Elise Jones is a former Microsoft work/life champion and president and founder of E Jones Consulting. In line with her passion for supporting people across multiple life roles, she is also a wife, mother, Master’s student, ukulele-strumming public school volunteer, Sunday School teacher, and community board member. You can follow her on twitter at @elisejones.
The morning of April 9, 2003, found me bent feverishly over my laptop outside the conference room where my team was attending a division wide meeting. After choosing not to return to my full-time position at Microsoft after my first child was born, I was in the final 48 hours of an internal search for a part-time position, and the urgency of my few remaining leads trumped the inspirational words of our VP. I centered my efforts on one hiring manager in particular, enumerating how I could improve his group’s bottom line, and sent off the email with a vigorous click.
A few hours later I looked up in disbelief to see this hiring manager approaching me from across the cafeteria. His words “Would you like to join my team?” and “When can you start?” transformed my life, opening the door to an exciting new career that kept me at Microsoft an additional five years. That experience taught me the lengths I was willing to go to in order to shape the life I have chosen for myself and my family. But it also infused in me a dream for a world of work very different from the one most of us live in.
My dream is to create a world where all people can engage in meaningful, growth-promoting, and financially rewarding work regardless of their dedication to priorities outside the workplace. That means thinking about work in new ways. In particular, it means greater access to workplace flexibility and more part-time, career-track jobs.
The reality for most professionals today is that you either put in a traditional full-time workweek or you quit (as illustrated by the rash of opt-out articles spanning the last decade). Why must this be a binary decision? If an individual’s dedication to work doesn’t stop when it no longer matches the demands of a full-time, face-time workplace, why should their career? Thankfully, growing access to flextime, telework, and other forms of flexibility bridges the gap for many. But countless others judge the demands of caregiving, community involvement, and other investments to be incompatible with their workplace and downgrade to less-demanding positions or opt out altogether.
Even where part-time professional work exists, it is no nirvana. A Fortune 100 executive speaking at a recent conference suggested that part-timers don’t generally get what they deserve and that “people around them are always wondering”. For the few workers able to craft part-time positions in professions dominated by full-time work, these are just a few of the myriad conditions threatening their success. It will take vision, dedication, and hard work from the highest levels of companies to front-line managers and individual employees to create not only part-time and other flexible positions, but also a work environment that recognizes and values those who occupy them. That effort is absolutely worth it.
Much has changed since I put my Microsoft career on the line nine years ago. New investments in my husband’s career, my departure from corporate America, our family’s cross-country move, two growing children, and increasing investments in our local community have placed new demands on me and changed my work/life configuration dramatically. But through it all my dream has stayed with me – even grown because of it.
Today I’m pursuing a Master’s in Psychology and investigating how people’s ability to invest in the roles they most value impacts their overall wellbeing and performance. As part of my work this semester, I’m conducting a study looking at whether mothers utilize employer-provided work/life supports and with what impact. If anything in my dream resonates with yours, I hope you’ll take my online survey or pass it on to someone else. (Qualifying participants will be entered to win a $25 Amazon.com gift card.)
And speaking of intersections between our mutual dreams, I would love to hear any thoughts my story has sparked for you. What dreams would access to part-time or other flexible work options enable for you or someone you care about?