Personnel: Companies find flexible friends: The trend to part-time staffing is popular with women managers. Roger Trapp reports

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The Independent Online
WHATEVER its other benefits, economic recovery - if and when it comes - is unlikely to bring full employment. Companies have gone so far down the road of flexible working arrangements that the era of a generally applicable working day has probably gone forever.

While some people are working far in excess of the standard 40-hour week, others are working far less, or at least are not sticking to regular eight- hour chunks.

The Burton stores group's announcement earlier this month that it was introducing more part-time working is just one indication of the extent to which companies have started to follow their consultants' advice and employ staff according to customer demand. If that means lots of people at peak, and anti-social, times and a skeleton staff at others, so be it.

But there is one group that appears to be welcoming the expansion of part- time working: women managers. According to a survey published last week by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, most part- time managerial jobs are created to retain personnel after maternity leave.

The study suggests that 7 out of 10 private-sector companies in Britain employ part-time managers, mainly women. Managers account for only 2.3 per cent of the 5.7 million people working part-time, but employers expect this to become more common, with the private sector taking the lead.

Not surprisingly, flexible working is proving most popular among women managers who have children, particularly in service-sector businesses in the South-east.

Managers working part-time tend to see their jobs as at least equal to their previous full-time positions or even more challenging, says the survey, which was sponsored by Cima, the London Stock Exchange, BT and Citibank. It involved more than 100 companies and organisations. At the same time, employers are positive about the practice. While acknowledging that there is a price to be paid in additional costs, administrative difficulties and problems relating to promotion, they have found that 'productivity gains and savings from the retention of trained staff on the payroll make employment of flexible managers a good deal for them', says Isabel Boyer, managing director of the Matrix Consultancy and author of the report.

However, there is still much to be done. For instance, employers have not yet responded to the growing demand for long-term flexible careers. More than half the managers interviewed wanted to work part-time for up to five years, some indefinitely.

And on top of the lack of promotion, there is the issue of job-sharing. This practice - where two managers share responsibilities - was found to be relatively rare. Most employers and managers preferred part-time working by individuals in self-contained jobs.

Part-time working suits some jobs more than others. And the study provides a framework for designing part- time managerial working that takes into account the nature of the job and the manager's relationships with customers and other employees.