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).

16 comments:

  1. Back when I was obtaining my teaching credential, I was able to negotiate a half-time, half-pay with my current employer during the year that I was a student teacher. I was pleasantly surprised they were willing to let me work out that scenario as they knew I would leave my employment at the end of it.

    Depending on the relationship you have with your leader, you might be able to have some candid discussions on the possibilities without actually putting anything in motion.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog. I'm looking forward to catching up on yours.

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    1. Good point. I think I'd need to be careful who I have the discussion with. I know there are some at my company who equate time spent in the office with commitment to the job. I don't expect these types to understand the desire to work part-time. It just doesn't align with their own view of the world.

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    2. TE,

      I tried this at my full time job, which I'm no longer at. My boss said, "No, that doesn't fit the culture I want to exist here. I want people to give us more than 40 hours a week." You know, that isn't a culture I want to be a part of anymore. Not now, after I've been saving over half my income for several years. That's what living below my means allowed for me. It allowed me to say, "No, I'm not going to fit that mold." I have other things I want to do with my 40 plus hours a week.

      But, if you can get that part time gig and get paid well for it, I'd say go for it. I would have if I could have pulled it off. Now, I'm going to essentially do it but as an independent gig. It may take me a while to make it happen though but that's what I'll be focusing on now.

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    3. Thanks for sharing. The reaction of your former boss is something I'm expecting from my management. Therefore, I don't want to show my hand too early. If I ask for part-time and I'm turned down, I'm concerned I'll have made my remaining time more miserable for myself than if I had said nothing at all. So I need to be prepared to have an exit strategy in mind if the part-time request is denied.

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    4. @TE - Are you on salary? Could you just work part time unofficially, while still paid full-time? I know it depends on office culture, but in my previous job and even more-so with my current job, I've just taken to working part time unapologetically and without asking for permission. After I offered to work part time and getting laughed at, I just said that I'll continue to work the hours I'm working (<20 hours/week) and they can choose to either give me more work (which would be more than my peers at that point) or they can pay me less and call me part time. They chose the former, which is obviously fine with me. :)

      There's plenty of data to show that a 20 hour focused work week in many professions can be as accomplished or even more accomplished than a 40+ work week. This obviously doesn't work in the service industry, but it can in many others such as engineering. The extra hours by most are usually spent goofing off, reading Facebook/twitter/tmz, or just not focusing enough to truly be efficient. Of course, that probably won't convince your employer...

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    5. BNL, I read that blog entry of yours wherein you discussed this. It sounds like a good place for you to be in. I'm not opposed to using this strategy as a last-ditch effort. I completely agree with you that I feel I'd be more focused working 20 hours than 40.

      Yes, I am on salary. What I most want is more days completely away from job responsibilities. If I could work 3 days instead of 5, for example, that would be ideal. I guess I could just block off my calendar for 2 days and start aggressively declining all requests for meetings on those days.

      Thanks for the idea.

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  2. Is there any harm in approaching it from the "Should this option become available in the future, I would like to be considered for it."? Would that be enough to ruffle feathers?

    I realize that when someone comes along and messes with the mindset of the collective, weird reactions can occur...

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    1. That is a good strategy. I'll keep that in my back pocket as Plan B. Fairly non-threatening syntax, but it does keep my intentions clear. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  3. My suggestion after having gone through all permutations of this dilemma and helping others through it successfully... If your skills and personal value are real, get another written job offer with higher pay, better benefits, closer perhaps...with one day less per week, perhaps one day or more teleworking. Then either take that job, and/or kindly apologize to your boss about the situation and let him know that you would've stayed if only you could have spent a bit less time (not less productivity) so you could pursue your (educational, charitable, volunteer, family) growth. Then let him counteroffer or not. Your life is yours. Enjoy it. Don't let others enjoy it at your expense.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion. Do you have any experience with this sort of approach? I'm not sure how easy it would be to find another company willing to hire me into a similar role at part-time. If you are saying you took this approach and it worked, I'd like to hear a little more about the details.

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  4. Once our mortgage was paid off, I stopped working full time and worked at a new part time job. That lasted for around 3 years. Now, I don't work at all.
    DH started his own business right after we paid off the mortgage. He only works when he wants....i.e one week on and then 2 or 3 weeks off. He only needs to get in around 10 full working days per month to earn enough of what we need to live on, now that we are debt free.

    Downsizing. Lots and lots of downsizing. Your money or your life? We chose life.

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    1. Nice story! Sounds like a good position to be in. We'll be there too someday.

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  5. First I agree with BNL - basically this is what I do currently. I do focused work 3 days a week and have two days where I'm "online" but doing my own thing (Mondays and Fridays). Part of that is making sure I have systems in place to automate as much of my work as possible - which takes a bit of time to set up but is worth it in the long run. I probably get more done in 3 days than my colleagues do in five - because I'm results focused, rather than clock watching. The second option, and again one that I have experience of, is to go contracting. This only works if you have a sufficiently high skill level, in an area where there is sufficient demand (I work in software). I've picked up anything from 3 to six months contracts with relative ease in the past - and I usually take a minimum of three months between contracts. I left contracting because I got an unusually good permie position, but am seriously thinking of going back to occasional contracting at some point. Thirdly, I've found employers can be flexible - depends on the culture. I once requested to work remotely from Bangkok for a year (I had a girlfriend there at the time) - I nearly dropped dead when my employer agreed to it (I heartily recommend a year in BKK)! I also have a friend who has only ever worked four days a week - since he was fresh out of Uni. He still does the same thing even fifteen years later. There is flexibility out there - I guess if you are making mint right now it might pay to stay where you are until you really *need* to go part time. Finally I'd like to agree with your article in general - it is strange that part-time work at the professional level is not more encouraged. I've written extensively on the costs of burnout in the past - it costs companies millions - but the sentiment isn't there year at many organizations.

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  6. Hi Great posting! Question, since paying off your mortgage, did you change your homeowners insurance at all? Did you put the home in a trust? Any words of advice on this?

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    1. No, I didn't do either of those things. I'm not an expert on Trusts and certainly don't feel qualified to offer any advice on that topic. Our homeowners insurance remained the same as when we had the mortgage. Do you have any reason for thinking it would make sense to change the coverage after a mortgage payoff? I'm curious. Thanks.

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