More professionals opt to go part time
In 2003, Jeff Ward was working 12-hour days as a partner with a Chicago law firm. His wife, Tracy Birmingham, had been a full-time lawyer at the Sara Lee Corp. But the couple wanted to spend more time with their toddler and newborn twins. Their solution? Part-time jobs. Today, Ward works three days a week as assistant general counsel at apparel maker Timberland in Stratham, N.H., a job he shares with another dad. Birmingham works from home eight hours a week for the University System of New Hampshire. "There are sacrifices from a financial standpoint," Ward says. "But the ability to focus on things outside work is very important to us."
Whether they're parents like Ward and Birmingham or baby boomers transitioning to retirement, a growing number of professionals are finding that employers are receptive to part-time schedules. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of workers in part-time management or professional occupations grew from 5.7 million to 6.4 million. And a new study by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation suggests that part-time work won't dead-end a career. The study followed more than 80 part-time professionals between 1996 and 2003. Most received at least one promotion and received pay increases comparable to those of workers who returned to full-time status.
Few and far. While such jobs may be viable, they're often elusive. Ward landed his post in three months, after spotting it on a professional association website, but Birmingham pounded the pavement for nine months. "As much as companies talk about the desire to promote part-time initiatives, the reality is, they're still difficult to find," says Tory Johnson, founder and CEO of Women for Hire, a New York firm that connects employers and female professionals.
Without a doubt, the easiest way to find a part-time position is to negotiate a reduced schedule with your current employer. "There's no way I could find a gig like I have now with my company if I'd come in from the outside," says Melissa Robert, who works three days a week as director of marketing planning for American Greetings in Cleveland. While on maternity leave in 2002, Robert decided she didn't want to return to the 60-hour weeks required by her existing job, so she called managers of other divisions, and one created a new part-time position just for her. Some companies have formal programs to facilitate such arrangements, such as Macy's West, a division of Federated Department Stores, which offers executives the opportunity to work from home, maintain flexible or part-time schedules, or job-share through its Alternative Work Program.
To negotiate a reduced schedule, be prepared to make the business case to your boss. Explain how your work will get done, and stress the savings the company will incur by prorating your salary and benefits. But be sure to investigate how such a move might affect your career. At many companies it is possible to work fewer hours and remain on the fast track; at Ernst & Young, for example, 55 employees on reduced schedules have been promoted to the firm's three highest levels since 1993. But at other firms, part-time work may slow down your progress, at least temporarily.