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Can Executives Work Part-Time?

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A basic tenet of the modern organization is that people work full-time. In America, that means 40+ hours a week. But do you need to be there constantly to earn respect and get things done?

A piece in from BBC News reports on powerful, part-time executives:

It has long been received wisdom that getting ahead at work is largely based on long hours and a willingness to put the boss’s whims before your personal life.

Tales abound of city workers and ambitious junior lawyers who put in 18 and 20 hour days to prove their mettle.

And for those at the top there can also be lots of time at work. Jack Dorsey of Twitter and mobile payments venture Square once said that he put in eight to 10 hours a day at each of those businesses – effectively two working days in one. Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer reportedly worked up to 130 hours a week while at Google.

But the necessity of long hours appears to have been challenged by two recent appointments.

After reporting disappointing sales, Marks and Spencer (a $15B UK-based clothier) has hired a new style director to turn things round. Belinda Earl will work two days a week.

And a new vice president at Facebook, Nicola Mendelsohn, will be their head of Europe, Middle East and Africa. She is expected to work four days a week – as she currently does as head of advertising agency Karmarama.

Commuting via Subway

© Flickr user Taavi Randmaa

We all know about people who work part time for personal reasons. Maybe they are semi-retired, or they have family responsibilities with children or aging parents. But the assumption is that the bigwigs at any organization need to be those who are putting in the most time. How is anything else possible?

First, it might be good to remind ourselves that there really is no such thing as a full-time job. We all have things to do besides work. Sleeping, eating, socializing, and resting are all essential to our health. But that’s not the business climate. In fact, we’re working more than ever.

According to an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times—American Work Obsession Outweighs Family Values—the situation is grim:

We Americans are suckers for work. We put in more hours at our jobs than any people in the industrialized world, except Koreans. We take far fewer days of vacation than Europeans. In the last several years, many among us have seen our workload double while our incomes have stayed flat. And some of us have fallen into criticizing fellow workers who want a lighter load and more time with their families.

So what’s different in these isolated cases? To quote again from the BBC:

“We need to move away from a rigid culture of long hours at the top, so that it better reflects what people want at work,” says policy advisor Paul Sellers.

Organizational psychology professor Cary Cooper says there is a certain type of manager – often older and male – who see flexible working as a sign that a person isn’t committed. It can lead to the perception that they’re not doing “a proper job” and affect their promotion prospects.

However, Cooper says the question needs to be “do they deliver?”. People need to be judged not on how many hours they put in at the office, but on what they get done.

There may be more understanding at higher levels, but the question needs always be the same. What results are people actually producing, not what hours are they putting in. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to have two individuals sharing the work and meeting the deadlines, if the alternative is one person falling behind?

The future of work is less about long hours and more about results. Think carefully next time you wonder where people are. Instead, ask what your team has accomplished. And if you’re moving up to a new position, consider spending less time at work and more time elsewhere. Companies need the best workers, and all of us at our best when we are rested.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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