When Lee Harman first asked if he could go from a five-day workweek to a four-day workweek, he was nervous, wondering what his colleagues would think.
“In construction, men predominate,” he says. “Working part-time is something that just wasn’t done.”
Now he belongs to the growing number of professionals who have cut their hours.
Lee, 38, is a civil engineer at Skanska Costain Strabag.
In the last year you have found that a shorter work week is a huge advantage.
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“This way I can better manage my energy levels,” says this father of three.
“A high-level position requires a certain degree of contemplation and space to think. It suits me very well, and so does the whole team.”
“I don’t see myself going back to the way I worked before. “, he says.
Lee believes that due to the covid-19 crisis, many people have realized that things can be done differently.
Colleagues have started asking him about his experience, wondering if they could do the same.
Tendency to reduce hours from i workedO
Goldman Sachs top executives may still insist on a 95-hour week, but they seem to be getting farther and farther from the majority.
Surveys and experiments in different parts of the world show that there is a longing to reduce the working day and the consideration that working part-time should not be an obstacle to a career. A desire that was already perceived before the pandemic, but that the way of working during it has boosted considerably.
For example, of the 2,300 Microsoft workers in Japan who in 2019 tried to reduce their weekly hours by one day, 92% said they felt happier and less stressed with those hours. Similar results were shown by the experiment at Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand company.
And a survey conducted by the human resources consultancy Robert Half in the US showed that 66% of workers said they want to work less than five days a week.
Another survey of 2,000 UK adults last month found that the 72% believe that part-time workers should have the same opportunities to progress at work than full-time workers.
Timewise, which commissioned the research, explains that nine years ago a similar survey revealed that 72% believed that it was “not possible” to have a high-level part-time job.
Is reducing the working day a brake?
Karen Mattison, co-founder of Timewise, an organization that campaigns for more flexible working, says that last year it was shown that people can work differently and that it was time for employers to reflect this in the way they design and advertise jobs.
“We have long seen an apology to the term part-time: ‘I’m only part-time.’ We now know that the vast majority of people in the UK see no reason why part-time workers should be impeded from progressing in their careers, “he explains.
Part-time workers now represent a quarter of the country’s workforce. But there is often a trade-off between negotiating a shorter schedule and having career opportunities.
Mothers, in particular, have found that combine work with the demands of caring for children it has stalled their careers, undermining efforts to achieve gender equality in senior positions.
But not for Gemma Fleuren.
Her current job as a commercial director at a chocolate vein company is the third in which she has negotiated a four-day workweek.
And, far from seeing his career slowed down, he is now responsible for a team of people and a series of logistics, sales forecasting and stock allocation tasks.
Gemma’s husband is a firefighter and works shifts on Fridays and weekends, so she She takes Fridays off to be with her three children.
“In previous positions, they told me to remove the photos of my children from my table, in case they sent a message to the bosses that I did not take my career seriously,” he explains.
But when she was interviewed for her current job, she made it clear that she would accept the position four days a week and her company has fully supported her.
“There are no questions about how you organize your hours. They judge you by what you get,” he says.
“Flexible work is for everyone, whether it is because you have children, an elderly parent who needs your help, or even a goldfish who needs special care! The reason is irrelevant, what is expected is that it is for everyone” .
Even in busy periods, like the one before Easter, he manages to keep his days off.
But he assures that it is necessary to be disciplined to say that you are not available at certain times. And she is not sure if she can carry out her role in less than four days.
A way to attract talent
While some entrepreneurs are setting positive examples, many have yet to accept that offering flexibility will help attract top talent, Timewise says.
An earlier Timewise study revealed that even before the pandemic, Nine out of ten people wanted more flexibility in their next job.
However, in 2020 only 8% of job vacancies in the UK offered part-time options.
Meanwhile, other countries are already exploring the idea of reducing workweeks.
Last year, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, suggested that employers consider the option of a four-day week because it would help reconcile work and family life, but also because it could boost domestic tourism.
Spain is planning a four-day workweek pilot project, in part due to the challenges of automation.
And sweden he has experimented with six-hour shifts.
Gemma believes that anyone who wants to work part-time should be honest with potential employers, especially if scouts or recruiters don’t support them.
“I’ve had recruiters tell me that they are unwilling to bring up my desired job pattern to their client, letting me carry on the conversation myself or suggesting that I give in to my requirements to secure a job offer,” she says.
“If the recruiter doesn’t want to have the conversation, I would go directly to the prospective employer so you can clearly state your position.”
* All text content is the author’s, except for survey and experiment data for countries other than the UK.
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