Life & Culture

Top jobs are more flexible than you think


Chief executives, finance directors and senior lawyers are among those opting for part-time hours, turning traditional employment concepts on their head.

There has been a significant increase in the demand for flexible working hours. And it is not just mothers abandoning the full-time culture.

Karen Mattison MBE, is the co-founder of Timewise, the UK’s first recruitment service specialising in skilled part-time positions. She says: “Thirty per cent of our candidates are not mothers, and this figure is growing. They are dads, high-earners who can live on a reduced salary. There are lots of different groups of people who might want to work part-time. Having children is just one of the reasons.”

According to the Office for National Statistics, 5.18 million people in the UK are now in part-time work out of choice, compared to 1.4 million who have been forced to take on part-time roles.

The number of “choice part-timers” grew by 53,000 in the first quarter of the year. What’s more, over half a million people in the UK are in part-time jobs paying at least £40,000, reveals a recent Timewise report, The Part-Time Paradox. And despite 72 per cent of Brits believing that you can’t have a senior career on a part-time basis, 650,000 people are doing just that, many of them “under the radar.”

Part-time senior positions account for 1 in 10 of all part-time employees.

So, what’s going on? “Some people are going part-time because they want to set up their own business, go freelance, or need time to care for elderly relatives, and for some, it is a lifestyle choice,” says Ms Mattison, a mother-of-three who works four days a week. “People feel like they would prefer to have the time than the extra 25 per cent of salary.”

Ernst & Young’s deputy chief operating for the UK and Ireland, Lynn Rattigan — responsible for £950 million worth of revenues — works four days a week, as does Mishcon de Reya’s director of human resources, Vanessa Dewhurst. David Woodhouse, operations manager, works three days a week at boutique tax practice Mark Davies & Associates. He says: “There are many people seeking high-level professional jobs that give them a better work-life balance and not just to fit work with a family.”

Mother-of-two Gina Cohen works part-time at top financial services firm Morgan Stanley, where she focuses on liquidity reporting to the Financial Services Authority and Federal Reserve Bank. She says: “Part time is quite common now even at a senior level, although the more senior you are, the tougher it is to strike the right balance.”

But things are changing and the recession has played its part as businesses turn to senior part-time workers to cut costs. Ms Mattison says: “The global crisis has made going part-time more accessible. There are people who have gone part-time to help their company that needs to cut costs.”

And then there are companies that are recognising the business benefits of part-time. “It enables employers to retain their senior staff. Growing businesses, or those cutting costs, can still access high-level talents on a part-time basis, which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.”

As such, the status of part-time work is gradually being redefined. “Just look around the people you know,” says Ms Mattison.

“Ten years ago it would have been rare to know someone working in a senior management or leadership role, part-time. Now more and more people are doing it. This trend is reflected both in the kind of roles we see, and also in the conversations businesses are having.”

Yet, according to the Timewise study, more than a third of the UK’s part-timers would never use the word “part-time” to describe their work pattern and one in seven prefer to let colleagues assume that they work full time.

“Many senior part time workers operate “under the radar” because of the negative connotations of the phrase “part time” and because they want the focus to be on what they achieve rather than their days at their desks.”

As such, Ms Mattison, who believes there are hundreds of people at the helm of British businesses, from SMEs to blue chips, working part-time, is on a mission to find the UK’s 50 “top part-time leaders” — men and women — voted for by the public to publish in a list. She is being supported by Ernst & Young managing partner, Steve Varley.

Launched in May, Timewise has 25,000 candidates and has recruited for 1,500 companies. Around half of the vacancies are for £40,000+ full-time equivalent roles and higher, although the company does have £100,000+ full-time equivalent roles on their books.

Timewise is Ms Mattison’s second venture. In 2003 she founded Women Like Us together with Emma Stuart, to support women looking for, or to get back into, flexible work. But the rising demand from a new breed of part-time workers led the duo to set up Timewise.

Launched in May, the company has received a £200,000 growth-capital grant from the Social Business Trust (SBT) — a partnership of major firms; Ernst & Young, Credit Suisse, Permira, Bain & Company, Thomson Reuters and Clifford Chance.

Ms Mattison hopes that the changing landscape can help stop the “leaking pipeline to the top.
“Women have fallen out of senior levels in work in such huge numbers and unless part-time seriously takes off, I don’t think that will change dramatically.”

According to a recent survey, women hold less than a third of senior jobs in Britain — around 30.9 per cent of top posts across 11 sectors including politics, policing and business.

“It worries me that there is too much conversation at the moment about the lack of senior women at board level and not enough about the leaking pipeline to the top.

“Part-time can help stop this and help women get to, and maintain, a senior level. They will stay working but on their own terms. And employing people part-time will give employers an edge over their competitors.”

While the climate is changing, Ms Matisson acknowledges that there is still a long way to go. “I understand the stigma. I think we do it to ourselves. The accepted view seems to be that you can do junior roles on a part-time basis but anything senior, client-facing or with management responsibility, you can’t. The reality is that it is being done part-time.

“More people than we know are working part-time in senior roles but are doing so under the radar. People have worked hard for flexible hours and are worried that something might threaten that flexibility, and people are worried that they won’t be taken as seriously as if they were full-time.” But she is confident that this stigma can be tackled, transforming the way we work.

“I think and hope that we are moving towards a situation where flexible working arrangements are part of the conversation at the point of recruitment, and that it’s not something that is swept under the carpet.”

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