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

Saturday night out: a 20 minute countdown

I had a shocking realisation the other day, that I no longer listen to music when I’m getting ready for a night out. I dismissed it fairly quickly as we don’t have a radio / music player in our bedroom. But then I thought about it some more. It wasn’t just an absence of music – my routine for ‘getting ready’ has evolved almost beyond recognition.

Back in the day, and I’m talking at least a decade ago, getting ready was part of the fun of a night out. It would shape my whole Saturday. I might head into town to buy a new top, or eyeliner, or nail varnish. It was not uncommon for me to make sure I was home for a nap around 4pm so that I could have an hour or two in bed before having another hour or two to get ready.

As I wrote that I just stopped in my tracks and realised that I used to feel the need for a nap even then. And I would have one! Not to catch up on precious, lost sleep, but to pre-charge my dancing batteries.

Batteries fully charged I would start a new phase: getting ready to get ready. Before actually getting ready, I’d decide which CD to listen to, test out a choice of outfits and shoes, decide if I would I have wine or vodka later. All that is assuming I was alone. There would be additional elements if any girlfriends were coming round to get ready with me. Then we’d be treating the CD player like a juke box while comparing latest make-up, perfume and trying to make different sized feet fit into each others shoes.

Getting ready was an event in itself.

No longer. Now I reckon I can do it in 20 minutes. It goes like this…

Preparation: I will have washed my hair in the morning, because my hair is just as unbalanced as I am and requires at least two hours to calm down after being washed. A ruffle and a bit of frizz-calming wax is all the attention it gets.

T-20 mins: Quick shower, avoiding getting my head wet. In the unlikely event that I have worn make-up during the day, I might wash it off. But if I’m super lazy, (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this) I will just put a bit more over the top.

T-15: Make-up. As I wear exactly the same make-up all the time, it’s a pretty straight forward routine and I could do it in my sleep. A recent purchase has got me excited though – glittery eye power I can put over my plain beige eye-shadow, and voila… I have achieved that day-to-night transition that apparently every woman dreams of. I am a Disco Diva, no matter that there are no discos any more.

T-8: Get dressed. Choose one of the sets of still-quite-nice underwear from my drawer (easy as I only have two). Skim passed the dress choices – its not anyone’s birthday. So it’s either The Good Jeans or The Black Trousers and one of three tops that haven’t yet been down-graded to work wear. I spend 10 seconds wondering what I wore last time I saw whoever I’m meeting, and then remember that unless it’s a yellow, polkadot, bat-wing dress, no-one actually remembers.

T-3: Ask my husband if I should wear the black shoes or the black boots. I like to involve him. He does the same for me. Neither of us listen and we make our own choices anyway.

T-1: Coat on, and THEN, realise that my nail varnish is appalling and quickly paint another coat over the top.

Time to go.

T+1: Taxi is waiting as I try to load all my make-up into my handbag, without smudging my nails (knowing this is a pointless exercise as once I’ve had that first glass I’m past caring. I’m too lazy to even take my bag to the toilets, never mind actually reapply any make-up).

My ‘happy’ at the end of all this though is that I’m out. That’s the point. Whether I’m out with my husband, friends or a few random strangers, I’m confident enough to know that my sparkling conversation and wit can outshine my new eye-shadow. And if I’ve got that wrong, there’s always the wine and my best friend… Jack Daniels.

Precious moments on a ticking clock

“Make time for fun and silliness”. I must have read that about 20 times. Apparently a necessity if you aspire to be a successful parent, partner, team leader and probably circus clown.

So today that cliché rang in my ears when faced with a particular unbalanced-life experience.

Our morning routine requires precision timing. No matter how organised I try to be there are just so many activities to cram into a short space of time. And our differing personality types add to the challenge: I take some time to warm up in the morning, like an old car in winter, you need to let me tick over for a while before I can even leave first gear. My little boy however wakes up ready to run down the nearest motorway. No car required. As soon as he opens his eyes his brain must say, no actually sing, “It’s morning… Woohoo!”

Fun and silliness are always on his agenda. Of course they are. But my morning routine is ruled by the large ticking clock on our kitchen wall. If we don’t get to school on time the car park will be full. And if the car park is full I will have to park round the corner. And if I have to park round the corner it takes longer to walk back to it (in heels) so I won’t catch my ‘only-make-it-if-I-leg-it-down-the-platform’ train to work.

He was in full-on Woohoo-mode when we went downstairs to make breakfast, yabbering on about something or other. I knew I should be listening, but I needed to make breakfast and…. Tick Tock Tick Tock.

To get his attention, I picked him up sat him on the kitchen worktop. “I have a question for you…” Now this works. He’s at eye level and he loves to be asked a question. And he half knows that the question will be, ‘what shall we have for breakfast?’. It’s a regular morning question because another aspirational quote locked somewhere in my memory, is to offer children choices so they learn independent thinking. Blah blah blah.

But instead, my inner silliness crept in. “Do you looove me?” I sang to him. I’ve recently watched Dirty Dancing and it popped into my head. Big grin from the boy and my silliness took over.

“I can mash potato…” I proved it.
“Do the twist….” Hell yeah.
“Tell me baby…” He loved it.

The clock was silenced. I was Supermum. We danced together. He looked me right in the eye and did that beautiful giggle that kids do when they are truly happy. I felt amazing and we had a precious moment – one of those that makes your heart burst, where you know there is true love in the room. The cliché was right, I SHOULD make time for silliness.

Time. Make time. Tick Tock….. “Oh my god, look at the time!” And there it was, ruined.

“Quickly… Just eat it… Are you finished?… Well where did you leave it?… Come on!… They are not MY shoes, they are your responsibility… For goodness sake, just get in the car… Now!”

Next time I decide to make time for fun and silliness I will schedule it with precision timing.