The frustration and impatience that the ‘millennial’ generation feels towards the long corporate slog has been discussed widely, not least on this site. Like many others I felt frustrated and was looking for a change.
The turning point for me came, aptly enough, at a networking event on the theme of millennials that I was attending in support of a friend (and now cofounder) who was speaking on the topic of part time working.
“If you think working five days a week is too much then why don’t you stop?” He challenged the audience. His eyes roamed the sea of faces, searching for someone to have an argument with. “If you want more time, why don’t you take it?”
“But there’s no way, my employer would ever agree to that” a young man in the audience took the bait.
– “Have you asked them?”
– “Have they ever specifically told you that they wouldn’t allow it?”
– “Then you don’t know that.”
I chuckled at my friend’s lack of people skills and made a mental note to ask for part time working at the next opportunity I had. It was a win-win for me. If I got the extra time off – great. And if I was laughed out of company then at least I could come along to the next event and wipe that smug grin off my friend’s face!
Popping the question
As a young male accountant I am not part of a demographic that is known for working part time. In my line of work one’s commitment to their career is often measured in hours worked on a Sunday evening and the path to promotion meanders between late nights and cancelled social plans.
Plucking up the courage to ask for a change in circumstances felt very disconcerting. Would people assume that I was becoming a stay at home dad? Would they question my dedication to my career? Would I be labelled as a dangerous eccentric?
I fired off an email with the request, and promptly received a call from a senior member of staff.
“Why exactly do you want to make this change?” She asked. I quickly reeled off a series of answers I had prepared explaining why it was in my employer’s interest.
“Interesting.” Said the voice on the other end of the phone. “We’ll get back to you.”
I had to refrain from punching the air in jubilation. The fact that she had not asked me about parenting or responded with a flat out no felt like a victory.
“She said maybe!” I cried exultantly after putting down the phone, prompting very confused glances from those around me.
Three quick months and a lot of paperwork later I was enjoying my first Friday at home.
Becoming a fashion designer
The change in working patterns has been a hugely positive experience. I have started a project that I am passionate about and have done things that I simply would never have had a chance to do in my day job.
I am proud to say that I have now developed a product that I am really proud of: a waterproof bicycle pannier bag that doubles as a smart office bag. We hope that this product will provide a solution for professionals who love the speed and convenience of cycling but also want to look good on arrival.
This has involved learning to be a fashion designer, an online marketer and a film producer. We are still at the start of the project but I have learnt more about dealing with factories, hiring models and developing e-commerce strategies than I ever thought I would.
Perhaps the biggest change is that I now feel much more like myself at work. Previously it was as if I operated as two separate people; one who enjoyed cycling and beer on weekends and another who wore a suit and looked at spreadsheets during the week. Working on a project entirely of my own creation has caused me to revaluate this distinction and to bring much more of myself to work.
My colleagues tell me that this change has both positive and negative outcomes for them. Positive that I am more energetic and enthusiastic but also negative that my distinctive brand of poor quality humour has been allowed to roam free.
The experience of working for myself and receiving both good and bad advice has also made a real difference in how I connect with my clients at work. Experiencing the rollercoaster ride of creating something for yourself and being solely responsible for its success has taught me how a founder feels and has demonstrated to my clients that I am not just a boring accountant.
Often accountants are guilty of focusing on the rational at the expense of the emotional. We talk to our clients about cash flows and operating models, whilst sometimes what’s really on your mind -as an entrepreneur- are more emotive concerns; things like getting validation for what you do or even just the desire to talk things through with a trusted advisor who knows what you’re going through.
The Flip Side
Of course reducing your work hours is not all sunshine and roses. The implicit downside is that cutting your hours will also cut your salary. Our generation is acutely aware of the difficulties of seizing the bottom rung of the property ladder and for many going part time, this will nudge the goal slightly further out of reach.
Personally I assign lifestyle a higher priority than money so the decision was an easy one. Time was my limiting resource and I feel much happier now that I have scarified some money to get more time. Not everyone will feel the same way.
Moving onto four day weeks and starting my own project with BlackFish Cycling has been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my career.
If you want to reduce your time at work then ask. The worst that can happen is they will say no then at least you will be able to tell me I was wrong!
Dan Hully is a startup advisor, chartered accountant and founder of exciting new startup BlackFish Cycling. His two passions in life are beer and bikes- although preferably not at the same time!