Allowing Employees to Cut Back on Hours Won’t Derail Their Careers

By Staff Report

Feb. 23, 2005

Companies that allow employees to cut back on their hours will generally find that “career growth and advancement can be sustained by employees working on a reduced-load basis,” according to a new study by McGill University and Michigan State University.

Eighty-one people in North America working reduced schedules participated in interviews between 1996 and 1998. Ninety-one percent of them participated in follow-up interviews in 2002 and 2003. At the time of the follow-ups, nearly half of the employees were still working part time–but not because they couldn’t get full-time jobs. “They’re all doing it because they want to,” says McGill’s Mary Dean Lee. “They all have the option to go full time.”

When salaries were adjusted according to workload, those working part time were earning salaries equivalent to those working full time.

Lee says that the highest-paid individual in the study is a part-time partner at a big accounting firm. Another reduced-load participant is now a CEO of a major division of a major insurance company, working about 80 percent of a full schedule.

Still on track
Another 38 percent of the study’s participants had gone back to full-time jobs. And, says Lee, many of them who moved back to full time did so for a promotion. Lee says she couldn’t think of a case where a worker in the study was “pushed off to the side.”

“That was a fear many people had six or seven years ago,” Lee said. “Would it brand you as someone who somehow wasn’t committed enough or serious enough about their career so their advancement opportunity would be hurt forever? Our surprise was that they’re not nearly that restricted.”

Employees were able to craft schedules that worked for them when they had reputations in their companies as people who achieved results, and when they had managers who were flexible. In fact, some of the employees studied have become supervisors themselves and have introduced more flexibility into the work lives of their employees.

In cases where their careers had deteriorated upon cutting back on their hours, it was often because their employers had since been acquired by firms with less progressive attitudes.

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