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Moms eye part-time jobs to achieve work-life balance

How families can get more face time and companies can retain top talent.

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For instance, just over a year ago, the international professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in New York launched Full Circle. The program is designed for PWC professionals who want to leave the workforce for up to five years to care for their children or parents. During this stint, program participants get annual training to keep their skills fresh. They also have a coach – a PWC employee – who keeps in touch with them while they are gone and helps them transition back to the firm when they are returning to work.

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The idea is to retain talent, explains Jennifer Allyn, PWC's managing director in the Office of Diversity.

"Every time a professional leaves us, it costs the firm $80,000 in recruiting costs and lost productivity," she says.

The New York-based Deloitte & Touche USA is now rolling out a broad new program, called Mass Career Customization (MCC). According to the firm, this "unique" program is "designed to encourage more robust and transparent career conversations."

Specifically, it provides all 40,000 of Deloitte's US employees with a framework for discussing with supervisors their career goals in four areas: pace of career progression; workload; location and schedule of work – i.e., where and when it gets done; and work role, which involves an employee's position or job responsibilities.

"The objective is to allow each employee to partner with his or her supervisor to customize their career path over time by making choices along each of those dimensions, understanding the trade-offs of their choices," said Anne Weisberg, a director in the Women's Initiative at Deloitte. She is also coauthor of the new book, "Mass Career Customization."

Since MCC will involve all employees, it "will be much better for working mothers" than flexible working arrangements, Ms. Weisberg says. "It will eliminate the stigma attached to making career choices that are different from the norm."

New programs attractive, but rare

But, as attractive as such programs may sound, they're still unusual.

For many moms, corporate America still doesn't fill their need for work-life balance. Some of these mothers – who don't want to quit working – chart their own courses, taking such steps as changing careers or becoming self-employed. And some of these creative efforts have paid off well.

Take the case of Jennifer Nelson of Hopewell, N.J., a mother of three who has switched careers from journalism to teaching. No longer confronted with eight- to nine-hour work days, she's now back at home by roughly 3:30 p.m. on weekdays. She's also able to do some class preparation at home, including writing up lesson plans and grading papers.

"Teaching is not overly stressful and can be fun," she says. "And if you have to work full time, it's a more family friendly profession than many others, because it lets you have more time at home with the kids."

Given her family responsibilities, Ms. Nelson says she "would love to be working four hours a day." But she would not prefer to be a stay-at-home mom.

"Having a job helps you have your own identity, while earning a living and hopefully doing something you enjoy. Without a job," she says. "I'd get bored, and I'd miss the social interaction at work."

Fit work in around family schedule

Lisa Skvarla, of West Seattle, Wash., manages a martial-arts studio and keeps up a part-time acting career. And in both cases, the mother of two fashions her work hours around her family's schedule. For instance, she'll teach martial arts classes in the morning while her kids are in school.

And when she returns for evening classes, her kids are often with her. In some cases, they even assist with teaching classes. Her husband also helps teach classes in the evenings.

"I've structured my work around my family and my family around my work," Ms. Skvarla says. "Having such flexibility in my life goes a long way toward helping me be a mom and be happy."

How to nudge the boss for more balance

What should employees do to get more “work-life” balance from employers and career development? Stephanie Penner, a principal at the human resource consulting firm Mercer, offers several tips:

•Ask about work-life balance offerings. Since you may not realize that your employer is expanding its use of these programs, starting the dialogue could lead to a helpful arrangement for you.

•If you are given some flexibility with your working arrangements, don’t take advantage of the opportunity. By living up to your end of the bargain and remaining productive, you help underscore the value of maintaining that program.

•Seek out career development mentors. Because of companies’ need for succession planning, “there is much more mentoring going on informally in organizations these days,” Ms. Penner says. But if your company lacks a formal career development program, look for a mentor on your own. Possibilities include: someone previously in your position, or a longtime employee of the organization. Or perhaps the person could be someone who’s come from outside your company and can offer a different perspective.

•Explore training programs offered internally and inquire about what outside courses the company would be willing to pay for. One of the best times to raise such work-life and career development issues is during the job interview. By gauging a prospective employer’s views before you join a company, you gain clues as to whether the employer is the right one
for you.