#134 Big Careers, Small Children: Helen Gillett – How to Move a Full Time Job to 3 or 4 Days Without Exhausting Yourself in the Process & Choosing Work Purposefully

Big Careers, Small Children: John Higgins - Unlocking the Power of Silence: Creating Inclusive Workplaces and Balancing Work-Life Dynamics
Is it possible to move a full time job down to 3 or 4 days without exhausting yourself in the process? Prefer to read this interview? Scroll down for the transcript. In this episode, Leaders Plus Senior Leader Mentor Helen Gillett shares her experience of successfully resizing jobs and finding purposeful work. Following an award-winning career as a leader in the utilities and wellbeing sector, Helen has now entered a phase of portfolio non-executive and advisory work. Helen and Verena discuss:
  • Moving a full time job to 3 or 4 days without exhausting yourself
  • Why organisations need to think through the flexibility they offer
  • Choosing roles purposefully
  • Why organisations need to invest in their managers
  • How to figure out where you add value to the team
Connect with Helen on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/helengillett  Show Notes:
  • Mention: Greg Reed (CEO, Places for People)
Leaders With Babies Fellowship Find Out More LANDSCAPE

Episode Transcript

0:00:00 - Helen Gillet

I think you have to agree the principle with whoever's decision it is if it's not purely your own decision. And I agreed the principle with our Chief Executive and actually our investors. And then we looked at the practicalities. I was really lucky to be working with people who didn't think that in doing what I was planning to do I wasn't as valuable or committed as I'd ever been. I think this sort of, this idea that you can only progress your career if you're full time, I really hope it's becoming less prevalent. I think that's possibly a generational shift. 


0:00:40 - Verena Hefti

A few updates. We have a few free events coming up where our fellows share their learning, including one on preparing for your children starting school in September and also another one on returning successfully from maternity or shared parental leave for people working in the NHS. To get all the info, you can sign up to leadersplus.org/newsletter or look on the website. I'm also thrilled to say that applications for our NHS Foundation Fellowship have just opened. I'll give you a bit of a flavour of what the last year's fellows said. One of them said “I think the impact has been profound. Without realising, I find myself having the confidence to engage in discussions and conversations I would have shied away from before. I don't feel afraid to be honest that I'm a mother anymore”.


Another one said “the impact of the Leaders Plus NHS Foundation Fellowship has been significant and transformative. It has provided me with a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals facing similar challenges as working parents in the healthcare sector”.


Another one said “by providing practical strategies and support for work-life integration, the programme has helped me strike a better balance between my professional and personal responsibilities. One significant impact is that it has enhanced my ability to set boundaries and manage my time effectively”, and I guess the thing that made me happiest is that two people mentioned the word “life-changing” in the end of programme evaluation, which is really positive, as well as quite a few promotions and so on. 


So anyway, sorry I'm getting sidetracked because I got really excited about the impact survey. If you want to apply, the deadline is 11th July and we have 40 spaces available. 


Today. Helen Gillett, COO, board member, non-executive director, and I have a big chat about resizing jobs. So how do you move a job from five days to three days or four days without exhausting yourself in the process? We also talk about how to manage your team in a way that you don't get exhausted in the process, and we discuss about finding purpose in your job. Enjoy the conversation. 


0:03:00 - Helen Gillet

Lovely to be here, verena. 


Thank you so much for inviting me, so I'm Helen Gillett and I am one of the mentors on the Leaders Plus programme, which I absolutely love doing. It's really interesting and inspiring work. I'll talk about my work work in a minute. My family we are, it depends if you count all the animals as well. There's me and my husband, Mark, and we have three children between us. So our eldest, Charlotte, she's 23, going on 24, she's trained to be a probation officer and that is a massively challenging thing to be doing, but she absolutely loves it. So that's we're very proud of her. 


Middle daughter, who's my eldest, is called Charlie. You might notice we have two children called Charlotte. That was not intentional. That's what happens when you blend families at a different stage. So Charlie is 20, she's away at university studying physics, which is interesting. Whenever I say that, people go oooh, definitely. We haven't overcome our perception that physics is a really hard subject. She finds it really easy, so that's great. She's absolutely loving it. And, yeah, she's, she's having a really good time at uni, which is lovely. And then youngest, Eleanor, Elle, 15. She's in year 10, which, I have to say, for those of you with younger children yet to enter the joy of the upper years of secondary school, year 10 is quite a tough one, so for lots of different reasons, but she's getting on with it, she's doing really well. And then we also have our lovely dog. And we're about to add to our dog family with another rescue dog tomorrow. So it's going to get really busy. 


0:04:36 - Verena Hefti

I think that that is such a lovely thing, that you're including the dogs in the family. I think that's such a lovely thing. 


0:04:41 - Helen Gillet

Honestly, if you ask the kids, they probably say they fear that we care more about the dogs than them. It's not true, but there are times, yeah, they bring a lot of joy, they’re definitely part of the family. So, and work wise, I, up until recently I mixed executive operational leadership type work with non executive work. Did that for a few years, but gradually, over the last sort of 18 months to two years, realized just how much I really enjoy board work And had maybe coincidental with my 50th birthday last year, had a sort of realization that I would quite like to segue into fully doing the non executive side of my career. So I'm not retired, contrary to the ribbing I get from my family. I just work differently. 


So I sit on the board of a housing association called Orbit. Fascinating sector, not a sector I knew anything about before I joined it four and a half years ago. Perhaps we’ll talk a bit about that changing sector thing later. And then I've recently, in the last couple of months, joined the board of something called the Government Property Agency, which is a fascinating organization responsible for a really major remit around government property And the evolution of government property to a more sustainable future. Love it, fascinating, and I'm looking for a third role at the moment because I feel like three board positions is about right for the amount of time I have available for that kind of stuff. 


0:06:10 - Verena Hefti

Excellent, In case any board headhunters are listening, what type of board roles are you looking for? 


0:06:15 - Helen Gillet

Well, it's interesting. This is the thing is, I think, as you go through your career and I'm not sure it happens for everybody at the same stage, but for me, increasingly in the past few years I've been much clearer about how my personal purpose connects with what I do for a living and how important that is to me. And that's a position of privilege because it suggests I have choice over where I work. I don't have to take any job in order to pay the bills, and I'm really aware of that privilege. But what that means is when I'm looking for other board roles, I'm thinking about a number of different criteria. Obviously what, where does my expertise fit? Where am I going to be helpful as a board member? 


My background is in telecoms and IT and regulated industries, utilities, customer service, so I start to sort of fit that bit of the jigsaw together. There's also this thing of what is the organisation trying to achieve and do I feel brought into that purpose? Orbit is all about creating communities, building thriving communities, which I care about. The GPA is very much about creating a more sort of equal representation of the civil service around the UK and the different nations and in the regions, so that you could have a fantastic civil service career without having to uproot yourself and move to London and a bunch of other stuff to do with sustainability and inclusion, and I just think that's really interesting as well. So my next one needs to be purposeful, but I don't yet quite know what that looks like. 


0:07:46 - Verena Hefti

Hmm, that's so interesting. Not surprising, I guess. You come across as a very purpose driven individual, but it really is interesting that you are looking at the purpose first, and I think to an extent, you need to do that, don't you? If you want to, if you're spending away time from your dogs and your children, if you happen to like them you actually you want to do it with purpose. Interesting. 


0:08:09 - Helen Gillet

I think you know, like I say, there's definitely a privilege to that, which is that I think earlier in my career nobody else was really talking like that for a start, so I didn't know that was a thing to consider. I looked for roles that were interesting. I looked for roles that would pay me enough to get where I needed to get to financially and so on, And the purpose side of things has only come to the fore relatively more recently where I felt I've had choice. But part of that has been driven by knowing myself and how, if I'm working incredibly hard, which I often have, then part of what keeps me going and energizes me is thinking this is worthwhile. 


And there are things that I believe are worthwhile and things that I not so much you know and I could have - there are industries or sectors I could have gone into where I might have earned more or progressed more differently, but I didn't feel particularly inspired by what they set out to do. And I think the more you can align your personal purpose with the purpose of the organization you work in, the more likely you are to feel that fit and that sense of belonging. So yeah, it definitely. It's something I take pretty seriously. 


0:09:23 - Verena Hefti

Do you remember when you decided to get your career focused on purpose and to choose roles purposefully. Were you always like that, or was there a moment where it shifted? 


0:09:34 - Helen Gillet

There was definitely a shift. So I had a fantastic career in a big telecoms organization that people may have heard of called BT and I was there for 16 years and I did loads of interesting, different, challenging roles. And I learned how to I was going to say, thrive, and it probably wasn't thriving, I learned how to be successful in that environment, how to get things done, how to build my reputation as somebody who you want on your team and so on. And I've worked really, really hard. And it was also all through that time when I was bringing up a family and so on. And I actually had a couple of occasions where I just ran out of road, burnt out completely brick wall, whatever phrase you want to use. And they were around specific situations. And what I discovered off the outside of the other side of those things is that I had some really, really useful counseling through the BT employee assistance program. 


And the counselor said to me I was describing the situation and it was very much work related stress that that particular one And I was describing a situation where I felt incredibly strongly that something really unfair was happening. And she said to me you know, you've got to listen to that clearly one of your fundamental beliefs is fairness, the importance of fairness, and we all have a set of fundamental beliefs. And she said and if one of your fundamental beliefs is being challenged, it is stressful, it will stress you out, you can't bottle that up, you can't bury that. And she was kind of like you've got to listen to that And that you know the knock on effect of various things led me to a point and also personal circumstances led me to a point where I thought it's time I went and worked in a different environment. Not because BT was a bad place to be, I'd had a great career,I’d been really well supported in lots of different ways But I needed to go do something else in a different way. 


And I ended up, I was quite poorly for a while longer, took me longer to get better than I had thought it would, and so I was, I wasn't working for several months. And I was looking for a job and I definitely needed another job at that point And I was interviewed for a few things And it was almost like I was going into the final interview with a little sign on my forehead saying “don't pick me”, because it was like I need a job. But I didn't want to have to take a job, that was just a job, if that makes sense. And I was really lucky to be connected with somebody who got me in touch with somebody else. And this is the way the world works too often, which is about who you know and who people can introduce you to. 


And I was given the opportunity to set up a small business and, sitting there with my leadership team of this sort of nascent organization, we all had similar backgrounds in the sense that we'd worked in big, big corporate, you know, mostly in the utility sector, and we found it easier to describe how we wanted our business to be in terms of what we didn't want. So we could describe the issues of big corporate organizations where you might feel like you're treated like a number if you're a customer, like your voice can't be heard if you're an employee. And we started to define ourselves around. “We don't want to be - we want to be not too big to care, not too big to care about our customers, not too big to care about our people”, and we started to really define ourselves around this idea of everybody matters. And it sounds wishy-washy, it sounds hippy, you can be quite dismissive of it. But it turns out that if you are really clear about that kind of stuff so that your customers understand, oh okay, you're going to prioritize me. 


I remember several customers in that environment saying to me I'm really surprised the managing director’s come to this meeting. That's not what our other suppliers do. And I was like, of course I've come to this meeting, you're a customer and you asked to see somebody and I'm the somebody you're going to see. And I got to know my team and I remember somebody in the team sort of saying to me you know, directors don't behave like this, Helen. That's why we're struggling to know what to say to you, because we were in like a round table and they were all sat there looking at their shoes and I was going talk to me, and so I had to change their perception of director, managing director, ceo, whatever the label is to say I'm a human being, i'm interested in you, you matter, and we're going to make a difference together 


And I, so that’s a really long answer to your question. 


The purpose I believed in with that business wasn't necessarily about the product or service itself, but it was about how it felt to be part of it as a customer or a staff member. And I loved it and it turned out, customers loved it and it turned out, our people loved it and we did pretty well and we won some awards and we, you know, we were commercially successful as well, which is always good. And I said to my team I used to say to them a lot, you know, “just because I'm really nice doesn't mean I'm a pushover”. So we did have very clear targets. We did have the systems in place to manage things effectively. It wasn't some kind of love in, but it was a place people really enjoyed being, myself included, and I think that matters. 


0:15:09 - Verena Hefti

So very often, people do feel that they have to choose between being a nice person and being a really successful leader, as in successful and achieving financial success. if you are in the private sector, which I think your organization was, wasn't it? [Helen: Yes. Yes.] 


So, when you share with our listeners just some of the things you mentioned, you had systems and processes that, just assuming we know nothing. And I don't want to offend anybody, i'm sure a lot of listeners will know more than I do, what is it that you put in place in order to be, you know, have those tough conversations about this is not on track, you need to step up versus still being human focused? Because that is really hard when you're trying to have this nice, you know, how do you move from the nice coffee chat “I really saw your child was ill last week. How stressful”, to “okay, this is not good enough”. How do you square that? 


0:16:00 - Helen Gillet

So it's a really interesting question and it is one of those things I remember really early in my career when I first had the opportunity to manage a team. My training, for listeners in black and white, I'm using my fingers to highlight that training was definitely a loose term. Pretty much was a pep talk from my manager saying by the way, “don't forget, your team don't have to like you, they just have to respect you”. And at the time that was quite important advice because I was really young and really experienced and my team were much older and much more experienced and you can imagine how that, how tricky that was. But the reason I give that anecdote is, what you have to remember is we are there to do a job. Whether we are running a charity, whether we're running a more commercial organization, whether we're running a public service, there's an output that we need and any organization, in order to be able to pay the bills and the bills include people's salaries, people's living. You know customers, services for us to do what we need to be well run, we need to make money or generate surplus or be profitable, have cash flow or whatever you want to call it, so you can bring that commercial lens to things, even when somebody is really struggling with their own personal circumstances that you're tuning into, and So the sorts of things that you you have there is clarity of what the output is, what is expected, and there's a lot of debate at the moment about productivity. And how do you know? You know these organizations that say, well, I need to, I either need to spy on you through the technology or I need to see you in the office to know that you're productive. And then people say, I know you need to be interested in outputs, and that's true, but you can only understand the outputs if you can measure them. And so, into that measurement space, you've got to be really clear: what is it we are trying to achieve? Because if you don't know that, you can't really measure it, and then you don't know whether people's output is actually adding up to what's required or not. 


The interesting one about individuals versus team for me is that it's very easy to get sort of drawn into the personal circumstances of individual people in your organization. You can be empathetic about that, and all of that, but I would always say, but you're part of a team. And the other people in your team, your colleagues are as important as you, even if they're not struggling right now. So you've got to balance up that thing around, actually, there are 10 people here who need to pull together to create an output, and if one or two people aren't or can't, you have to do something about that. And I've had the experience throughout my career of having to take difficult decisions about teams and individuals, whether that's redundancies, whether that is “you know what, you're just in the wrong job”. Or personality clashes across teams where you have to take a long hard look at it and say “these people need to not work together”. I've had situations where, you know, managers have really struggled to get a grip of what it is they're trying to do and lead with their team. So there's lots of different things you need to bring into play. 


When I say systems and processes are probably mean things like personal development plans, you know, do people have the capability to get to the output needed? You maybe hired them for their potential. Okay, they're not just going to reach that potential by accident. What are you going to put in place to underpin that? And so on. So there's a variety of different things. 


I mean, there's a guy I always quote. He's now Chief Executive at a housing association called Places for People, Greg Reed. He used to be CEO at Home Serve and Greg was a mentor of mine for a while and if you read his stuff on LinkedIn about people and customer and how important it is to hold at the heart of it what is it the organization is trying to achieve? What the outcomes are? You know, I think, where people lose their way around the, I want to be true to myself as a nice person who cares about people, and I don't know how that squares with, you know, measurable commercial outcomes. You've got to look at both of those and be really honest about how they come together. Are they, are they complementary or are they in conflict? And it is really tricky. 


0:20:26 - Verena Hefti

And I think there's another element to this which I see so often that obviously we work with working parents and you've mentored working parents with Leaders Plus who are in roles where they manage others. And they're often, they really want to be really good managers and leaders, which is great, but sometimes trying to go above and beyond for an individual who's not performing in their team. As a result, they do so much work and they probably do the wrong things and they work themselves out. And I think have you ever been in a situation obviously without naming names where you did have to make a decision to let someone go, just because obviously you would have done all the performance improvement and support, but just because they were causing so much work and either you would have had to work really long hours for months to sort out all the problems. 


0:21:17 - Helen Gillet

Yeah, I've certainly been in the position where I've had to say to somebody this just isn't working. And I think what it comes back to is there's the training point. Not enough organizations, it is better than it used to be, but organizations need to invest in their managers. They need to teach people how to manage teams effectively, because it's not just some, I think people think you know, it's a bit like singing and art at school. We think there are certain artistic or musical people who, magically, can do these things and the rest of us can't really, you know what? You can learn. There are sales people who seem to be magically the most successful salespeople. Sales is a learned skill. Communication is a learned skill. Management is a learnable skill and one of the things is: have structured, honest, open conversations with your team members from day one about what they're doing and how they're doing it and what the outcomes are. Because time and time and time again and I have done this, so I have the scars. But I've also seen it with other people and I've had to pick up the pieces afterwards where it's left too late in the day to be honestly looking somebody in the eye and saying you know what you're not performing. 


And if I had a pound for every time somebody turned around and said I had no idea, I thought I was doing really well. And then you look back and either the notes show that the conversation was a bit woolly or, guess what, there are no notes. Nobody ever wrote anything down for reference. You know it sounds dull to say well, one to one's need to be properly documented. They do, because there's loads of evidence to show, there’s some really interesting psychology, by the way around witness reliability for legal purposes and, like you and I being asked in 10 minutes time if this podcast finished now, me being asked what's on the wall behind you. If I have to be focused on it now and I can see it's a map of the world and what I would describe that as and what you would describe that as might be completely different and we would both be absolutely adamant we were correct as witnesses to a thing, and that's a trivial thing, right? 


So writing stuff down, if we're in a one to one and I'm saying to you “Verena, look, I know we said you could take a bunch of extra unpaid leave and you were happy to take it unpaid and that's brilliant. We need to now look at how you start to come back into more full time hours or a different set of flexibility”. You know, we've got to write that down. If you say to me “well, actually, Helen, the way that would work best for me is this”, and I say, “well, let's see if we can find a compromise in the middle”. Let's document it, let's trial it, let's review it. The problem is it sounds really onerous. That's a lot of time spent on a conversation on the documentation and on the review, but boy, does it save you trouble further down the line. 


0:24:12 - Verena Hefti

The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that for working parents who are managers to have a good work life balance, the really basic stuff of management, like what you've just described, is so essential. 


0:24:25 - Helen Gillet

And I think the other thing is to be really clear. Where you've got one-to-ones with people that are about the work that's being done, those are important. It's also important to have time about how the person is feeling and how they're doing. Be really clear about which conversation you're having and if you find that increasingly the conversation is all about how the person is feeling, fine. But you must pick up on what they're doing. Don't let it drift, because before you know it, three months have gone by and six months have gone by and it's the mid-year review point and you're looking at it and you're going. I've no idea if they've delivered anything. I've had all these one-to-ones but we don't seem to have discussed the nitty-gritty. 


The other thing I would say from a work-life balance point of view, from an energy point of view, is be compassionate, don't be empathetic. Empathy is this kind of fashionable term of the recent years, but empathy is really draining because empathy is like I take on from you all the feeling about how things are going. I can really empathize. It's exhausting. Compassion is, I feel, for you in your situation. I'm going to behave compassionately, but I'm not going to take it all on me, and I think therein lies quite a significant difference, because you have to be able to protect yourself a bit from all of the stuff that's going on for the people that you work with. 


0:25:59 - Verena Hefti

I want to talk about resizing jobs, and that's something that you [they both laugh] but also it actually does link to our conversation, because it's a skill you, as a line manager, need to have, and I wonder whether you could take us back to the moment when you first changed the job that was full-time to a part-time role, or you reduced the amount of hours, and how you managed to redesign your job within that. 


0:26:24 - Helen Gillet

Well, so would you believe. It was only about a year or so ago. So, briefly on that, part of what I realized about my life was I needed and wanted more time for things outside of work, and I was working full-time as Chief Operating Officer at a small business and I was enjoying it, but it was pretty all consuming and all-encompassing and I felt like it was possible to do the bits of my job that only I could do, or only my role could do, in three days of the week, not five. And some of that, you know, I was in the fortunate position of being part of the leadership team saying this is what I want to do and this is how it's going to work. So it was relatively straightforward from that point of view. 


Now, why, so there's two reasons why I didn't go part-time earlier in my career. One was financial. The other one was what I saw around me, what I observed and you had a thing in the briefing that I found really interesting. What has changed that I used to believe about career and family that I don't anymore. And 20 years ago, when I was returning to work after my first daughter was born, what I observed was part-time jobs were all women. They were all, it was a slow lane. Many of them worked far harder and longer hours than they were paid for, so they basically took a pay cut to work just as hard and be more stressed and it just didn't look like the right decision. And interestingly, I used to get quite a lot of women come to me when they were pregnant. Their manager had usually said you need a mentor about this situation. Why don't you talk to Helen? She's done it. 


0:28:13 - Verena Hefti

She's the only woman at that level with children probably!


0:28:16 - Helen Gillet

I wasn’t the only one, but you know I was one of the, and I was probably unusual in the fact that I was working full-time, and you know what I used to. I'm not. I'm neither ashamed of this nor proud of this, which is, I used to say, be really careful about asking to go part-time, because you'll just end up being paid less to do the same and the attitude towards you will be much less positive. You'll be perceived as not committed. Now, that was the reality as I saw it 20 years ago, and what I'm really glad to say is I perceive that that has changed in lots of places, and I think you know there's stuff around the legislation and equality stuff that really helps be clear about that from a policy point of view, about discriminating against people who work part-time and so on. I think it's helpful that there are more men who don't work full-time hours, but it's still, still really difficult. 


And so, in terms of coming back to your question of what needs considering is, I think organizations need to be really clear on what they mean by flexibility, because part-time is part of flexibility, and does somebody need to be? You know, the first question is can you afford- and I said this to one of my, the people I mentored the women I mentored through Leaders Plus, who was thinking of changing her hours, and I said if I were you, i'd get the spreadsheet out and I would look at what does it mean to be earning 20% less than you are earning now? and she was like oh, I hadn't really thought about it like that. It's like right, do the sums, because have all the facts at your fingertips, you know. And I think that's really important, I think having the conversation with your manager where you say what will this mean for my participation in the sort of the ecosystem of the business? So if I don't work Tuesdays and Fridays, what will I miss out on? What happens on Tuesdays and Fridays that I won't be involved in? 


You know, because, lo and behold, it turns out the quarterly meeting where everybody gets together and reviews stuff is always on a Tuesday. 


One of the things we used to do in the business that I ran was when we had those sorts of sessions, I alternated them through the week between Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays so that the people who worked different hours would get to some of them. There's some conscious, intentional stuff that as an organisation you need to think about with flexibility and part-time and as an individual. And then I think there's the bit around looking at outputs. Again, you know, what can you achieve in three days? What is reasonable, or four days, or whatever the mix of work is? 


I know somebody who did a really great job of identifying that they could have August off every year. So they worked 11 12th of the year because she'd identified that very little happened in August in her role and her team, lots of people on holiday, lots of customers of their service not around, and she was like I would like to take August off every year, not as holiday, but just not to work August, and I'm prepared to take the financial hit. Genius, absolutely actually. 


0:31:35 - Verena Hefti

Just last week I met a Fellow who did exactly that. So might be your, your mentee. So did you survive, first of all? Going from, like, was it a good thing to do in hindsight to go from three to five and if yes, what have you learned practically from it? 


0:31:50 - Helen Gillet

Yes, yes, I survived. I think you. It's a bit like this debate about four day week. I think you just become more organised and you get a lot more done in the time that you're focusing on it. I think that's the honest truth about full-time work. I mean don't get me wrong, I'm not looking at most of our NHS colleagues when I say this those 80 hour weeks are pretty much 100, right? But in an awful lot of places, how productive are you on a given day? So I think what I learned is it requires you to be more focused, more specific about things, more organised. None of that is a bad thing, communicating really clearly. So even little things like my out of office said, “today is a non-workday and this is when I'm next in the office” and I often used to write what am I up to today. You know, and I had people who were like “I love hearing about the days you're not in the office Helen”. Make a positive out of it. I am out there living my life. 


0:32:46 - Verena Hefti

I love it, but tell me, I just on tenterhooks. I cannot imagine how - and you say it's a small organisation, it's not an organisation with five employees, it's still an organisation where you are responsible for considerable budget. It's just not the size of BT. What did you get rid of in order to make it work within the three days? 


0:33:04 - Helen Gillet

Don't get me wrong. My colleagues stepped into some gaps. I recognised I was getting involved in stuff where I wasn't necessarily adding as much value as I might have done. I, yes, the organisation's fine. It's a sort, of it's a start-up environment, so it fluctuated in terms of number of people. And I think you just, you just have to really clearly identify what it is you're there to do and can it be done in less time? And you know if you're there's another thing as a senior person, you're quite expensive. So is it possible for me to work three days a week and for the business to fund someone else a bit more time who's still cheaper than me? So it still works out cost-effectively for the organisation. And I think getting creative on stuff like that really helps. 


0:34:00 - Verena Hefti

And if someone, let's say one of our Leaders Plus Fellows for argument's sake will come to you now and say “well, actually I'm also in a CEO role and I want to do the exact same thing”, what would you advise them? 


0:34:12 - Helen Gillet

I would say go for it. I would say look at it, you know, have it as a. I think you have to agree the principle with whoever's decision it is, if it's not purely your own decision. And I agreed the principle with our Chief Executive and actually our investors. And then we looked at the practicalities, and I was really lucky to be working with people who didn't think that in doing what I was planning to do, I wasn't as valuable or committed as I'd ever been. I think this sort of this idea that you can only progress your career if you're full-time, I really hope is becoming less prevalent. I think that's possibly a generational shift. But yeah, and I think I would say to that person you know, get specific and be honest with yourself about what you spend your time doing, what the critical outcomes are, the critical activities. 


And the other thing I did do was I was in the fortunate position of being pretty flexible. So, for example, I had a big, big client there and Tuesdays happened to be and I, when I went part time, I was not working Tuesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays happen to be every now and again a day when they were all available for a meeting and I'd be like of course I'll come to that. I'll come to that and I won't work Wednesday that week. So if you can and it's not open to everybody, because if it relates to caring responsibilities or other things, then maybe you don't have much flexibility once you've established the work pattern. But if there's any scope to be flexible, that helps. What you shouldn't do is work the Tuesday and the Wednesday, you know, add an extra day, not get paid for it. I'm a strong believer in don't end up working full time in all but name. 


0:35:53 - Verena Hefti

I couldn't agree more, and I really agree with your point around identifying where you add the value. My coach made me recently do an exercise where I had, for a few weeks, every half an hour to track what I was doing and I realized, even though it was extremely busy and I'm always extremely busy just because that's the sort of person I am there were things where I wasn't adding value and other people could have done it as good as I, if not much better. And that was such an eye opening thing. So I can highly recommend doing that. 


0:36:24 - Helen Gillet

And I think the other thing to recognize is, if you get it right, you will have more energy and enthusiasm for your job when you are working than is possible to sustain in a full time world. It's just, you know, there's nothing like working a Monday knowing that you've got tomorrow off [they both laugh] and crunching through a bunch of stuff, feeling really productive, and then, oh, got Tuesday to do this other stuff and then back to it Wednesday and Thursday. And that's probably the other note of caution I would say, which, again, I observe in others I haven't experienced it myself because I didn't go part time at the stage when my children were small is I do know people who felt like they swapped one grind for another. And that's where actually the partnership approach to the family however you have that structured yourself is so important. I definitely was the person 20 years ago, 15 years ago, who was doing everything at work and everything at home and it just wasn't sustainable. 


0:37:28 - Verena Hefti

Absolutely not. Yes. So we've just had a few weeks, or possibly months ago, one of our Fellows with her husband interviewed at the same time, and I think it's so interesting how it's completely transformative if that works. And obviously not everyone is in a couple relationship, but if you are, it is absolutely worth making sure that is equally shared. Just trying to dig in, because I think there are a lot of things you're doing instinctively by the sound of it and because you've had so much experience. I just want to understand if sorry, this is boring top tips, but I'm just trying to understand. What are the practical things? If someone is thinking of doing this or wants to do it, has decided to do it, what practically should they do to move from point 0, which is five days a week, normal job to point 3 same job title, but three days a week? 


0:38:17 - Helen Gillet

I mean I think there's a few key things. I would have a really good read of the policy that's relevant to that and see what it is the organization says about its approach to part-time working and flexibility. I would also have a conversation with trusted, relevant people in the business and I'm choosing my words carefully here because I know not everybody feels they're in that position, but one would like to think that there is somebody in HR who you can sit down and say “hey, hypothetically speaking…”


I think, look around you and what does part-time work look like in your organization? Because if, like me, part-time work looks like you're off all the radar, your career is going to slow down. You might want to then reconsider and think, am I working in the right place to fulfill my life requirements? And do I have a different strategy, which is to identify an organization where I could thrive in this way, because that's what it's about. 


There's the transactional thing of well, I do this work, this is where I'm productive and I believe it can be done like this. There's the legislation that says organizations have to take requests for flexible working seriously, but you know what? They still often say no or they still often go yes and then in their heads they're like well, that means that person's sort of off our talent list. So I do think you have to understand the culture of the organization that you work in. I think you have to test drive what you're thinking with somebody you trust in that organization who can advise you. I think you have to look at that productivity point. And I think you've got to really seriously consider the financial implications. Is there a way that you can make full time work healthier for you in order to be paid full time?


What's the reason why you want to go part time? Can your world work slightly differently with a different, flexible model that means you're still paid full time? And I don't mean you're trying to hoodwink your employer out of anything. I just mean it depends what your motivation is for part time, because there's a number of different balancing factors there, aren't there. 


0:40:36 - Verena Hefti

Definitely. And what's the role of HR in making sure that jobs are properly resized? I often have really supportive HR directors who really want to help people move to flexible work, but then what you end up is exactly what you've described: someone is exhausted, gets paid less, but still works really long hours trying to fit in the same amount of outcomes into three days. What would your call to action be for them? 


0:41:06 - Helen Gillet

I would say you know, a good HR professional should be in a position to put their hand on the policy, say this is officially how it is described. What's the spirit of that policy, as well as the letter? Where else is it working? If they know that the manager responsible for the person may struggle with this idea because they maybe don't have anyone else part-time in their team, they might want to sit down with them and talk them through it. There's a bunch of stuff that a good HR person can do. And I think the other responsibility is to agree a trial period for it. 


Where it isn't kind of well, we're just going to prove this doesn't work. You know, there's one of the things you can do I've seen done well is everybody describes what the best outcome would be for this. So the individual says “great for me, looks like”. The manager says “great for me, looks like duh, duh, duh”, HR ditto. And you almost have that contract together of we're looking for this great outcome. Let's see what happens and let's review how close we get to it over a three month period or a six month period or whatever. 


0:42:18 - Verena Hefti

I love that that's such practical advice. 


0:42:21 - Helen Gillet

Describing good is often the hardest thing people find. you know, they kind of go in armed with all the arguments for it in quite a defensive way and quite a negative way, and actually it's quite inspiring to say, well, do you know what great looks like? 


0:42:37 - Verena Hefti

Absolutely, and good enough for that matter, because so often those star performers want to exceed all the time and then you end up working yourself into the ground, even though, in order to exceed, you should just focus on that one thing, whatever that may be, focus on growth with public sector clients or whatever it is. I definitely think we could talk for at least three more hours on all the topics you have expertise on. So I think we need to invite you to come back on the podcast at some point, but I know we're coming towards the end of the time in your diary. Do you? I mean, in terms of where people can find you and especially also, should they want to find out more about the other things you've tangentially mentioned, what's the best way to get in touch? or even if they want to talk about non executive director roles. 


0:43:24 - Helen Gillet

Find me on LinkedIn GI, double L, e, double T. There's a world where nobody can spell my name and it battles me because it's not a tricky one. But yes, I'm very findable on LinkedIn and we're always happy to chat offline And I've sort of I've written some articles on some of this stuff so that might possibly be of interest to people. But, yes, and I would equally be very happy to come back and do part two. 


0:43:48 - Verena Hefti

Excellent, excellent, and three possibly, and I'm challenging you to think of one or two things someone could do in five minutes this week, should they want to think about resizing their job realistically, and they have to be five minutes max. 


0:44:04 - Helen Gillet

Yeah, I think. Do the very simple sum of whatever the reduction in hours is percentage wise. What does that do to your finances? Start from there and do the “what would great look like”. 


0:44:17 - Verena Hefti

Fantastic. Thank you so much, helen. That's brilliant, my pleasure.


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