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Part-time, whole self

Pears Foundation director Amy Braier writes about her experience of working part-time.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.

Carl Jung

Technically I work four days a week but I don’t think of myself as a part-time CEO. ‘Part’ implies less – getting less done, less of yourself to give, less than a full employee – but that’s not how any of us experience it, especially in a sector that is driven by values and personal commitment. Whether I work four or five days a week I’m not a part-time CEO, just as I’m not a part-time parent or daughter or wife; they are all parts of me and I’d like to share some of the things that have been important for me as I navigate this.

Do what works for you

Some people want their time away from work to be sacrosanct and it’s important that we respect that preference, but I prefer things to be a bit blurry. I start and end each week with my team which helps me feel connected but I don’t call Wednesdays my ‘day off’ and I don’t set an out of office reply. If something comes up I’m happy to deal with it, or answer the odd email or phone call, but that also means that I may finish a bit early on a Friday. I borrow a bit from my non-working time when I need to and borrow it back from my working time when I need to. I’m deeply conscientious and I make sure the books are balanced  (most of us exceed our contracted hours on a regular basis anyway) but being the director of the Pears Foundation to the best of my ability is more important than clocking on and off at certain times and I am grateful for a working culture where that is recognised. In fact, most people don’t even notice my working hours. What works for me may not be possible or desirable for you, but let’s give each other the space to find out what works best for our circumstances and not judge anyone who does it differently.

Remember why you chose to be part-time

I do it because I wanted to spend time with my children. Mine are still young so I’m happy to check my emails when they’re asleep if it means I can be there at the end of the day to read them a story and put them to bed. That is important to me and I try to resist the pressure to sacrifice that time. This can be difficult in a sector where evening meetings and events are the norm. I hope the new routines and patterns that have developed from a year of working from home will lead to wider changes in the way we are able to prioritise what is important to us.

Create some boundaries

I have a high tolerance for blurriness but when there aren’t enough boundaries it’s easy to feel short-changed or like you’re not good enough at any of your roles  –  and that was true even before lockdowns and homeschooling. There have been many times when I’ve got the balance wrong including a memorable attempt to wheel a buggy round the fruit and vegetable aisle of Sainsburys with one hand whilst simultaneously conducting a phone conversation on Holocaust education and throwing rice cakes at a crying toddler with the other. That doesn’t work for anyone. With emails and notifications on our phones and an ‘always on’ culture, this is becoming increasingly challenging for everyone. Protecting my time with my children is something I know I could be better at and my 2021 resolution is to keep reminding myself to put the phone away and be present.

Just say no

Part-time CEOs are already expert multitaskers and time managers. I’ve found having limited time in the office has helped sharpen those instincts. I am much stricter now about not taking meetings that I know are not a good use of my (or the other person’s) time and not feeling guilty for saying a polite and respectful no and at making sure I build in time at my desk as part of my working week.

Flexibility is good for everyone

I tend to associate part-time leadership with care-giving responsibilities and women. I know they are out there but personally speaking, I only know one male CEO who switched to part-time working when he became a parent. Why is this? As CEOs, we often have control over our own schedules, which makes part-time working easier, so let’s lead the way in creating cultures that enable it more widely.

I don’t feel the need to use the label ‘part-time’. Many of the ‘part-time’ CEOs I know work smarter and harder knowing they don’t have any time to waste.  And when shown trust and flexibility, I believe that most people find they are more motivated and able to give more of themselves to all of their roles.

In the seven years since my daughter was born colleagues have experienced new babies, children with additional needs, bereavement, house moves, miscarriage (I had three before my second child was born), chronic illness, cancer, surgery and caring for elderly or sick parents – and that was before we all went through a global pandemic. I don’t think we’re atypical – this is real life. We don’t leave the rest of ourselves behind when we turn our computers on each Monday morning. Creating cultures of trust and respecting each other’s personal circumstances and wellbeing is good for everyone.

There is nothing good about so many deaths and the awful situations faced by so many, but whether we wanted it or not Covid-19 has forced us to press pause on our old ways of working.  We have also learned so much more about each other’s lives. We’ve seen inside each other’s homes, met children, partners and pets. They’re not a skin we shed or a hat we take off when we walk back into the office, they are a part of who we are. Whether part-time, full-time or flexibly, when I walk back into my office I know I will work better if I can bring my whole self and help my colleagues to do the same.

Are you a part-time CEO? Join the ACEVO Community group to connect with other part-time leaders

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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