Part-Time Perils and How to Overcome Them
There are a lot of great things about working less than 30 hours a week, as more than half a million part-time workers in New Zealand would tell you.
After nearly a year as a full-time, first-time mum, it allowed me to transition back into the workforce gently, and now allows me to balance my role as a parent with my desire to keep my career progressing.
It has allowed me some flexibility and some much-coveted work-life balance.
But it’s also brought some unexpected challenges. It’s a different way of working, and it’s taken awhile to get used to – I’m still not sure I’m doing it particularly well.
Although I’m only employed and paid for 20 hours, I have a workload that’s more like 30 hours’ worth and often find myself trying to complete the same numbers of tasks as my full-time colleagues.
Despite the workload and the pace I work at to keep up with it, I leave the office at the end of my working week – to go home to my other job as a mum – with unshakeable guilt.
I slink out the door sheepishly, despite knowing logically that I’m only getting paid for three days, so I should only be there for three days. I work for a charity; I don’t volunteer for them. It doesn’t help getting comments from well-meaning colleagues as you say goodbye like, ‘Finished for the week eh? Lucky for some.’
I feel I have to be accountable for every minute I spend there in a way I didn’t as a full-time worker. This means skimping on the social stuff – not taking the 15 minutes to do the daily quiz with colleagues, not prioritising networking in the sector because it feels like I should be at my desk doing grunt work.
Research has proven that part-time workers work really hard. A 2013 Ernst Young report showed that women who worked part-time wasted the least time at work, compared to both their male part-time counterparts and full-time workers of both genders.
So how do I get over the guilt, and start making sure I’m working efficiently but not trying to do a full-time job in half the hours? Here are a few things I’ve learned (or could be doing better) and tips crowdsourced from social media.
Know what you’re getting yourself into
It’s worth asking the question at recruitment stage whether the role is part-time by design or budget. If it’s the latter, how would the organisation support you to juggle different priorities? Is there an expectation you’ll be available outside your office hours? Is there reciprocal flexibility? Is there pay for overtime, or is it time off in lieu, or could an hourly rate with a timesheet work? Sure, it’s on you to manage your time efficiently and work hard, but it’s on the employer to set you up to succeed, not drown you in an avalanche of work.
Communicate your hours
Make it clear to managers and colleagues what your hours are – put them in your online calendar, your email signature, and your voicemail message. Give people a heads up at the beginning of the day if it’s the last day of your working week and ask them to get stuff to you ahead of time, or let them know they have another magical day up their sleeves because you won’t be back until Monday.
Stick to your boundaries
Decide where you are willing to be flexible and where you’d like boundaries respected. Are you okay to check emails on off-days? Are you okay to take phone calls but won’t be checking emails? Or are you just not available? Again, communication of these boundaries is important. Being available when you say you’re going to be is also very important – be reliable and build a relationship of mutual trust.
Get organised, prioritise
Use a team collaboration app like Trello to organise your work and keep people posted on your progress. If you’re struggling to figure out where your time has gone, clock your tasks for a few weeks using something like Punchtime or Time Edition (or a good old-fashioned pen and paper). Are you spending time where you should? Does your manager agree? Ask your manager to help you prioritise the work and set clear expectations on what you’re able to achieve in your hours over a week or a month.
Say no, or don’t say anything
It probably goes against instinct, but even having ten less hours in a week than your full-time colleagues means you really don’t have the capacity for those favours sometimes. Learn how to say no gracefully. It’s better to say no on the spot than keep saying yes, ending up over-worked and resentful. If there are email conversations flying, it’s okay to be the one to sit back until you have time to answer – other people might say what’s needed or volunteer before you need to. Here are a few tips on saying no from Happiness Concierge.
Know your rights
If you’re feeling squeezed it can be helpful to know what your rights are at work as a part-time worker – stuff like breaks, pay, sick leave – and what your organisation’s policies are on stuff like flexible working or working from home. If there’s a union, you’re able to join they can be a good source of support.