Time was when you tried to hide that unsightly gap on your CV. Despite your skills and qualifications, a break from the rat-race - to start a family, to look after an elderly relative, to take a well-earned sabbatical – counted against you. And by "you", we traditionally mean working women. But flexible working is no longer the preserve of mothers.
According to the annual Timewise survey of working practices, the number of those earning at least $70k and working part-time rose last year by 10 per cent – and, for the first time, as many as a third of these so-called "power part-timers" are men.
"Returners tend to want some flexibility when they come back to work," says Karen Mattison, Timewise's co-founder. "The question for bosses is: 'Can I carry on progressing and work less?' And now it's not just about women with children. Generations Y and X want it – and men want it."
Happier at half the pace
The recruitment agency found that one in four full-time workers, of either gender, would prefer to work part-time. Following the national discussion prompted by the introduction of shared maternity leave, career-driven men are increasingly on board with rethinking their working arrangements.
"Historically, professionals stop progressing when they go part time," says Mattison. "Now they're happy to take the salary sacrifice, but not the progression sacrifice."
In fact, in many cases, the "power returner" – those taking a career break of two or three years – often return to work part-time at an even more senior level. Mattison sees the trend as "recognition that, out there in the market are people who've fallen out of work and shouldn't have."
Ahead of the curve
The financial sector is leading the way in attracting lost talent with "returners programmes" – training courses for senior professionals with a CV gap of at least two years that reintegrate them into the workforce, usually over 12 weeks to a year, with the possibility of a permanent position. And they're catching on. Similar initiatives are run by corporates such as Ernst & Young, as well as engineering and communications firms.
"We used to have to think of creative ways to hide the fact that people had had a break," says Mattison. "Now, firms are saying that it's OK. The things you've got to catch up on may be relatively small. If you were the right person before, you're probably the right person now."
In his late 40s, career banker Robert Carmichael quit work after 29 years to care for his first child. After three years as a full-time father, he was accepted on to the 2017 Lloyds Banking Group Returners Programme. One of the 34 in his cohort – only three of whom worked previously at Lloyds – was returning to the fray after 17 years.
"The quality of individuals on the programme was quite exceptional. They had been lost to the industry for various reasons, but mainly around the CV gap," Carmichael said.
Catching up on time
Subsequently employed by Lloyds (as were 27 of his fellow returners) and promoted to a senior role, Carmichael, 50, now works a four-day week, one of which is from home. His experience highlights an increasing recognition that employees don't have to live at the office to give their best performance. It's clear that the employer flexibility that allows him "to spend quality time with my children, as well as giving me a hugely challenging and rewarding career" is fiercely motivational in a way that no amount of cash could rival.
The time off enabled him to support his wife, Vicky, in her last month of pregnancy, look after daughter Sophie while Vicky resumed her career, and be at home for the first nine months after Charlotte was born. He says: "My father said to me when Sophie was six months old that I'd probably spent more time with her than he did with me in the first six years of my life."
It also meant that, when he finally returned to work, "I was refreshed and enthusiastic, and not quite as jaded. I learned a lot of life skills as well."
Presumably, though, a CV gap in a high-flying career is relatively low risk? "Taking time off in your late 40s is probably a little different to taking time off in your late 20s," says Carmichael, but he believes opting out at any stage has its risks. His break was possible thanks to the emotional and financial support of his wife, he says, but he felt confident of his track record and network: "As well as gender equality, we're looking for age equality. I'd like to think I'm challenging both."
The Telegraph, London