Is a five-day working week better?
Not always, says Shell’s Maggie van’t Hoff, one of the 50 most powerful part-time workers in the UK.
The Timewise 2014 Power Part Time List includes men and women who are engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and accountants and proves that career success doesn’t depend on a five-day working week. The leaders on this list were chosen to reflect the key judging criteria: seniority, inspiration and outstanding success in their part-time role.
And that is exactly what Maggie van’t Hoff embodies. She works four days a week and is accountable for all of Shell Retail’s IT strategy, delivery and operations – a role that spans more than 45,000 retail sites across 80 countries.
She is responsible for improving customer experience through technological innovations and managing a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. She also runs an investment programme that comprises more than 50 projects at any one time and has a team of 300 employees and suppliers.
Flex for success
Maggie first started working flexibly after the birth of her third child in 2009. “I felt I needed a bit more time as it became more challenging to balance work and home with three children. My husband Graham, who also works for Shell as Executive Vice President for Chemicals, supported me in my decision. I had an open conversation with my line manager about working four days a week and he was really receptive to it.
“I suggested a trial period to ensure that it worked for both of us and was also clear on the fact that I wanted Fridays off. It was important to me to have a consistent routine,” says Maggie.
Prioritise and deliver
Since going down to four days a week, Maggie has been promoted twice. “I applied for jobs because I knew I could do it in the time available to me. Part of getting a promotion is about delivering on what you say you’re going to deliver. You need to show that you’re capable and have the capacity, regardless of the amount of hours you work per week.
“When there is a two-way agreement from the outset, flexibility works really well. But it is important to be ruthless on prioritisation and clear on boundaries. It is a continuous balancing act where I make choices to work virtually or differently than my peers,” she explains.
She admits that people sometimes find it challenging to not have her around on Fridays but they are still supportive. “In a way, they need to be flexible too. If someone wants to organise a meeting on a Friday, we will always try to find a way of fitting it into the four days I can do.”
There are times when she has to work on a Friday, usually when she needs to travel for business. “It hardly ever happens, though, but when it does, my children understand. I make it a priority to plan things with them on a Friday and without the support of a nanny or helper, my focus needs to be on my home,” she says.
Want to work part-time?
Maggie has become an advocate for part-time working but she admits that it might not fit everyone’s role. “I need to showcase that flexible working can work. My advice to others is to be clear on what your expectations and commitments are before negotiating part-time work with your manager. And then you need to stick to what you believe in.
“You can’t say that you don’t work Fridays but then check your emails or do work as soon as the kids have gone to school. The compartmentalisation between home and work is really important and Shell has been supportive in helping me to achieve that. When you need to decline meetings, give a reason. In this day and age anyone can work in their own flexible way and companies who recognise and support this will retain and develop more talented people. I have colleagues who work late at night in order to spend time with their children during the day.”
So how does she get through her to-do list? “I have the help and support of a great team. As a senior leader, I need to empower them and focus on the top priorities – first things first. You need to let your team do their jobs and only dive in when you are truly needed.”