Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Nonexistent Part-Time Position

At the office the other day there was an exhibition of sorts which was meant to highlight some of the groups and resources available for professional growth and advancement within the company.  I attended and poked around the various booths for about an hour.  One of the booths had the label "Staffing".  They talked to us about the tools available for managers to hire new employees, and for employees to look for career advancement opportunities.  I am not particularly interested in changing jobs at this point, so I started to tune out for a few moments, but at the end of the presentation I decided to take the opportunity to ask a question I have been wondering about for a while.  I asked why it was that I had never seen any part-time positions offered within the firm.

The Staffing folks told me that they don't offer any part-time positions, period.  They did admit that some people do end up moving from full-time to part-time due to personal circumstances, although rarely, "on a case-by-case basis".  But they said that most people are interested in working full time, so they (Staffing) don't bother creating part-time opportunities.

I followed up by asking if people nearing the end of their careers ever asked to scale back their hours.  The Staffers exchanged blank looks with each other and said they couldn't remember any examples of this.  They said the part-time work arrangements usually come from people who have extenuating family circumstances which limit the amount of time they can dedicate to work.

As I was returning to my desk afterward, I chatted with a co-worker who had been with me at the Staffing booth when I asked the part-time question.  He told me that I'm an unusual case:  no debt, no mortgage, no dependents, no need for benefits (our health insurance comes from my wife's employer) -- 100% of my earnings goes into saving.  So even though it seems strange to me that there isn't more demand for professional part-time positions, I am certainly the exception and not the rule.  He thought that most people at our company feel they need the benefits and the pay that comes from a full-time job in order to support their lifestyles.

Meanwhile, I've been reading a number of news articles lately about low-wage workers (mainly in retail and fast food) who want the opportunity to work more hours but must deal with employers who purposefully keep hours below a certain threshold to avoid providing certain benefits, etc.  It makes me feel somewhat out of touch to find myself wanting fewer work hours when so many others want more.  Of course, one big difference is that I am working for a company where even a part-time salary would handily exceed full-time pay in retail or fast food.  I'm not interested in taking one of those very low-paying jobs just for the sake of reducing the time spent at work.  I still value my own time more than that.  Another big difference is that we are not struggling financially.  My wife and I had opportunities to increase our incomes based on our professional experience and performance at work, and we took them, while at the same time taking aggressive steps to reduce our expenses and debt -- in essence maximizing the utility of our income.  I bet we spend far less on discretionary expenses like cell phone service, restaurants, and television than the average retail or fast food employee does (for example, in the case of TV we pay nothing since our antenna picks up broadcast channels for free).  So if those who are struggling financially want the opportunity to work more hours to earn more money to make ends meet, doesn't it logically make sense that those who are not struggling should want the opportunity to work less?  That's how I see it.  But I seem to be in the minority.  The prevailing attitude is:  if money is good, than any opportunity to earn more money must be taken.

Although the Staffing contacts didn't give me much to go on, I was intrigued by the possibility that part-time work may be available to me if I ask for it.  As Staffing said, it's offered "on a case-by-case basis".  I suppose I can present the best case possible for myself and see how my management reacts.  I think I'd want to pick the right moment for this, though.  I'd want to do it at a time when I was prepared to face the possibility of not working at all for this company anymore.  Perhaps if my request was denied I'd have to deal with some backlash, a stigma that I wasn't interested in pulling my weight and would prefer to have an easy job while everyone else picks up the slack for me.  I might be put on the short list for the next round of layoffs -- who knows?  Honestly I don't know what to expect.  Still, if my request was granted, I'd be a much happier person.  A three-day workweek would be pretty nice.  I think the earliest I'd want to take a stab at this would be at the end of this calendar year, when we have reviews scheduled.  I'll mull it over and seek the opinion of my wife (who obviously would be impacted by a change like this).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Freedom from Fear (at work)

When I first started working for my current employer, I was a cash-poor young twentysomething who didn't know exactly what I wanted to do for work, but knew I needed an income of some sort.  Fortunately, it didn't take me long to find a job with what I thought were a lot of positives:  a decent starting salary, a respectable company on solid footing, and room for professional growth. The one negative:  I chose to take on a 40-minute drive to and from the office each workday, which could be longer in bad traffic or bad weather.

After a couple of years of this, I decided I was tired of wasting so much of my life behind the wheel of the car, so I moved to within 5 miles of the office.  This cut my commute down to under 10 minutes.  After I met my wife and we got married, we bought a house in the same area.  I can now drive to work in around 15 minutes, or preferably, spend a little extra time and enjoy a wonderful ride on my bicycle that lasts just over half an hour.

Unfortunately, my employer has multiple offices in the region.  There is another office about 45 miles from my house which I occasionally must go to for project meetings.  I try to minimize this as much as possible, because traffic during rush hour can make the 45-mile trip last up to two hours each way.

This morning I was summoned to the other office to help with a presentation.  I got up early and caught a bus which crawled through traffic and deposited me near the office around 1 hour 40 minutes later.  I walked a few blocks to the office and got set up and ready for the meeting.  Fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time, I received an email stating "Sorry for the late notice, but today's meeting is canceled."  Irritated, I caught a bus back home and worked the remainder of the day from my local office.

My manager had also made the trip this morning.  He decided to drive and had left his house before 6 AM to avoid rush hour, getting to the other office around 7 AM.   Another presenter in the meeting had flown in from another state.  All of us had wasted our time and effort to get to this particular office from our remote locations.  It seemed to us like the organizers of the meeting couldn't be bothered to cancel the meeting any earlier than 15 minutes before the scheduled start time.

This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened.  This is probably the worst example, but other meetings with this group in the same office have been previously canceled with less than 12 hours notice.  Since the meeting organizers are higher-ups in the organization, I can't decide whether they simply don't respect our time, or are ignorant of the effort we put in to travel to other office locations for meetings.

Later in the day I received an invitation to the rescheduled meeting in a couple of days.  Years ago I would have sucked it up and planned for another early morning on the bus.  But given our current financial situation at home, I no longer feel any fear of sticking up for myself in situations like these.  I told my manager I wouldn't be making another trip this week, and would attend the meeting remotely (conference call).  After paying off the mortgage and developing a healthy cushion of savings and investments, I find it's much easier to say no to certain work requests which would make things harder on myself.  Of course, it's wise to choose battles carefully, but since my goal is not to cling to a career any longer than I have to, I feel no obligation to suck up to the higher ups or avoid ruffling feathers.  If nobody else is going to respect my time, my own self-respect is going to win out.

One somewhat surprising revelation is that by feeling free to speak my mind (instead of toeing the company line), I've actually gotten positive feedback for saying things that everyone else is thinking but hesitant to put in words.  It's liberating in a way.