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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Part-time working for many, study finds

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

By week's end, you're worn out. If only you could spend a little less time working and a little more time taking care of your family and yourself. But you've come so far in your career. Would you throw away all you've achieved and your chances for continued advancement if you worked fewer hours?
McGill University professor and author of the study

According to a new study called Crafting Lives that Work, the answer is 'No.' "If you're full time, you're going to rise faster, but working part time does not prevent you from rising in your career," says Mary Dean Lee, a McGill University professor in Montreal and author of the study.

More family time

The reasons for wanting to work reduced hours are many: Two-thirds of those studied wanted more time to care for children or elderly relatives. The remaining third wanted to continue their education,

devote more time to community interests or broaden their horizons.

Working part time is a trend that began emerging in the early 1990s. "The workforce was structured for another era," Lee says. "It was structured for men with wives at home. That reality is gone, but I don't think employers have changed to accommodate the needs of their employees. People need flexibility to respond ... to things that happen."

For many employers, it's in their best interests to consider an employee's request to work fewer hours. "I've read studies that suggest the more satisfied employees are the more productive and more committed they are, but I honestly don't think that's why a company offers reduced hours," Lee says.

"They want to retain talent, especially experienced people like women who put off having children to build their careers. They're very valuable and companies have invested so much in them."
BMO's manager of diversity and workplace equity

Bank of Montreal (BMO) is considered a pioneer in part-time arrangements. It introduced flexible hours, compressed workweeks, flexible work places, job sharing and permanent part time after an employee study concluded it wasn't meeting the needs of those with heavy commitments outside of work.

Liz Spencer, BMO's manager of diversity and workplace equity, has experienced first-hand the benefits of those arrangements. She resigned from the bank in 1980 after seven years because she didn't feel she could be either the mother or employee she wanted to be.

For several years, she was hired for temporary assignments at the bank before she was eventually offered permanent part time. The number of days she works has changed over the years, including a period when she increased her hours to help finance her son's education.

"I couldn't have asked for a more rewarding career," Spencer says. "Opportunities have not been denied me. There's been no negative impact on my compensation. I'm well rewarded and recognized for my contributions."

The decision to offer flexible arrangements continues to pay dividends. "It's a tool for us to be able to attract and retain good employees," says Lesya Balych-Cooper, vice-president of employee engagement. "We will have better engaged employees. There's a lot in it for us."
  • Managers and professionals who choose to reduce their work hours do not reduce their chances for raises or promotions, a McGill University study concludes.
    The study followed the careers of 81 part-time managers and professionals --72 women and nine men -- between 1996 and 2003. Among its findings:
  • Nearly half of the participants were still working part time six years later, most for large organizations.
  • On average, participants who continued working part time over the six years were earning salaries equivalent to those working full time.
  • More than two-thirds of those who switched to full time were the primary breadwinners in their families.
  • Visit to learn more.

  • It's proven to be a win-win situation. "Part time are still considered for incentive pay," she says. "They are not regarded differently. They go through career development discussions, reviews and we invest in their training."

    Before approaching an employer about working part-time, determine if you can live with a smaller paycheque. Depending on the number of hours you work, you may not be eligible for full benefits. Come up with a plan about how part time can work in your situation, including how it will impact clients, co-workers and supervisors.

    Be prepared for challenges. The majority of people studied were working either three or four days a week, but a small number found the arrangement wasn't working. "They felt like they were doing a compressed work week for reduced pay and they were resenting it," Lee says.

    Communicating with your manager is key. "It takes a lot of monitoring and dialogue with your boss," Lee says. "There has to be a will on both sides to make those boundaries."

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