Brigitte Abrell has been working as a manager for a large German insurance company for many years – part-time. In addition, she also works as a certified business coach, gives lectures and advises companies. She is convinced that part-time leadership is a working model for the future and has written a book about it. We talked with Ms. Abrell about her personal experiences in her career path, the challenges faced by part-time managers, and her book.
Ms. Abrell, you have been employed part time as a manager for many years and have also been working as a coach for managers on the side. How did this split happen?
After the birth of my son, I could not and did not want to perform my leadership role full-time, but I also didn’t want to give it up. That’s why, after half a year of maternity leave, I switched to three-quarter-time work (80 percent). Thus, I was able to continue my demanding work and still spend a lot of time with my child. My experiences with this model were also interesting to others and I was asked to share them as part of a mentoring project. I found this very interesting and it inspired me to complete a coaching training and to become a self-employed part-time coach and consultant.
What are your personal experiences with it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working as a part-time manager?
Managing part-time has many benefits, including for employers. In my personal experience, and after many different interviews, managers working part time have above-average motivation and dedication. Those managing part time have to acquire a very efficient way of working. This also has a positive effect on the working environment.
For me personally, managing part-time makes it possible to be present in both areas of life (work and family), to not miss out on my job, and to be financially secure. More sovereignty over time means a better quality of life for me. The first time, when my child was very small, was tiring but also very versatile and fulfilling, and I wouldn’t have wanted to trade that with anyone.
I think the disadvantages are the lower income and the higher time pressure to execute tasks in all areas.
Only about 5% of managers work part time. Why is that?
What’s lacking among managers and decision-makers in companies is the understanding of how easily leadership can be made possible as a part-time position. There are hardly any role models. In addition, there’s a persistent notion that long working days means you have high motivation. That’s not the case if you look closely!
You are quite deeply involved with this topic and have even written a book, Führen in Teilzeit (English: Managing Part Time). What was particularly important to you in your book?
I want to contribute to making the part-time-manager working model better known. In the book, I give food for thought and practical guidance, both for managers and for their superiors. Managing part time is possible! For each manager position, there is room to maneuver, and this can be determined individually. I would encourage you to take a closer look at this topic and take advantage of existing opportunities.
You mainly address the subject of part time. Does this actually include job sharing, too?
In the field of leadership, three-quarter-time work (approx. 70 percent and up) has proven its worth. If this is not desired or feasible – for example, mothers with very small or multiple children – job sharing is also possible for management positions. There are some specifics detailed in my book. In certain situations, a leadership duo has an advantage because the know-how of two people is included in decisions and therefore they are often more balanced. By now, there is a whole slew of management tandems that successfully lead teams together. I interviewed such a tandem for my book.
The book contains a few interviews with managers who work in different part-time models. What were their motivations and what things stood out to you in these interviews? What are the challenges facing part-time managers?
The reasons for a shorter working time are often building a family or the desire for more time with family. Quite a few would like to have more private time to improve their quality of life. Some need space for extra-occupational study or part-time self-employment. Still others wanted to take things a little easier in their last years of employment, or cited health problems. Managing part-time is not just a women’s topic, as many think! The reasons are as individual as the professional tasks and surrounding conditions of the managers. Accordingly, a tailor-made solution must be sought for every part-time request. The biggest challenge for a manager is to admit to themselves that they want more control over their time, and then convince their employer of the feasibility of the desired model. When implementing it, it is important to delegate the right tasks to other people, to change your own working method to match the shorter working hours, and to stick with it in the long term. Some business conditions make the life of a part-time manager more difficult. In these cases, better solutions must be sought together with the employer.
A part-time manager requires courage because it is often perceived as exotic, and is intensely monitored in the beginning. However, after the initial settling-in period, when all the details have been ironed out, the model soon becomes normal and is no longer considered so peculiar.
Do you think part-time leadership is a working model for the future? If so, why?
Our society is changing and people’s needs in terms of their workplace are also changing. Many well-educated young women take on responsibility in companies and want to stay employed even after starting a family. More and more young fathers are involved in the education of their children. Your number of dependents increases the longer you work. Different phases of life call for flexible working time models and will increasingly lead to the desire to reduce working time temporarily or permanently.
Companies need to look for ways to comply with these wishes. This also applies to managers. Managing part-time will therefore be increasingly in demand in the future. Companies that are open to this path and offer attractive solutions are already at an advantage when competing for the best employees.
Thank you very much for your time and interesting insights!