Last week in Adelaide, there was controversy and speculation after the CEO of the SA Tourism Commission was sacked with 9 months left to go on his contract. This was the leading news story of the night, but it wasn’t that so much that got my attention; it was the newsreader’s description on the ad break. She said something along the lines of “…and tonight the sacking of….and how he will be re-placed by a part-timer!” The inflection in her voice suggested how could such an important role be part-time, how absurd, can you believe it, how prospertious! The insinuation that a part-time person was not capable of doing a CEO role made my blood boil. Now, I didn’t see the full news bulletin to see if this was their point, which I’m sure it wasn’t, but the newsbreak certainly created the drama.
It raises the question “can a part-timer be successful in a senior leadership role”? And what if the best person for the job is a part-timer?
I know when I returned to my general management role part-time in early 2008, I was met with a few challenges in terms of negotiating my new conditions and proving my contribution wouldn’t be any less just because my hours in the office had decreased. I had the support of my team who certainly weren’t concerned and I was positive, as I didn’t see that what I was doing was any less or that it was going to lessen my contribution.
The truth is there is still a stigma around part-time. There I’ve said it. Even if you, your boss and your team are all supportive and encouraging of such arrangements, you are constantly surrounded by other opinions, judgments and sometimes-even envy of being part-time. “Oh you’re part time” can often be the response, as if what you do is less significant and that you aren’t contributing as meaningfully as your full time counterparts. In this day and age, you would think the actual hours you are paid would be irrelevant as we embrace blending work-life balance and structure our businesses to ensure all employees have flexibility to achieve their goals inside and outside of work.
Last week someone in my network was on the look out to fill a mid-level role and I knew of someone with the right industry experience, degree qualifications, who lived close by (important for this role & location) and had the strong intrinsic motivation for the position. However, this person wanted part-time. The client dismissed it almost immediately. “No, we need a full-timer for this position”. Well, no, you need someone to perform in the role, produce results and contribute to the company’s overall revenue. The immediate assumption was that a part-timer could not achieve the objectives of this role.
Funny isn’t it, because the most successful financial year on record when I was in my leadership role, I was part-time and nearly half of my workforce were under some type of flexible work arrangement. These agreements grew loyalty, increased retention and ultimately delivered higher results.
Looking at the flip side, sometimes people returning part-time don’t want to continue at the same level or want the same pressures or responsibility. A good friend of mine who is in a senior marketing role with a global business is going through this right now. In 3 days per week she is still expected to do a full time load plus some and it’s taking a toll. With two small children under the age of 5 and a husband who has an executive role involving lots of travel, she wakes every day at 5am to get herself and the household ready before doing 2-drop offs and getting to work herself. To keep on top of her workload she often works into the late hours of evening to ensure her contribution, performance and achievements continue at the level that they were when she was full-time. Like many women in similar situations, she doesn’t want her performance to suffer due to fewer hours in the office. The cost of this is less time with the family, no time for herself and even health consequences due to constantly being rushed and running on adrenalin. It came to a head this week where she has said enough – we need to reduce the workload or I have to go, as this is not sustainable. As senior talent she is pegged for a directorship and of course they don’t want to lose her so a compromise is being made. I think she did the right thing speaking up, but too often part-timers suffer in silence not wanting to appear weak or incapable because “aren’t they lucky” to have a part-time role especially at an executive level.
Until we stop measuring performance and success by job title, status and hours and focus more on contribution, achievements and outcomes, the stigma of part-time will continue to exist. When considering suitable candidates for roles – the focus should be on skills and experience and more importantly competencies and motivational fit because the best candidate for the job just might be part-time. Let’s lose the negative connotations of part-time and focus on the right person in the right role every time.