By Sherry Bevan, author, coach and speaker
Rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it feels like that’s what we’re asking for. When all we want is a career that allows us to work part-time, fits around our family, makes the most of our talents and gives us career satisfaction.
Considering how many mums are in the UK, it doesn’t seem like it should be that big a deal.
In fact 42% of women DO work part-time compared to 13% of men. Often women want part-time work to fit around caring for family – whether that’s young children or elderly parents.
The poverty rate for part-time workers is DOUBLE that for those working full-time; not surprising when often the jobs most easily available on part-time hours are in lower paid roles and sectors.
This means that many women struggle to make a successful transition to working part-time and today I’d like to share my best strategies with you.
And at the same time, they feel they pay a heavy penalty for trying to balance their career around their family in terms of pay rises, bonuses and promotion prospects (though it’s against the law to be treated less favourably because you are a part-time employee).
In reality, often women who work part-time are more productive, more effective and more focused exactly because they have less hours in their day or week. There is no time to be wasted.
What does working part-time mean?
First let’s explore what we mean by working part-time. Basically it’s any job that is less than full-time hours. There is no set figure. If full-time hours at your employer is typically 9-5, so 35 hours a week, part-time could be 10 hours, 20 hours, 30 hours…even 34 hours.
What rights do I have as a part-time worker?
Even if you work part-time, it is against the law to be treated less favourably than full-time employees. Therefore you are entitled to the same:
- Rates of pay
- Sick pay
- Maternity leave
- Selection for promotion (or redundancy)
- Training and development opportunities
Many of these benefits will be pro-rata. Here’s the example that the government uses on its website: “…if a full-time worker gets a £1,000 Christmas bonus, and a part-time worker works half the number of hours, they should get £500.”
What about flexible working?
The good news is that all employees (UK law) have the right to request flexible working. (Up until June 2014, it was a right restricted to carers or those looking after children).
Flexible working is not just about working part-time hours. It includes working from home, working a job-share, compressed hours, staggered start/finish times or even a phased retirement.
Now that it is enshrined in law, many organisations are open to part-time hours or other forms of flexible working. More and more employers prefer the term ‘agile working’ because they feel that ‘flexible working’ carries the stigma of being a “mum’s thing”.
It doesn’t matter why you want flexible working – you may want a work schedule that fits around marathon training or to flex more easily around childcare.
Okay, so how do I ask for flexible working?
Depending on the relationship that you have with your employer you might want to sound out your request informally before putting it in writing. I know lots of mums agonise, truly agonise, about whether to ask for flexible working but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
- You can only make one request in 12 months.
- Requests need to be made in writing stating what change you are seeking, when you want to start and how you think this will affect the business.
- State that it’s a statutory request.
- State if and when you have made a previous request.
Before you put your request in writing, think about it from your employer’s point of view so that you can think what objections there might be and come up with workarounds and solutions.
- What will the commercial and operational impact be?
- What will the effect be on the rest of the team?
- How will it affect your clients?
- What about busy periods/seasons?
- If you’re asking for reduced hours, what tasks will you stop doing?
- If you have team leadership responsibilities, who will you delegate to in your absence?
- How flexible will you be about the hours/days that you work?
When thinking about the potential objections, put yourself in your manager’s shoes. How could you lessen the impact? You’ll have a much stronger business case when you bring potential solutions to your employer.
How do I get a part-time job?
But what if you’re jobhunting and you want part-time hours?
Start with those organisations who actively promote flexible working as a benefit. However don’t discount employers who don’t specifically mention it on their website.
More and more recruitment agencies specialise in part-time or flexible working. You can grab a copy of my free directory of specialist agencies here.
If you get to the interview stage, the tricky thing is knowing when to raise the issue of part-time hours. Recruiting managers tell you to be upfront and mention this at the start. However many women worry that this will prejudice the employer against you. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
My best advice, and what I tell the women who join my Complete Career Confidence programme, is that if the original job advert specifies ‘open to flexible working’ or ‘part-time hours available’, I would suggest you state your preferences at the start of the recruitment process.
However if you’re more uncertain about how favourably such a request would be received, I would go through the interview stage first, see whether you like the job and the employer, and introduce your flexible working preferences at a later stage, e.g. at second interview.
Remember some employers and some recruiters are not dead set against part-time hours. Sometimes it just hasn’t occurred to them so it’s always worth asking.
Help – I’m paid part-time but I’m working full-time
The women I often talk to are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and they’re burning out because they have a part-time job but effectively they’re working full-time hours because they work in the evenings when they get home and work on their ‘days off’. But they’re only getting paid part-time hours with part-time pension payments and part-time holiday benefits.
Does this conversation resonate?
“Sometimes I find it really difficult to say ‘no’ because I then feel guilty and that I’m letting my manager down.”
It can be hard to say ‘no’ at work and to put firm healthy boundaries in place. But if you don’t, you’ll get stressed and overwhelmed and eventually you’ll burn out.
It’s essential to put strategies in place so that you say ‘no’ more often in the workplace.
Not all rainbows and unicorns
Getting part-time hours is not all rainbows and unicorns. Plenty of women DO work part-time hours. Granted, part-time senior roles are harder to find. On the other hand, you may want to take this opportunity to reflect on your career and what’s most important to you right now.
Whether you are looking for a new job or you want to work part-time in your current role, I know from talking to my clients that it is very achievable.
Once you have those part-time hours, what is important is that you look after yourself and put those strategies in place to protect your boundaries for the sake of your own wellness.
About Sherry Bevan
An author, coach and speaker, Sherry Bevan is a former Global Head of IT Service for a City law firm. After 25 years in the City, she created The Confident Mother, an independent coaching practice. She works with individuals and organisations to help ambitious women manage their career with confidence and purpose.