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Flextime Bids Fond Farewell To the 9-to-5

Levey agreed that the fear of career penalties and of being "taken off the path" exists because colleagues might consider flextime arrangements as special treatment, or they might think that an employee with flextime isn't a devoted worker.

Allison Cella, 29, says she has dealt with this firsthand.

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After returning from maternity leave a year ago, Cella, who was an accounting manager at a multibillion-dollar company in New Jersey, approached her superiors with a pitch for a reduced work schedule.

Cella's husband, a finance manager, was often on the road and she was finding it difficult to balance her time with her daughter and her work.

"I had spent my whole life working so hard, my whole career moving up the corporate ladder, but I realized that I didn't want to miss out on all the small stuff with my daughter," she said.

The company listened to her pitch -- and made her an offer. She could work three days a week but would have to agree to work full weeks and weekends at the end of the year and each quarter, during the company's busiest times.

In addition, they took away Cella's health benefits and sick days, and they cut her 15 vacation days down to six. They also dropped her manager status -- and made her move out of her office. Meanwhile, her salary was not reduced by the 40 percent equivalent of the time reduction -- instead, the company cut 10 percent off the top, then gave her 55 percent of that abbreviated salary.

"They took away a lot. . . . They weren't able to mold me into what they thought I was," Cella said. "But to me, the payoff is worth it."

Something that bothers her more than the cut in benefits is the response she has received -- not from her peers, who she says seem happy for her -- but from her superiors.

"The downside is that to people above me on the corporate ladder track, I appear as a sellout," she said. "I lost the respect of some people. People who are the moms that work 80 hours a week and have nannies -- they don't have the same respect for me."

Cella said she often speculates about what causes the resentment, saying she remains a devoted worker, and wonders if it might be that others feel she's getting special treatment. Cella is the first person to have made a flextime arrangement in her accounting department, which is 80 to 90 percent female.

Cella and others who work on alternative schedules have begun to encounter the true meaning of "flexible."

They say that while a plan may be in place, there are times when either party involved can't stick to it. There are some employers who, like Cella's, often try to "stretch it," and some employees, including Malone, who say they believe there are weeks when they have no choice but to go in during normal hours every day.

"The important thing to make it work is you have to be flexible," said Malone, who has a 2-year-old daughter in addition to the long commute. "Some weeks I have to go to Delaware every day of the week."

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