Knowledge Center

A New Approach to Flexibility: Managing the Work/Time Equation

This study documents and evaluates the effectiveness of part-time work arrangements from the perspectives of various stakeholders in two corporations and two professional firms. The study’s findings led to the development of a new way of thinking about flexible work arrangements and a new approach to implementing and managing them effectively.

Impetus: While Catalyst finds that both men and women experience work/life conflict and need flexibility, women continue to be the primary users of formal reduced work arrangements which often carry career penalties. The purpose of this study was to develop an understanding of successful implementation and management of part-time arrangements in a range of work environments for the benefit of employers as well as individuals utilizing these arrangements.


  • For two years, researchers reviewed the field and observed, documented, and evaluated the implementation of alternative work arrangements at two companies and two professional firms: a major law firm, a management consulting firm, a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company, and a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. The companies and firms had varying levels of experience with flexibility.

  • Focus groups conducted with 214 total participants, including part-time professionals, colleagues, supervisors, and new employees.

  • Interviews conducted in-person with 17 stakeholders, including senior leadership, targeted company experts, senior human resources representatives, and supervisors.

  • Responses received from 2,124 employees to a brief questionnaire to assess types of arrangements used by employees. Participants were asked to volunteer for a more detailed survey. Response rate: 35 percent.

  • Responses received from 1,105 employees to a detailed survey. Response rate: 65 percent.

Findings: While a small but meaningful percentage of professionals are actually working in a part-time arrangement at a given time, a substantial group of employees anticipate using a part-time arrangement in the future. This study documents how the workplace is changing: traditional full-time arrangements are no longer standard and businesses can benefit from increased flexibility, including improved retention, productivity, work quality, and management. However, barriers persist in limiting the availability and effectiveness of these arrangements, such as ambiguous policies, lack of understanding of the business benefits, and rigid systems and structures. Despite these barriers, many part-time professionals, supervisors, and colleagues report that the affect of these arrangements are positive or neutral. Finally, this report provides a new model for effective implementation of flexibility by individuals, managers, and organizations.

Sponsor: The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation