors, I was dissatisfied with my own performance. I could run the division reasonably from day to day, but I wasn't innovating or leading my team in the way I might have done if I'd been able to commit more of myself to the role.

Again I left, this time to stay at home - and thus you find me.

These experiences seem to be common, particularly where someone has worked full-time in a job and then reduced their hours in the same role People often fall into one of two broad traps. The first is that you habitually exceed your newly reduced hours in order to fulfil the demands of your position, and you end up resentful. The second is that you don't give as much to your job as you did previously and, consequently, get less back from it.

There are also several other issues. First, some jobs are clearly more scaleable than others. Line jobs do not score highly here; sure, you can restructure roles and delegate more, but it is very hard for anybody to lead four days a week. Most of the happy part-timers I know are in staff roles, or are relatively independent professionals such as doctors.

It is hard, too, to curtail client-facing jobs, particularly in the more expensive of the professional services, such as consulting, banking, corporate law. Part-timers do not thrive in a culture where long hours are the norm and there is an expectation of over-delivery.

Women tend to congregate in the service sector, and to be good at client-facing - which does not sit well with the fact that it is usually females who prefer to work part-time.

Also, work needs to be interesting for people to want to do it for any length of time. Sadly, as well as being less well paid, part-time work has traditionally been less challenging. And my experiences of trying to turn a full-time job into a part-time one have taught me that one tends to lose all the fun bits and be left with the boring bits.

Yet if you are wavering about your commitment to work anyway, it needs to be exciting to pull you back in. How many employers, keen to retain their female employees after they have become mothers, adopt a strategy of creating exciting work opportunities for maternity leave returners? There are not many.

Finally, in the UK there is a pervasive attitude - largely subconscious - that you are lucky to be offered any part-time job, let alone an interesting one. A former consultant describes how her transition to part-time work corresponded with a dramatic loss of status in the eyes of her colleagues.

She was asked to drop all client work and switched instead to a backroom support role. And as if to reinforce the idea that she had become a low priority, one previously attentive director forced her to wait for long periods in his office while he answered phone calls, before breaking off to speak to her.

I would describe my ex-employers as enlightened in their HR policies, yet I still sensed that I should be grateful. And it grated on me to feel that I was somehow obligated, that I was lucky to be able to work part-time; I wanted my employers to feel they were lucky to be employing me. I'm not alone - most people are concerned that they are giving as much to an organisation as they are getting from it.

At a time when we may be moving into recession, almost anybody with a job is one of the lucky ones. But economic cycles aside, the trend of more people wanting to work more flexibly will continue.

This can take a number of forms - job sharing, freelance, etc - but straightforward part-time work is still one of the most commonplace. And, although it works for some, there are no generally accepted rules yet about how best to make it work.

We need to develop these in order for both employees and businesses to be able to benefit from part-time working.

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