Carol J. Weil, a lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services and a mother of two, enjoys working four-day, 20-hour workweeks that allow her to be home when her children get out of school.
"I have no need for day care," she said. After holding a full-time job at the department for four years, she started working part time in 1992 following the birth of her first child.
Finding a part-time professional job has become easier as more companies offer flexible work schedules. A 2003 Hewitt Associates study of salaried employee benefit plans at 975 major U.S. employers found that 74 percent of employers in the sample offered some kind of alternative work arrangement and 46 percent offered a part-time option.
The majority of people who pursue part-time positions are women. They do so for a variety of reasons, but most often do so to have more time with their children, said Meredith J. Moore, director of research at Catalyst, a New York nonprofit research and advisory organization that focuses on women in business.
Still, some men choose to work part time. John Dawson, a manager at Fannie Mae, switched to a four-day workweek in 2001 when he turned 55. After working at the company full time for 15 years, he wanted more time for outside activities.
Establishing a strong track record as a full-time employee makes it easier to bargain for part-time work, said Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, author of "The Part-Time Paradox: Time Norms, Professional Lives, Family and Gender" (Routledge, 1998). Longtime workers establish loyalty and develop a good relationship with management. You have a particularly good chance of attaining a part-time job at your current workplace if you develop a specialty that puts you in demand there, if you have a loyal clientele who will press to keep you, or if you are able to bring in new business, she said.
But don't expect to keep the same job when you move to part time. Amy Broda, an institutional marketing manager at Calvert Group, a Bethesda mutual fund management firm, wanted to reduce her full-time work schedule to four days after her first child was born in 1996. She knew it was unrealistic to propose keeping her existing job in a part-time capacity, so she proposed creating a new position that she could do in fewer hours, she said.
After a few rounds of negotiation, the proposal was accepted. "I had a lot of knowledge about the company . . . and Calvert did not want to lose that knowledge and the experience I had there," she said.
It is harder, but not impossible, to find or create a part-time position from outside an organization. To start, job seekers can research lists of the best companies to work for, published by associations as well as magazines such as Fortune and Working Mother, said Marian Stevens, human resources talent team manager at Fannie Mae. Likewise, when looking at companies on the Internet, see whether they boast flexible work options or commitment to work/life balance.
Another suggestion is to apply for a full-time job, then, if it's offered, negotiate for it to be part time instead, advised Natalie R. Gahrmann, owner of NRG Coaching Associates in New Jersey and author of "Succeeding as a Super Busy Parent" (Infinity Publishing, 2002). Doing so is not unethical, she argued. It is similar to negotiating for any other employee benefit.
Sometimes it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Estelle Alexander, a senior research information specialist at the nonprofit AARP in the District, became aware of the part-time position she holds while serving as a consultant there.
Keep in mind that part-time jobs can have drawbacks. You may not advance as quickly as if you worked full time, as it's harder to be seen by management when you have less of a presence in the office, said Dennis Truskey, director of human resources at Calvert Group.
"You would need to have a very progressive manager and a stellar career" to climb at the same rate, he said.
But for Weil at HHS, the benefits outweigh any negatives. Of her 20-hour workweek, she said: "It's a great arrangement, a win-win."