Opinion: How to have flexibility without career compromise

Anna Sarelas, people manager at Veolia Australia and New Zealand, shares her tips on how to be ambitious and career-focused and choose to work part time without limiting your opportunities.

Opinion: How to have flexibility without career compromise
A flexible work environment may be one of the most coveted employee engagement tools and although the workplace is responding to a changing labour force, part-time work arrangements are still considered a dead-end option for mothers returning to the workforce. However that is not the case. Whether one is juggling a freelance portfolio, a business on the side, full time studies, a second career in parallel or a number of professional reasons, it is now possible to be ambitious, career-minded and choose to work part-time. Below are some tips to ensure that your career is not compromised when working part-time:

Be flexible yourself: If an executive meeting is scheduled on the second Tuesday of every month, try and accommodate this rather than expecting a regular meeting to adapt to your schedule. There are times when this genuinely cannot happen, but it is easier to expect flexibility when you can be flexible around business requirements. When determining the days you can be physically present in the office take into account major meetings and planning events.

Stop advertising: If you are often communicating that you are not here on Fridays then you may be inadvertently distancing yourself from the business. It is important to ensure that the business feels that you are fully integrated; by highlighting your separation this may result in management calling into question your commitment. It is important to inform colleagues and clients of your availability rather than your unavailability.

“Only”: Repeat after me: “I will not say that I only work part-time”. Stating that you ‘only’ work part-time devalues your role within the organisation both to others and to yourself; it makes it a little easier to be overlooked when it comes to succession planning as the perception is that you ‘only’ work a fraction of what you could. Studies have shown that employees working flexible hours offer the best value to employers as they waste less time than full-time colleagues (11% versus 14.5%)*. By saying ‘only’ you may be perpetuating the productivity myth of part-time work, when in actual fact, the opposite has been demonstrated.

Catch-up: Set up systems to ensure you can easily get on top of things when you are back in the office whether it is a whiteboard, a communication book, a filtering email system or a weekly staff meeting. This will allow you to ensure that nothing has slipped, all approvals have been processed, client obligations have been met and your time is spent wisely, rather than playing catch-up.

Good morning: When you are in the office, make sure you make eye contact with colleagues and greet them. This may sound like a curious point to end with, but as a part-time employee it is easy to fall into the trap of ‘go-go-go’ and become quite insular. And that is all well and good, but it is imperative that you establish and maintain rapport with the wider business. Your work can and will speak volumes, but sometimes a friendly smile will be the first step in forging key relations in an office.

Your career options need not be limited by the choice to work part-time and this is becoming increasingly evident as employers see the benefits of offering flexible working arrangements across a broad range of industries. Good luck and happy juggling!
 
* Untapped Opportunity – Ernst & Young – July 2013

 - Anna Sarelas is the people manager at Veolia Australia and New Zealand.

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