Is part-time work a full-time pain in the arse?

Last year I was having a really tough time with my health and knew something had to give (I wrote a blog at that time called Literally Unbalanced if you want to know why). Eventually I talked to my boss about options to either work more flexibly or reduce my hours. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it could work. People who work part time seem to be just as knackered as people who don’t. Was I pinning my hopes on a Work vs Life balance myth?

Before I started I had loads of questions – some that people were able to help me with, and some that I’ve had to learn for myself. So I’ve written about my experience to see if this helps anyone else who’s trying to make a similar decision.

I know we all have different jobs, hours and employers’ rules, so to set the scene, I do a traditional nine-to-five office type of role, for a big company, and have a fantastic boss who is open to flexible working. Yes, I know, I’m blooming lucky!!

I wanted to take Monday as a non-working day, so I trialled two different options:

  1. Full time flexible working – working longer hours Tuesday to Friday
  2. Part time – reducing my hours by 20% to four normal length days – called a ‘0.8’

Here’s what I worried about / learned…

I’ll have less money

Let’s cut to the chase – this is hard to accept. If you reduce your hours you reduce your pay – no shit Sherlock, of course you do. Of course you should. But that’s why so many of us try to flex our hours rather than cut them.

If you usually work a five day week and are considering dropping to four or three days, dropping 20% or 40% of your salary is VERY hard to swallow. And let’s just make it a bit worse… if you have a job that gets any kind of bonus, performance pay or profit share, these will also be pro-rata rates. That sucks, and you have to suck it up.

I’ll get fewer holidays

Yep. Just like pay, holidays are pro-rata. If you go part time you get a percentage of holidays cut. You may get even less than you think because you are entitled to fewer Bank Holidays too. If for example, you normally get 27 days leave and 8 days Bank holidays = 35 days total, this whole amount could reduce by 20% (or whatever cut you take).

If you choose flexible full-time pattern, and work longer days on your working days, your company will probably calculate your holidays in hours, and each working day you take as holiday is equivalent to the number of hours you would normally work that day.

Of course, you ARE getting more days off by taking a non-working day – so quit moaning! Just ask for help to calculate your allowance, so you know what you’re dealing with.

I’ll probably end up working longer hours even if I take a pay cut

This is very possible unless you are SUPER strict with your time. It’s another reason I trialled flexible working first. Unless you are clear on exactly how your workload will reduce, you will end up trying to squeeze the same work into fewer hours. And unless you are a magician, or were previously a massive slacker taking two-hour lunch breaks without anyone noticing, that’s impossible.

Consider this when looking at your workload: an hour-long meeting still last an hour, you don’t get to attend 80% of it. Same for training, appraisals and administrative tasks. All these will still need to be completed in your working hours and will take the same amount of time whether you work full time or part time. So if you are part time, the hours you have available to do your actual work is even less that you think. Discuss this with your boss and wider team.

How will my hours impact the rest of my team?

I needed to discuss that too. For example, if I need to be involved in meetings or decisions about projects I work on, does that mean that people need to wait for me to return to work? Or can someone take responsibility on my non-working day?

If someone else is going to job-share with you on some of your work, you need to build up trust with each-other and set some ground rules. Otherwise you could end up reversing decisions and pissing people off.

I’ll always need to ‘catch up’

Yep – and this is the hardest part for me. Every Tuesday I arrive to a full inbox and need at least an hour to get organised. If you miss a meeting, someone needs to update you. Even tiny, seemingly trivial adjustments can feel significant, like the fact that everyone has already discussed their weekends, and moved on. It’s not the start of the week for anyone else. They are already at full speed while I’m just getting going.

I always worried that people wouldn’t want to have to repeat conversations or ‘waste time’ helping me catch up, but actually people have been really good, and don’t seem to mind. Or perhaps they just bitch behind my back… hmmm.

Which are the best days to work / not work?

The decision for me was to do with when there’s the least impact at work. I looked at when meeting happen, when deadlines hit and who else was in or out of the office. 

Monday was the best fit for work, plus it fits well with childcare plans I can make, and (bonus) I realised later, actually works out well for my holiday entitlement – I get more options for using my bank holiday allocation rather than always having to take the set bank holidays as well as another chosen non-working day. It’s complicated, but I promise it’s true. 

I’ll need to work harder to balance the inconvenience I cause

I think this is a common worry, and most flexible workers probably do over compensate a little. The key for me was to show that it is a ‘give and take’ relationship, so if there’s an IMPORTANT meeting or training day on a Monday, I will make every effort swap my non-working day to another day that same week.

We made an agreement that it would be a full-day swap, because it is not acceptable to interrupt my non-working day to ‘just attend this one meeting’ for an hour. My non-working day is exactly that. Hands off! We also agreed that I would need at least one week’s notice to give me enough time to flex my child care arrangements, or whatever is required.

In reality, that has only happened twice and I’ve had at least three weeks notice each time. The agreement means that we only prioritised the meetings that I REALLY need to attend. The rest go ahead without me.

I’ll have to be more efficient

Yes, and actually that’s a good thing. I am more efficient. Most of the time. The ticking clock makes me prioritise. I reckon at least three weeks out of every four, I think, “This week I’ll have to do a bit of work on my day off or I’ll never catch up”, but then I remember that I created that non-working (non-paid) time for a reason. And I owe it to myself to stick to it. Prioritise til it hurts!

Is it worth it?

Hell yes! You probably wont even be thinking about making a change unless you have something that’s really important to you. For me that was my health, for others it’s family. Whatever your reason, you have to make sure you stick to the plan that you make, and reap the benefits.

Monday is my rest day, it’s when I let the world slow down. It was so tempting to fill it with my to do list, or shopping, or chores or DIY. But I don’t – I rest. Because that’s what I need. That’s why I did it.

For others it’s time with their children, so they have to make sure they spend time with their children, and don’t fall into ‘I’ll just check my emails’. Unless it’s part of your agreement that you’ll be available, PUT THE WORK PHONE DOWN!

(..except for checking to see if you’ve won the work-team lottery, and if you don’t need to go into work at all tomorrow.)

So… are you wondering which option I chose?

Flexible working was great, but for me the longer days were just too exhausting. I needed to do less, not just squeeze more at other times. So it’s a pay cut, but better health – and I honestly couldn’t be happier. My boss and colleagues are superstars and I am so grateful and even more dedicated to my job. There are days when it’s hard to keep up, but every Sunday night, when I see the usual Facebook memes about Monday mornings, I have a little smile to myself and think “That’s not me, anymore”.

What a smug bitch I am! Poorer, but smug.

(P.S. I’m still Unbalanced though – aren’t we all?)

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Have you made the decision to flex or go part time? Or are you undecided? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Also check out Mother Pukka on Facebook and Instagram, who is leading a fantastic #FlexAppeal campaign to encourage more businesses to offer flexible working opportunities. She has some fantastic advice on how to broach the subject with your boss.

#worklifebalance #flexappeal #unbalanced #literallyunbalanced