Money & Career

Make a flexible work schedule work for you

By: Jacqueline Foley

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

Make a flexible work schedule work for you

By: Jacqueline Foley
You are probably very worried right now about how a flexible work arrangement will affect your career or job prospects to come. I wish I could tell you that the careers of all the women who have chosen to work flexible hours have stayed on track. But I don't think you'd really believe me. Working flexible hours will likely have an impact on your career in some way, but remember it's up to you to decide what kind of impact you are comfortable with. The type of arrangement you choose, or have already chosen, will determine whether you continue on the career path you pursued before you had children, slow it down or change its direction altogether.

Coping with working less hours
When I shifted to a three-day workweek, I was very conscious that I was not only giving up two days of income each week, but I was also temporarily abandoning my dream of expanding our business into a larger consulting practice. And I have to admit there are days that owning a two-person consulting firm doesn't feel all that successful to me. In addition, I have had to play more of a background role (instead of being an equal partner) in the business because I work fewer hours and am in my home office more (to stay close to Zachary) rather than meeting with clients. This means that I often work on less interesting projects and have more limited learning and career growth opportunities than my husband. Translation: Vince takes on all the interesting stuff and receives all the client recognition, too.

Stay positive about your work
Most women worry about how their new work arrangement will influence their potential to work full time in the future. I suggest that women who are struggling with this issue turn the equation around and think about this: Keeping one foot on the career track will make it that much easier for you to return to full-time work in the future. Whether you are running your own business or working part time for someone else, you are still connected to your work and the workforce. This means that if you do decide to go back full time at some point, you won't have to reorient yourself. Your skills, contacts and knowledge of the workplace will remain current, and even though you may have slowed down your career, you are still gaining valuable experience for the future.

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to balance both work and spending time with your kids on page 2


Starting your own business
Mary Lynne worked reduced hours when her children were young and has since made the transition back to full-time work. She and her husband were both working in advertising when they had their two boys, who are now 12 and 13. Tired of a one-hour daily commute, working crazy hours and not seeing enough of her children, Mary Lynne approached her employer about job sharing. They turned her down. Within six months, she left the company and formed an ad agency with her husband, which they ran out of their home.

Balancing work and parenting
When her boys were young, Mary Lynne worked up to five hours a day (including during the kids' naps) and spent the rest of the day with her children. "I always wondered whether it was possible to have a fulfilling career, like what I was doing and still enjoy my kids while they were young," she says. "I've definitely achieved these objectives." Today she works full time, and she and her husband have a thriving 13-person firm outside of their home. They are gradually selling the business to their employees.

The importance of networking
Probably the most important thing that you can do to leave the door open for future full-time work is to stay connected with colleagues. Take time to nurture relationships with clients and colleagues if you run your own business, or coworkers and managers if you're working for a company. Wendy Hirschberg from Ernst & Young believes that these very relationships are most important to your success. She recommends that women should make time for relationship-building once they have a better handle on their new flexible work arrangement.

So while you will undoubtedly feel pressured to work through lunch at your desk or to pass on attending a daylong seminar, don't make the mistake of cutting yourself off completely. Make sure you arrange lunches with colleagues and attend industry events at least a few times a year. And don't forgo company retreats or important client functions, even if they occur on your days off.

Excerpted from Flex Appeal: An Inspirational Guide to Flexible Work for Mothers by Jacqueline Foley (Out of Our Minds Press, 2002).

Author Jacqueline Foley lives with her husband and sons Zachary, 4, and Ethan, 1, in Stouffville, Ont. She works from home three days a week. For more information, visit

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Make a flexible work schedule work for you