Part-time work is optimal for Chen-Langenmayr's dual obligations to both work and family. She has heard that five years ago, part-time work would have been practically unthinkable. Now, she is very grateful for the changing corporate climate.
"I'm extremely appreciative," she said. "Frankly, to me, this engenders an awful lot of loyalty."
Researchers were surprised at the number of new mothers who preferred returning to work part time, according to a 1984 study conducted by Catalyst, a New York research and advisory firm that works with corporations to foster the career and leadership development of women.
"We were surprised at how universal the desire was for part-time work" upon returning from maternity leave, said Margaret Meiers, Catalyst senior associate.
Women needed time to adjust to the dual role of being parent and employee, to develop confidence in their child-care arrangements and to simply spend more time with their babies, she said.
In the study, there were those women who wanted to take parental leave and then charge full-throttle into work; others wanted more generous leave; the majority wanted to return to work part time after a three-month paid leave.
Of 384 companies surveyed, 60 percent allowed their employees to return to work part time after maternity leave.
"Companies are willing to negotiate a part-time arrangement for employees," Meiers said, "but it's very uncommon to offer it in writing."
Corning Glass Works in Corning, N.Y., is one company that now has a written part-time policy for employees who need to care for a newborn child or elderly parent, Meiers said.
But even before it was written policy, Corning supervisors allowed their employees to work part time.
Lynette Forrest, 46, has worked 30 hours a week as a Corning secretary for three years so she can be home when Christian, now 13, arrives after school. She retains full benefits.
"What's different now is that we're talking about these issues," she said. "Our leadership is really saying 'Look at this - you can work 30 hours and still retain your benefits and years' service.' "
In the last few years, a few other women in Forrest's department have adopted a flexible work schedule. It works, she says, with the use of temporary help and job-sharing.
"I wouldn't give this up for anything in the world," Forrest said. ''Those 10 hours (the difference between full and part time) are wonderful. They allow me to have dinner on the table at 6:30 instead of starting at 6:30."
She's happy to be home for her son, too. "The older he got, in many ways he needed more supervision than when he was younger," she said. "For my sanity - for our whole family's sanity - this is wonderful."
Forrest predicted that as other company managers see how pleased parents are with part-time work, the practice will grow.
"As we become identified as a company that is family-oriented, more and more of the managers will become brave enough to do it," she said.
"They realize that they have got to be responsive, not only to the female, but to the male work force. Most of those males out there have working wives, so it becomes a family issue."
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