Speaking to groups about options for flexible employment is one of my favorite work-related activities. Besides enjoying the interaction with the crowd, I always get to learn something new by hearing about people’s “real-world” experiences in the workplace. I often ask the women in the group to share their thoughts on the benefits of having a flexible work schedule. Surprisingly, the comments I’ve heard over the years have been a real mixed bag. Of course, people love the flexibility and the opportunity to continue to earn an income. But sometimes, the negatives associated with working part-time -lower pay, bosses who try to squeeze full-time job duties into part-time jobs, and disgruntled co-workers, can turn the dream of working fewer hours into a less-than-optimal scenario.
Consider the story of Elena Cole. Elena is a marketing professional, married with a 3-year-old son and expecting her second child in May. She is employed by Nova USA, a telecommunications firm of approximately 100 employees, based in Ashburn, Virginia. Initially hired to work two days a week on a trial basis, Cole now works an average of 24-27 hours a week, Tuesday through Thursday. She is compensated on an hourly basis (including any additional hours worked from home), and receives full insurance and holiday benefits with prorated accrual of time-off pay. When necessary, she is able to work from home, thanks to a fully equipped home office partially paid for by the company.
At the time Cole was hired, she was the first part-time professional to work for the company. There was uncertainty as to how effectively the position could be handled on a part-time basis, but Cole’s professionalism and dedication put to rest any lingering concerns that part-time hours meant a part-time commitment. In fact, the company has been so satisfied with the arrangement that they are now actively seeking several other part-time professional employees. As for Cole, she couldn’t be more thrilled with her situation. She has interesting work duties, a supportive boss and co-workers, and is compensated fairly for her professional contributions. Best of all, she has the time to enjoy both her work and her family.
So, what is it that makes Cole’s situation so successful while other part-timers struggle? There is no one magic formula, but in speaking with Cole, several key factors for success became apparent:
1. A Supportive Boss is Essential
The most progressive company policies in the world mean nothing unless you have a boss willing to support them. Finding a boss who truly believes family comes first, instead of one that simply pays lip service to the concept, is the single most important guarantor of success. In Cole’s case, her boss — who is the president of the company — has a working wife and young child, so he understands firsthand the difficulties of balancing home and work.
2. Maintain a Full-Time Professional Presence
Cole strongly believes her commitment to professionalism helps to perpetuate a good working environment. She emphasizes the importance of being at work, both in body and mind, 100% during her working hours. Other than emergencies, Cole is careful never to allow family obligations to interfere with her work time. On her days off, she checks in with voice mail and returns calls that must be handled promptly.
3. Communication Is Critical
According to Cole, effective communication with both your boss and co-workers is critical. Consequently, she frequently asks for feedback on her performance. In dealing with co-workers, she is upfront about her schedule and her limitations, continually prioritizing projects to insure she does not take on more work than she can realistically handle.
4. Adequate Support at Home Makes A Big Difference
Just because you work part-time is no reason to try to make do with less support on the home front. Cole’s husband takes their son to daycare in the morning and can be counted on to help out when she has a pressing deadline at the office. In addition, she has a great daycare provider in place for her son, giving Cole the peace of mind needed to pay full attention to her work.
Reflecting on her good fortune, Cole commented, “It took me two years to find the right spot. At the beginning, I interviewed for full time work but after much soul searching I decided I really wanted to achieve the balance in my life so I focused exclusively on part-time positions. I think it’s so important to know exactly what you want and know your own limitations. I hope my story gives other women the courage to persevere.”