Part-time managers in Europe: culture and gender matter

Achieving a work-life balance is a challenge for many people working today. Yet, the idea of a shorter working week is undergoing something of a revival. Part-time work can, in principle, contribute to calming down the ‘rush hour of life’. However, it is not always a possible. This is particularly the case for people in management positions.

Diverse challenges for managers working part-time

From a corporate perspective, part-time work in supervisory positions is associated with higher coordination requirements and, possibly, higher costs. Employees are therefore often advised against reducing their working hours and part-time work is no facilitated.

From an employee’s standpoint, income reduction and the possible negative effects on future promotion are arguments against part-time work. Therefore, managers often decide against reducing their working hours, despite their needs to the contrary.

However, in order to retain their top employees, companies are increasingly meeting these employees’ needs regarding working hours.

Great variation in Europe

In a recent article published in the Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie in 2013, we looked at the factors affecting the prevalence of part-time work among managers. We focused on the circumstances under which managers reduce their working hours. We also analysed the factors explaining the variations in part-time work among managers in Europe.

Based on our analyses of the European Labour Force Survey (2009), we show that the proportion of managers working part-time varies considerably across countries. More than 10% of the managers in the Netherlands and Ireland work fewer than 30 hours per week. By contrast, part-time managers are rare in Eastern Europe, with only 1% of managers doing so in Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Cyprus.

Table part time work

Culture matters, not legislation

In order to explore this cross-country variation, we combined the European Labour Force Survey data with country-level information from various sources, such as the International Labour Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Our multilevel analyses show that it is cultural factors and normative expectations rather than legal regulations, which explain these differences. The key factors influencing part-time work among managers are a widespread part-time work culture and egalitarian gender attitudes.

The more prevalent part-time work is among the working population excluding managers, the more likely it is that managers also work reduced hours.

Likewise, the more progressive the prevailing gender norms in a given country, the more likely it is that managers will work reduced hours.

A culture with a strong emphasis on face-time at management level, by contrast, negatively affects the likelihood that managers will work part-time. For example in France, where overtime tends to be widespread among managers, they are less likely to reduce their working hours. Interestingly, these informal norms and expectations have a more significant impact on the likelihood of part-time work among managers than legal regulations facilitating part-time work.

Achieving gender equality in the workplace

These findings are of major relevance in the quest to achieve more gender-egalitarian working conditions. Shortening working hours for management personnel may reduce the gender-based segregation of the labour market. If management roles can also be completed on a part-time basis, then these positions will be more accessible to women. More part-time managers may also increase the acceptability of men working part time. This could lead to a more equitable distribution of management positions and working hours.

Lena Hipp

Head of the junior research group work and care, WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Featured image credit: Gajus via Fotolia

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