Is the road to recovery paved with part-time?

After finding myself unexpectedly in the job market straight out of parental leave, I knew I wanted to secure a part-time role so I could provide the best of me to both my employer and my family.

‘Not a worry’ I thought to myself. ‘I have so much to offer an employer will surely see my potential to deliver maximum value in a less than full-time capacity’. The naïve and overly optimistic flexible work advocate part of my brain was clearly firing on all cylinders that week!

Very quickly I realised there were NO senior roles offered on a part time basis. And when I enquired about what the ‘flexible working options available’ line tacked on the bottom of a job advert meant, I was generally met with a ‘well it means you could work from home sometimes… like if you really had to, say if something blew up and there was no one in your family or extended network who could attend to the crisis’. Yeah… reaaaaaaaally flexible.

I was told by a few recruiters early in my job search that I would have to lower my employment expectations if I wanted to work part-time. That ‘leadership roles just aren’t done part-time’ instead they apparently require 5 day commitment, presumably to stand and crack the whip over the pesky employees who are likely to get into all sorts of mischief without constant supervision (can you hear my eyes rolling??).

I have a connection who is returning from parental leave imminently. She requested to work 3 days a week which was readily approved weeks ago. It’s only now that her employer decided to mention that she won’t have the team leadership responsibilities she had before she went on leave. The reason? She can’t possibly manage a team (of 1 reasonably senior person mind you) in only 3 days… really? She is, in effect, being demoted due to her flexibility requirements.

It’s ridiculous that in this day and age, organisations simply can’t conceive of a roles being done in way other than the way it's always been done before. And unless legally obliged to (a right I disappointingly lost by being made redundant) most organisations won’t generally consider offering roles, particularly senior roles, part-time.

In my 6-month job search I have seen 1 role at the level I want to operate at advertised. One. It was in Sydney. Sadly the flexibility couldn’t extend to remote working as well otherwise I would have jumped on it!

Why are accomplished people who want to add value to an organisation in return for some job security and flexibility shunned by recruiters and organisations alike?

There's a lot of discussion going on about working from home right now, and that’s great because it’s important, but we need to have a conversation about flexible hours too.

I know loads of people who would ideally like to work less hours; either because they have family or caring commitments, because they’re keen to semi-retire, because they have a side hustle they want to dedicate time to, because they want to study or because they have health concerns.

Thanks to COVID we have a glut of unemployed people who, like me, are now going to be forced to consider roles with hours that are far from ideal for them or their loved ones because employers lack the ability to think differently about how work can be done.

My part-time challenge to employers is:

  • How about focusing on the outcomes people need to produce over a week or a fortnight and have a conversation how that can be done, rather than fixating on the hours they’re logged in each day?

  • How about considering all the additional value that could be added by having 2 amazing people sharing ideas and expertise through job-sharing a role?

  • How about leveraging people’s strengths by redesigning roles? Instead of getting one person who can do all aspects of the role at an average level, tap into niche talent and hire two people who excel at those aspects. For example, split a Data Analyst role into two; one with a focus on storytelling with data and the other focused on the statistical analysis component.

  • How about shortening the standard work day so people can be present 4-5 days a week but still get home with enough energy in the tank to do all the other things they need or want to do?

  • How about recognising that leadership isn’t about ‘managing’ people every moment of the day, but rather about empowering people to do what they need to do without being constantly watched. I was always taught if your team couldn’t function when you weren't in the office, you had failed as a leader.

  • How about reflecting on the fact that strong-arming people who are desperate to work into full-time roles that don’t enable them to successfully integrate their work and life commitments means recruiting people with lower levels of engagement and making it 1000x times more challenging for them to be successful (quick note: if people are successful in their roles, it follows that the business too will be successful).

  • How about reading the articles and studies that show that productivity for part-time workers is higher than their full-time counterparts. Here’s a few worth checking out:

  • University Study: Is Part-Time Employment Beneficial for Firm Productivity?

  • SMH Article: Women working part-time are the most productive in the workforce: survey

  • Brink Article: Working Fewer Hours Makes You More Efficient. Here’s the Proof

  • Nous Group: High performance part-time – is it possible?

  • Ernst & Young: Untapped opportunity: The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential

It is concerning that a number of the articles above are dated pre-2015. So we arguably know that working less hours makes people more productive, yet we leave people seeking reduced hours languishing in the unemployment queue.

For businesses to survive and stand any chance of succeeding through the COVID recovery phase, they are going to have to be incredibly creative about how they attract, retain and motivate their employees. And that includes considering how they leverage the talents of part-time employees.

There is a wealth of untapped part-time talent ready to be unleashed. And the organisations who get creative and capitalise on it may find their path to COVID recovery a little smoother.

Reader reflection: Would working fewer hours each week significantly impact your productivity? If you had the chance to work reduced hours would you consider it?

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