The part-timers are taking over

Alison Maitland reports on a list of business leaders who work less than a five-day-week

Many organisations still see “part-time” as synonymous with junior or middle-ranking roles and modest responsibility and ambition. However, FT Executive Appointments today publishes a list of 50 people at the top of their professions who are working less than a five-day-week.

The Power Part Time List, launched by Timewise Jobs, a UK jobs website specialising in professional part-time and flexible roles, shows just how outdated the traditional views on part-timers is becoming.

The list includes Katie Bickerstaffe, chief executive of Dixons Retail in the UK and Ireland, and Anna Skoglund, a managing director in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs, who each work four days a week.

The list of 50 pioneers also features some who work three days a week, such as Helen Michels, global innovation director at Diageo, and Nadine Jones, HR director of the Ryman retail group, owned by Theo Paphitis, one of the participants in the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme. At law firm Norton Rose, Chris Hobbs, partner and deputy head of compliance, works four days a week, including one from home.

“Not only can it be done, but it is being done – not just in small local businesses but in some of the biggest and best-known brands in Britain,” says Karen Mattison, founder of Timewise.

She embarked on the search for the “power part-timers”, supported by Ernst & Young, because she knew that people were doing top jobs in less than a full week but were often keeping quiet about it, by choice or to placate their boss.

“Many people have said they prefer not to make a big thing about it because they don’t want to be seen as less ambitious or to be passed over for promotion,” she says. “One really senior person told me ‘my boss said I can have this arrangement but would I mind leaving my cardigan on my chair on a Thursday so that people would think I was there.’ That seems so archaic.”

The judging panel chose the 50 listed individuals based on three criteria: their stories had to be ground-breaking, inspiring, and trailblazing for others. “These 50 have stood up and been counted,” says Ms Mattison. Four of them work two or 2.5 days a week and 18 work three or 3.5 days. The rest work four days or, in two cases, 4.5 days or five short days.

Women dominate the list and are the principal pioneers. The 44 women include six chief executives, six directors or managing directors, four partners, three finance directors, and one executive chairman.

“I believe it’s very important to show women performing senior roles in less than five days in the context of the debate about women on boards and the pipeline,” says Ms Mattison, who also co-founded Women Like Us, an enterprise that advises parents and employers on accessing and designing flexible jobs.

“We know women often leave companies in their 30s and 40s because they don’t think they can make it work on their terms, personally and professionally.”

The six men on the list include Andi Britt, an executive partner at IBM, who has worked part-time for more than 20 years so that he can volunteer in his local community; Jake Hoban, a senior IT executive at UBS, who works four days to share childcare; and Cameron Hepburn, executive director and co-founder of Climate Bridge, a green finance company, who works 2.5 days a week and has a portfolio of other roles including looking after his young son.

The exercise underlines how public perceptions are at odds with shifts taking place in the workforce. There are 650,000 people in the UK who work part-time and earn at least a full-time equivalent salary of £40,000, according to a Timewise study published in June. Yet 72 per cent of workers surveyed did not think part-time work was compatible with a senior-level career.

Employers are good at offering part-time hours to existing employees who want to work flexibly but not at advertising jobs on a flexible basis, says Ms Mattison. “Even when a role is being extremely successfully done on a four-day week, the job would probably be advertised on a full-time basis if that person left because employers just revert to what they think of as the norm.”

The 50 stories reveal common themes in the way senior part-timers manage themselves and their teams. Many stress the importance of focusing on priorities, sticking to deadlines, being open, communicating well, empowering and delegating to the people around them, and being contactable on their “off” days if needed.

Karen Lynch works four days a week as chief executive of Belu, a brand of mineral water, whose profits go to fund clean water projects through WaterAid. She joined in 2009 as part-time marketing director and was promoted the following year to make the social enterprise profitable.

Her team all work from home when possible. “We talk rather than copying each other in on email, and use Skype rather than travel,” she says. “It is outputs rather than inputs that count.”

Many of the 50 speak about how productive and effective they are, or how the performance of the business has improved. “I first went part-time as a fee-earning partner and achieved one of my highest billing performances after doing so,” says Mr Hobbs at Norton Rose. “I did that by trusting my associates, giving them responsibility but ensuring they knew I was available if needed.”

In some cases, employers have designed or redesigned roles to hold on to talent. Joanna Wright’s three-day-a-week role as risk strategy and implementation leader for GE Capital in the Emea region, a business with $80bn of assets under management, was created to harness her skills and experience and enable her to spend time with her young children.

Given the stigma still attached to “part-time”, it is not surprising that some senior people choose not to describe themselves this way. Many put in a lot of hours and are just more flexible about how they do it. So why is there still such a focus on how many days people work, especially if that means they earn less than a full-time salary?

Ms Mattison, who works four days a week, responds that a fixed day or two off is a way of containing “job creep” in senior roles, where the amount of work just keeps growing.

“While you do have to be flexible about being contactable, it’s about saying to the employer ‘this is the bit of me that you don’t own’,” she says.

Being open about personal working patterns should help pave the way for future generations of people who need to fit work with other commitments in life, says Ms Bickerstaffe of Dixons Retail (see profile, above): “The world of work is evolving at such a fast pace.

“Success in the 21st century no longer has one model. It doesn’t always look like a man in a suit, chained to his desk 24/7. And I think people are genuinely starting to accept that.”Alison Maitland is an FT contributor and co-author of “Future Work” and “Why Women Mean Business”

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