Part-time management – Can it really work?

More and more companies are now making it a priority to ensure women are welcomed back into the workplace after having a baby. That said, many of these women find it difficult to secure a position that fits in with their personal lives, which is why they generally end up working part time. Most new mothers could only dream of securing a management position after returning to work. After all, it’s hard to take on this kind of responsibility at work while still running a household and taking care of the children. Or is it?

Elisabeth Steuber has two children (aged 3 and 6) and is a part-time Marketing Director at Albrecht Bäumer GmbH & Co. KG in Freudenberg. But the fact she’s able to hold down this management position on a part-time basis is not something that should be taken for granted. Her private life and personal attitude have both had a crucial role to play in her journey, but – perhaps importantly of all – her employers at Bäumer have facilitated this individual arrangement to combine both family and career. “As a mother of two young children, I have the opportunity to continue with my professional development and don’t have to take any time out of my career. At the same time, I still have the chance to be a mother and have the time I need to support my children as they grow up. This is an opportunity I’m unbelievably grateful for.”

Before having her children, the Media Studies graduate worked in Marketing at this family-owned business. In fact, it was Elisabeth who established the department from day one to make it what it is today. “You could even say it was my first real baby,” she recalls. Following her maternity leave, her plans were to continue working at Bäumer and driving the company forward through excellent marketing work. This is exactly why she wanted to come back to this management position.

At the same time, Bäumer had to respond to its general staffing issues, which is what led to it starting to develop individual solutions for its employees. As time has gone on, this process of implementing new ideas has resulted in a kind of cultural revolution. Promoting a positive work-life balance is a real priority for the young management team at this family-friendly company. Just like it is for Elisabeth Steuber. But there are several factors that have to be taken into consideration to ensure that this type of solution is not only satisfactory, but also functional for both the company and its employees.

The most important factor is that the job is more of a vocation than an occupation for the Head of Marketing. “My heart lies with the company and so I feel a sense of obligation towards it.” But her personal life has to play along, too. Her childminder is based close by her office, and her day-to-day routine is structured from morning to night: “Even the dog has its own column in the family planner,” explains the 37-year-old. What this means is that there’s little room for spontaneity during the week. “Without my incredible husband, who also invests a great deal of time into our family, none of this would be possible,” she asserts. Indeed, this combination of her husband, family, friends, and childminder forms a huge, flexible network that makes this personalized working model possible.

As a member of the management team, from time to time it is of course essential for Elisabeth to be present in the office outside of regular working hours and school times despite the company’s best efforts. There might be important decisions to be made or conferences to take part in, for example. Not so easy when she’s “only” in the office for three days a week, with an additional day spent working from home. “There has to be a certain degree of flexibility with any kind of responsibility, and the same applies when you’re a mother. The ability to improvise is key or else the other option is taking the kids into meetings.”

In addition to communication, her team also requires a great deal of trust. Prior to going on maternity leave, she played an even more hands-on role in projects. As part-time Marketing Director, however, she now delegates significantly more tasks to her employees – something else that represents a new challenge for the mother-of-two. As she is not always around the office, she has to be able to trust that her team is getting on with its work and so places a great deal of emphasis on the autonomy of her colleagues. But the same also applies in reverse. With regard to her working hours, for example, Elisabeth has a flexible schedule and so the executive management has to be able to trust that she is carrying out her planning and project work.

She was even surprised by the reactions from her private sphere. “There’s just no pleasing everyone. Either you’re a lazy little housewife or overambitious and an uncaring mother.” You have to be able to disregard comments like these and instead establish a relationship between your family and work life that suits you best. You also have to learn to deal with the pressure of trying to make everything perfect all the time.

For Elisabeth Steuber and Bäumer, this solution is a win-win situation. She has managed to combine her dream job and her private life in the best possible way, even if it does come with its own stresses and a greater level of self-discipline from time to time. She’s looking forward to the future when “part-time management is the norm and interviews like this will no longer be needed.” By setting up this way of working, not only is Elisabeth a role model for the next generation, but Bäumer is also a step ahead of so many other companies by offering a glimpse into the future. Companies have to start changing their ways of thinking, adapting to today’s society, and coming up with individual solutions for their employees to remain an attractive employer going forward.

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The Albrecht Bäumer GmbH & Co. KG has been a leading manufacturer of machines and equipment for the foam industry for 70 years. The company focus is on special machinery and equipment. In this area, we have grown as a medium-sized company from pioneer to world leader.

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