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Sailing on treacherous seas: When part time becomes full time

“I have been out on three months of maternity leave. I had originally planned to return to my management job on a full-time basis. But going back to those long hours and 60-plus hour workweeks will put a significant strain on me and my family. I would like to go down to part time, but a couple of people that I know who have done that work very close to 40 hours, if not more than that, and they have told me privately that they might as well be full time. Any advice?”

Congratulations on the arrival of your baby! As you adjust to your new life at home, the thought of heading back to work soon—much less to a 60-hour-plus workweek—can be overwhelming.

Thinking about a reduced work schedule would seem to make sense, allowing you more time at home and the ability to manage a realistic workload.

“Going part time might seem to be the best of both worlds, but it can bring its own challenges,” says Laura Vanderkam, a writer, speaker and author of “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.”

Today the line between working “full time” vs. “part time” can be blurry. For her book, Vanderkam used time diary studies to track more than 1,000 days in the lives of women who earn six-figure salaries and also have children. She found that many women on official “part-time” schedules work well over the traditional 20 or 25 hours associated with that. Most put in more than 35 hours per week.

“One part-time consultant logged 47 hours one week and 53 during another, which wasn’t necessarily typical but was nevertheless comparable to the hours logged by full-timers at equally prestigious firms in their time-diary periods,” she wrote in a Harvard Business Review article.

In an interview, Vanderkam noted that in much managerial work, there is little accountability for hours.

“People tend to remember the longest weeks as typical. Some might talk about “60-hour weeks,” but when you ask them to keep track of their hours, the numbers can be all over the map,” she says. “I have seen hundreds of time logs and have found that people who talk about 60-hour weeks might be working 60—or they might be working in the low 40s.”

“Likewise, people with part-time schedules still have to get their work done, and often colleagues don’t respect their days off. A part-timer takes a meeting during an off-time to accommodate people, and next thing you know, she’s working 40 hours a week. That’s pretty close to her colleagues claiming 60-hour weeks—except she’s getting paid a lot less! ”

The picture becomes more complicated when you think about gender differences and corporate culture.

A study by Boston University professor Erin Reid showed that men in a prestigious consulting firm managed to limit their hours to 50 to 60 per week by focusing on local clients and not out-of-town travel, covering for each other and doing it all under the radar. The study showed they were being rewarded with promotions and positive reviews, just like those who worked 80-hour weeks.

The study showed that others, including another group of men and most of the women, who were transparent about wanting time for their families, successfully negotiated part-time schedules. But they were “marginalized” at the company, not receiving the promotions and bonuses that others received.

Instead of negotiating for part time, Vanderkam believes that you’re probably better off focusing on flexibility.

“If people at your office already have control over when and where they work, then you’re great,” she says. “If not, ask for that. Then simply get the work done at times that work for you and your family.

If you can negotiate to work from home a day or two a week, then you could see your baby during breaks (with a sitter caring for your baby while you work), Vanderkam adds.

“If you try this for a while and it’s not working, then you might try going to part time. But be very clear on which hours you will work and which you won’t, and negotiate a reduction in responsibilities too. Then be strict about sticking to your limits. Because if you’re working full-time hours, then you might as well be paid for all of them.”

Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, a web-based platform promoting flexible work options, agreed that working from home could help.

“Working from home still means work, but at least you could avoid the commute time and stress,” Reynolds says.

But if you are unable to negotiate it, it may be time to think about finding a new job. A surprising number of management-level jobs are available with part-time hours, she notes.

Experts say that when you’re negotiating, your best bet is to be honest and focused on solutions. When you’re discussing your concerns that part-time work can amount to full time, make sure you have data to back that up, says Evan Harris, founder of SD Equity Partners in San Francisco.

As you negotiate, take care to think about the effect of your schedule changes on your team. “As a manager, you should never expect those below you to put in extra hours when you’re not doing the same. Given your position, you may be able to negotiate a better deal for yourself, but it could cause a ripple effect when others see that you’re working fewer hours,” says Elizabeth Becker, a recruiting expert and client partner for Protech, a Florida tech staffing firm specializing in executive, tech sales and IT positions.

“Good managers look out for their entire team to make sure they’re getting what they need to succeed—like going home at a reasonable hour to be with their families,” she says.

Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585)249-9295 or by e-mail at kadriscoll@aol.com.

11/4/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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