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Podcast Episode 5

Part-time changed the course of my life.

Good part-time working can unlock your life and set you on a better path. Professor Richard Lanyon-Hogg and Dr Katie Perry discuss how part-time working changed both their lives – and look at the incredible talent pool of people who work part-time.

In our fifth episode, we look at the power of good part-time work to transform your life. We hear two extraordinary people, with incredible life stories in conversation – Professor Richard Lanyon-Hogg, a Visiting Professor in Computer Science at the University of Sheffield. Richard was a former Chief Technology Officer at IBM who purposefully started to work part-time in order to build more joyful moments into his life. Dr Katie Perry is the CEO of the Daphne Jackson Trust, a charity that supports academics to return to work after a career break. Katie herself has worked part-time twice, and in both cases, in order to reach a place of safety.

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Transcript

[Music]

0.05

Claire: Throughout the series we’ve touched upon the social, personal and organisational good that part-time work can bring. This episode explores two people’s stories of how part-time working transformed their lives. Part-time work can give you the space you need to figure out what you truly want to do. It can catch you in times of trouble when you might otherwise drop out of work altogether. It can open up a new passion or path in your life, and even enrich the wider world.

In this episode, you’ll hear from Katie Perry from Daphne Jackson Trust. The trust gives fellowships to scientists who’ve had a career break and helps them to continue their world changing studies on a part-time or flexible basis. Katie, too, has worked part-time for much of her career as a single mother, and more recently following a breakdown, as she candidly shares with us today.

She is in conversation with Richard Lanyon-Hogg. Richard was formerly a chief technology officer at IBM, and was one of their first ever senior people to go part-time. His reason? He purposefully wanted to build more joyful years into his life. Now a visiting professor at the University of Sheffield in computer science, you will hear about Richard’s extensive career, and how part-time work has unlocked something more in him.

1.20

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1.25

Katie: When I came back after having had a child, I decided that part-time would be a good balance for me returning after my maternity leave, and at the time, I was in, I was in a relationship with my daughter’s father. And I wanted to return part-time because I didn’t want to lose those early years. I didn’t want to lose being with her, and being a part of my child’s life in her formative years. But actually something that I wasn’t expecting that happened to me was that I became a single parent when she was two, and life really, it barrelled along at a pace that I wasn’t expecting.

But the one thing I needed then, was I needed to retain my job, I needed to keep working. Because although I got a lot of support, obviously from family, I was, I was having to go through courts, I was having to do all of this. I remember looking back on a diary from one particular year and thinking, goodness, how on earth did I manage to get through that year. It was really difficult because I had the opportunity to become a salaried staff member, and I had to make a really difficult decision. Because, in order to go from freelance to being salaried, I had all the security with the salaried role, I had to take a 45% pay cut in what I was taking home. And I had to make some serious sacrifices in other areas of my life. You know, I think part-time, it’s worth saying that, that for some people, and for many of our fellows, actually, that we work with, part-time is a necessity. And it’s hard and it can be quite difficult financially, but you may have to make sacrifices in other areas of your life. I wouldn’t have wanted to work full time at that point, because I still wanted to be there for Holly. But also childcare would have been too expensive. So I made that balance of part-time work. I’ve been a single parent up till a year ago, actually. So, you know, it’s something that I’ve, I’ve gone through this and I hope that I’ve been a really great, positive role model for my daughter. Who is now currently travelling and living her best life abroad, believe me. She’s been a husky slender in Norway in the Arctic Circle. She’s now living and working in Banff. She’s planning to go to New Zealand. So, do you know, I think being a single parent and – hasn’t been all together, hasn’t been bad, all of these preconceived ideas people have. But I’ve been a really strong role model for her in that you can do anything you want in your life and with your life. I would love the norm to be that people can go in and out of part-time, full time, depending on what their life circumstances are. For me, that would be the ideal situation in work. I think we’ve a little way to go before we get to that. But I think certainly you and I and other people, hopefully who listen to the podcast are, they’re saying it can be done. And it should be done.

Richard: Yeah. Going back to your daughter, because your background is science, isn’t it physics and what have you. So you’re familiar with the entanglement theory that if two particles, two particles come together, if they separate, then you the influence on one actually influences the other irrespective of the distance. I’d like to think in a sort of rather mystical way that that’s what happens when you love someone, that even though you’re physically separate, that that bond is still there.

Katie: I think you’re right. I think it is. A lot of people have said to me, oh, gosh, are you missing her? And I’ve said that, you know, not as much as I thought I would, but that’s because I know she’s happy and she’s fulfilled and she’s having adventures and living a life.

Richard: Picking up on what you were saying, Katie, the – I mean, for me, when I started to consider it, there were all manner of challenges which were before me, that you know, that, there’s the obvious ones about a loss of income. There was also the other senior folks saying, ‘well, this is the death knell for your career, you do realise that’. But the thing was, I sort of felt, you know, time is such a precious commodity. And the thing is, we all I believe, we all owe it to ourselves to, actually, to discover ourselves. When you’re a parent, what you want for your child is for your child to be loved, you want them to cherish your child, and you want the best for your child. And, if you, and you want your child to realise the potential, so you as an adult in the workplace, in effect, look at yourself in the mirror, because you do owe it to yourself to go and be the person you actually are. But you have to create that space. And that’s why you need to begin to draw time away from those things which you’re engaged in to create that space. We bought a wood in 2005 as part of a sustainability project.

Katie: Oh gosh, that sounds amazing. You bought a wood, whereabouts?

Richard: So we bought a wood in Wales, we bought a 40 acre wood, and we’d, had planted up over 22,000 saplings. So what I wanted to do was to design and build an off grid, eco shed. At the time you’re go back to, sort of, as we went through 2005, 2006, and all the rest of it, there was this sort of growing awareness that we had huge environmental challenges upon us. And I sort of set about thinking, that’s what I’m going to do. And I knew by doing it, it would actually enrich the value I was bringing back to the business, because at the time the corporation was going through what we, what was termed Smarter Planet. And so by actually having a woodland, designing and building an off grid, eco shed, managing 20,000 trees. And so I designed and had manufactured for myself, a printed circuit board with all manner of sensors on, which I then demonstrated through the small woods association with the Forestry Commission Research Council, with Woodland Trust, and what have you. How you could use this technology to manage the health of your woodland. And it just took off. Just to go even further, laterally, this, this is a bit, you’ll probably find this a bit bizarre. So my grandfather was a funeral director. And he used to make coffins. And I’ve got a lot of willow in the wood. So I thought, hang on a moment. So what I do now, is, every year I make a willow coffin, which I donate to the local crematorium for the paupers funerals. So charitable giving. But this can, it’s interesting, you see, again, it’s all to do with being part-time. You can create these connections, and you can begin to explore various ideas, which brings benefits to others as well as to yourself. Now if I’d been inside IBM, just a full timer, that would have never happened.

8.22

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8.32

Richard: My father died when he was 46. When I was going through my 40s, it began to psychologically play upon me. And one of the things I began to, to recognise and recognise quite quickly is that you cannot buy quality time. No matter how wealthy you are, you cannot take from life an extra minute. And I began to sort of realise that, actually, there was more to me than what I’d been performing, as it were, in this corporate environment over many decades. I’d also started to build an interest in sustainability. And, you know, this is something I needed to go and explore and unpack and what have you. So it was about 2004, 2005, I sort of stuck up my hand and I said, ‘look, I want to go on compressed, reduced hours, and there’s this sort of, you can’t do that, you know, and all the rest of it. There was no other distinguished engineer within IBM across Europe that actually worked part-time. And so this, in a way, it was a bit of an experiment for them. But in a way, it gave me an opportunity to break out, but it also, you become that sort of totem, that anchor point, to, to, and for others to go, oh, hang on. If he’s done it, why can I do it? I want him to mentor me. I want to actually go on that journey as well.

Katie: You know, this is something I’m I feel very strongly about – role models, and also championing a lot of these issues and if you’ve done it yourself, it can be done. I mean, I run an organisation, the Daphne Jackson Trust, that offers an opportunity for researchers to return to their research careers at the right level. Career break has to be for a family, caring or health reason. So they have a real need to remain part-time as they return to work. The shortest break we’ve dealt with is two years. And it has to be a two year break. The longest we’ve dealt with is 22 years. And that lady is making a fantastic success of her fellowship. So we offered them something called a fellowship, which offers them the chance to do research and have retraining. But I know very well that it’s great to have role models out there that are doing this. And all of these fellows, we’ve awarded nearly 500 fellowships now, are, you know, superbly successful because they allow somebody to work part-time, manage their work life balance, and what they have in their life and the reason for their break, as well as returning. And the research areas we cover, it’s literally across the board. It used to be for science, technology, engineering, maths, more predominantly. Now it’s across, it’s across the board. We’ve had one who’s gone from being a Daphne Jackson fellow to being the CEO of an international company. You know, we’ve got somebody who’s researching on gorilla communication, and she’s a psychologist. We’ve had people who’ve worked in data science, we’ve had people who’ve worked in all, in all areas. So we’re talking climate change, and also cancer and other medical health research. Lots is said about skill shortages, but our Daphne Jackson fellows, when they come back into research, they fill these skills gaps, and we have these people, you know, there is a hidden pool of talent out there. With returners. There’s no barrier now to flexibility and part-time.

Richard: I think you’re right, you’ve got to – it does help to have role models and mentors, and people who can coach you through that, that period of going from full time to part-time. I mean, I felt incredibly privileged to be able to make that choice as well, because there are costs associated with moving from one way of working to another. And again, this sort of plays back slightly to, I think we were all on this sort of career treadmill, we were all sort of painted this vision, you know, you’re working towards your home, your car, X, Y, and Z, you know, you this accumulation of chattels, because that’s what will bring you happiness. But actually, it’s been proven that that doesn’t bring you happiness. And that’s certainly what I found working for a number of American companies, is you can end up in this situation where you’re cognitively hijacked, because you’re pressed, as it were, into a particular way of thinking. And you have to work through that. Because we’re much more than that. And this is actually one of the things I found when I was mentoring others in this, this journey towards part-time, was, I think, if you go back several decades, I think we all had a balance in society where we had people who had skills of the head, and of the hands, and of the heart. And I think what’s happened is we have as a society, certainly when you look across the old imperial economies, we’ve lost those hand skills. And there are many people who come through life, who are actually hand or heart orientated, and they don’t get that opportunity. And I think this is where working part-time, working flexible, sort of opens that chink in the door, it gives you that that opportunity to sort of explore the person you actually are. So I think, you know, some people listening to this might say, Katie, oh, well, you know, you’re extremely fortunate, you know, you had the money to do that, and all the rest of it. And my counter argument would be well, actually, even if you allow yourself one hour a week, start that exploration, because you never know, what will arise from that. And by actually creating that space, an opportunity could arise. And that then could be your new, this is it, aha, that’s my new career. And that then provides you with a more wellness, you know, your wellness.

Katie: I think you’re so right. Some people have had to go part-time, perhaps. They’ve been forced into it or it’s something that’s a necessity, whereas other people can think about doing it and making a conscious choice. And I would love to see more people making that conscious choice to take some time out.

14.46

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14.51

Richard: I was part of the team at IBM that developed what was called the autonomic computing toolkit. So this was the sort of forerunner to what we now know today as base AI systems. Now, it was just something the other day that, again, was troubling me, is that will AI actually accelerate the sort of movement towards part-time working? Or will it disenfranchise it? Now, the way in which I see AI initially being used by large organisations, is that they will be sold to by the consulting system integrators, in that AI can optimise the whole back end of their business. So, you know, whatever is not customer facing, has an opportunity of actually having the sort of fairy dust sprinkled on it. And the sell will be, Katie, is that AI will actually release people to go into a more forward facing role. So those things which AI are poor at, the humans will be able to engage with. Now, in some respects, you could say, well, actually, that’s going to be good for people who want to move into a part-time way of working. My concerns are twofold. One, is I think AI is going to introduce a whole degree of complacency, and that that does just alarm me, because of the way in which we’re pressured and the way in which we’re measured and incentivised and what have you, we won’t have the time to understand what the AI systems are telling us, we’ll take it at face value. And then a point will arise in the future, and because we’ve come become complacent, we won’t be able to respond to that. So that’s the first concern. The other concern I have, it’s this. We’re human. When we were there on the savannah plain, hundreds of thousands of years ago, we worked together as a tribe, as a group, and we had our roles within that. And I just fear AI could actually undermine that, that human engagement which we have, which we have across, you know, people which we care for, our teams, or what have you. So I have a slight concern at the moment about how this is going to play out. And I don’t think, Katie, I don’t think anyone’s crystal ball is any better than anyone else’s.

Katie: I’ll agree with you there. And I think I share some of your concerns. I think that combination of of human with AI, is very powerful. But I think relying on all one, just relying on AI? No, I think that’s going to generate more issues than it solves. In some instances, I think. For me, a combination of AI with the human interaction might be, you know, in some instances, you know, really great. There are certain things that are fantastic, but you’ve just got to be wary, you gotta have that wary eye.

18.00

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18.04

Katie: Richard, obviously, we both work part-time, but how do you find actually managing part-time, as in going from a full time position to part-time position? I mean, I, I certainly know that there are some ways of managing things in a good and a bad way. How about you?

Richard: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Managing good things about – we always learn in management. Whenever I was mentoring, mentoring people through this sort of transition, or as I used to, used to get them to hold their hands out. I used to say, there is actually a tiny amount of things which you can control in your life. And think of that as a dot in the middle of your hand. And then if you draw a circle around that dot, you can think of that circle as being the circle of influence. And these are the things which you can influence in your life. And then outside of that circle, there’s another circle. And think of that as your circle of concern. And I used to say to my mentees, I used to say, more often than not, you’re going to be thrashing around in this circle of concern. And you don’t have any influence over those concerns which are in your mind, and you certainly don’t have any control. So why are you spending your time there? Why? Just stop and begin to reel yourself back in. And that will help you in your journey to being part-time.

Katie: Excellent. I love that.

Richard: Yes, that’s the way. So in terms of managing their time, Katie, that’s what I used to sort of try to think about. And actually, you know, I used to say, right, come back in a couple of weeks, and let me know how you’re getting on. And they would invariably come back saying ‘you’re right, you’re right, oh my word’. And, ‘I’m worrying about all this stuff, in areas of which I have no control or no influence. So actually, if I could cut my job in half, and if I just focused on what I control. I’d still be even more productive than I am now. So why don’t give me a pay rise and cut my hours in half’. I said, there you go, you know, you’d be getting the journey.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. Gosh, I know from my experience of managing an exclusively part-time team, for me communication is one of the key things and getting them to communicate with one another and with me, and everybody knows where people are, when they’re working. Things that have come in that are now commonplace. So for instance, changing your email signature to indicate when, when you’re working, that basically you may work non-traditional hours, you don’t expect an answer from people. Little things like that can make a big difference. Changing entrenched behaviours is an extremely difficult thing to do. But I guess I liken it a little bit to sort of tough love with children.

Now I know very well, from my own experience, that, do you know what, they could replace me tomorrow and the organisation would run fine. And sometimes you need to say to staff, I know I’ve said to someone, you know, everyone is replaceable, everybody can do that role, but you’ve got to look after your own, you know, your own self. And I think, an understanding of that for people, perhaps they feel that, oh, they can’t possibly do that without me. And I think for me, I have this as quite a stark lesson, because in 2022, I became a carer for my mother who had multiple health issues, and then ultimately, dementia, she had a stroke in the first lockdown. And so I was managing being a single parent, running a charity and being a carer. Living with and caring for my mother. It was clearly all too much. Throughout COVID it wasn’t, it wasn’t like working from home, it was like living at work. And it was just – everything was getting so difficult.

But I did actually finally have a breakdown in 2022, in which I then took three months away completely from work. And then came my next sort of lifeline, if you like, of part-time work, in that I had a phased return and back. And I worked part-time working my way back to my role at the Trust and that was a lifeline. But, do you know what, I’d always been that person that took a peek at their emails when they were on holiday. But for that time, when I was off, I absolutely did nothing. I did not care about work. It was being managed, and I needed to manage myself. And for me, the ability to then work part-time was literally a lifeline. And it’s been, I’m still working on being the best person, the best, I’m still working on the best version of me. I’m getting there. It’s, do you know what, there are days when it’s a struggle, but I’m so much happier and healthier now. And I can see the trigger points and I can see the signs. And I see it in, in the people that I manage as well. And I will make sure that things don’t happen. It’s something I’ve learned, is the ability to switch off. And maybe, perhaps people need something quite drastic to happen to them. I wish people would listen and go ‘no, okay, you’re right, I need to do that’. But for my own personal experience, it’s been an absolute, I mean, gosh, my whole life’s been a roller coaster actually, and a bit of a, bit of a learning experience. But yeah, there are, sometimes there are quite extreme drivers that, and things that have to happen, for us to actually moderate our behaviour and actually learn the best way to go forward.

Richard: I think sometimes, I don’t know whether this sort of analogy helps. But I think what I found is that there are these sort of holes, as it were, before you. And as you go through life, you don’t initially recognise those holes, and you fall into them. And you need somebody to let down the ladder to enable you to climb back up to get out of that hole.

Katie: Yeah.

Richard: And then over time, with support, you begin to recognise those holes. You’ll fall into a different hole, but you won’t necessarily fall into the same hole. But I’ve observed for many people who have gone part-time, is there is a trigger, which makes them think, actually, this is just ‘no. No, there is more to life than this’. But I think what you’ve learned and what I’ve learned, is part-time working can so enrich you as an individual, it can bring enormous value back to whatever organisation you’re working in. And I think if only, now that we know that, and we’ve moved on from this Victorian set of attitudes, if only the powers that be actually grasp that as an opportunity to actually make us, as a society, much more strong in our wellbeing and also more productive towards the things which we need to engage around. It would solve so many problems. I mean, I’m coming to the end of my – I’m not saying working life, because I’m going through a period of personal renovation. Don’t retire, you just renovate yourself.

Katie: I really like that, personal renovation. Yeah, no, I, I understand totally what you mean, what you mean there. But I think we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that actually, there are some benefits that we can take forward from COVID. And that is, the powers that be and those who run organisations need to realise that anything is possible. There’s no reason to say no anymore.

Richard: No, you’re right. You’re right. But it takes a political courage and a will to actually, as it were, not stigmatise society, and moving to this portfolio of activities, which individuals and communities can actually engage in. It would be a much more enriched world if we could do.

26.01

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26.06

Claire: Katie and Richard’s stories really evidence how critical part-time working can be at certain life stages. Whether it’s becoming a parent, health challenges, caring for elderly relatives or mental illness, many of us will have times where it isn’t possible to work full time. Having the option to work less rather than drop out of work altogether, is a lifeline to many people. Katie and Richard’s stories also highlight the societal benefits of their choices to work less. Katie has been able to provide care for her elderly mother. Richard has been able to lead a rewilding project, which benefits the local community and environment. These roles have supported both of them to develop new skills which they wouldn’t have gained at work. We’re seeing a real interest in working less at the moment, with the growth of movements like four day week and the right to switch off. The relationship between work and wellbeing is so important and just beginning to be properly understood. We have heard in the stories today, some very real evidence that being able to flex work up and down, as life demands change, makes a real difference to mental wellbeing.

I hope that any of you listening, who feel that your balance between work and life isn’t right, can reflect on what it would take to make a change. And whether it’s something you can do quickly or over time, make it a priority to address. The stories today evidence how life changing this can be.

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