Working flexibly shouldn’t change your career trajectory

Career ladderKatie McQuaid, UK Director of Fulfilment by Amazon, developed her career whilst working part-time. She tells us how.

When I returned to work after my first child, I had been working in a senior role at Tesco for several years. On my return, I took on a new role – launching and growing their online marketplace. This was a fantastic opportunity for me, but at the same time I wanted to reduce my hours so that I was working the equivalent of 4 days or 32 hours over 5 (shorter) days.  The main challenge from my point of view was that when I left on maternity leave, I was being considered for promotion to Director and I was keen to ensure that reducing my hours didn’t hinder my chances for promotion.  

At this time, there weren’t many people in senior roles who were working flexibly. I was lucky that I had a supportive manager who was happy to try things out, as well as making sure I had an open dialogue with senior management. It took a bit of negotiation, but it worked just fine. They agreed to a trial period, agreed clear goals and, within 6 months, It was clear that the change had not been detrimental to my performance against goal and I was successfully promoted to Director.

After my second child, I again found a new role lined up for me on my return – this time as the Director of Clubcard, Tesco’s loyalty scheme, for the UK. I adjusted to 4 working days (still the same total hours), which was easier to negotiate as I’d already proved I could work flexibly in my previous role.

Taking my flexibility with me, to a new employer

Two years later, I was approached for the role of UK Director of Fulfilment by Amazon. From the outset, I was open and honest about my flexible working arrangement – and made it clear that I wanted to bring it with me. I was reluctant to progress conversations with them until all parties accepted that this flexibility was non-negotiable. From Amazon’s side, they did a lot of due diligence and had a few conversations with my referees to ensure they were getting the ‘real deal’ as it were. My track record spoke for itself and proved that I could work flexibly in a senior role.

Work ‘stretch’ and a strong team

I’ve been UK Director of Fulfilment by Amazon for two years now and I continue to progress and develop my career. I always look at how I can deliver on agreed goals, whilst taking on what I call ‘stretch activities’ to help my career development. It’s also about prioritising, delegating and being more ruthless when tackling challenges.

For me, having a strong team that I can rely on and who can always take on more is extremely important. The confidence to delegate makes my working arrangement possible, and also enables my team to acquire more skills and develop faster.

Track record

When looking at your career progression, it’s important to first establish a track record of working flexibly and delivering results. Once you’ve done that, you can then start building your career around those hours. Excelling and proving is what got me promoted and into new roles. For organisations that may be a little nervous about taking on a flexible working arrangement, your track record is crucial and will speak for itself. If there are concerns about making it work, then, as I did, you could always ask for a trial period.

Choosing your hours

When friends ask me about reducing their working hours, I always suggest they try not to focus less on the specifics of the days and hours per se, but instead look at the areas in their life where they want more space and time, and think about how much they need to achieve this. For me, I wanted more time for my children, so having one day a week where I’m not working allows me to be more connected with my kids’ routines, which is extremely important to me.  It also allows me to build relationships with other mums which is another important connection for me.

Working part-time shouldn’t hinder your career. If you make sure you have a strong track record, and set yourself clear objectives, continually prioritise what is most important in consultation with those around you, then there’s no reason why you can’t keep climbing the ladder.

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