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t was supposed to provide the answer to the work-life dilemma faced by the new generation of working parents. But instead of freeing them from the shackles of ‘presenteeism’, part-time working could be holding back their careers. A report from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) indicates that workers who have reduced their hours are damaging their chances of promotion because their bosses no longer take them seriously.

As a result almost 5.5 million of Britain’s 7 million part-time workers are stuck in jobs for which they are over-qualified are Jenny Watson, acting chairwoman of the EOC, said that old-fashioned thinking was to blame. Most businesses still thought that part-time work was inconvenient, associating it with low pay and prospects.

Watson said it was no surprise that part-time staff earned, on an average, 40 per cent less than their full-time colleagues. She said: “Flexibility is the future. The best employers are leading the way, moving away from ‘presenteeism’ to giving people choice in how they work, simply because they recognise that it’s good for business. But the pace of change is still slow.”

The survey found that obstacles to part-time work often came from managers, who lacked the confidence or the knowledge to introduce flexible or part-time working.

Jenny Farmer, 33, from Nuneaton, is typical of millions of women who asked to go part-time after childbirth. “I was working as a manager, but I was told that if I wanted to work part-time, I would have to come back to work in a secretarial post,” she said.

For Kirsty Wildgoose and her partner, Robbie Bulloch, flexible working has been a blessing. The couple, who are both senior civil servants, switched to “compressed hours” last year, which means that they still work 36 hours or more each week, but over four instead of five days. Both have since been promoted and say that the change has helped them to work more efficiently. Said Wildgoose: “When you are working like this it makes you really, really focused on what you are doing. When you are at work, you work.”

Bulloch, 33, who works for the Foreign Office, said he had no difficulty persuading his boss to accept the change. “I put my arguments on paper. A few of my male colleagues were a bit sceptical, but a lot of younger colleagues say they wish they had a set-up like mine,” he said.

'The Times, London

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