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Should part-time be the new full-time?

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Articles abound about the advantages of part-time work and it is high time we all embraced it. Certainly ‘part-time’ has attracted derogatory connotations. It connotes something less than whole, a diminished commitment, being assigned a role beneath your real capability and, perhaps worst of all, being paid part-time wages when the actual work load is closer to full-time. But we can overcome all this.

The problem is that the traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 (and more) working week is really becoming redundant especially in the corporate and professional worlds. In our globalised, high tech world, so many workplaces demand, and the technology has facilitated, extra work at any time and from anywhere including work in the evenings, on weekends (often from home) and even on so-called holidays. Rewards are usually based on time committed as opposed to actual results when what really matters is results.

It also matters that the results expected of you, as an employee, are reasonable given the personal resources you are able to commit to the job. This, in turn, should depend on where you are in your life as the whole person that you are. Do you have a child to care for? Is your partner undergoing chemotherapy for an extended period? Have you got an elderly parent or relative for whom you are caring? Are you an Olympic rower needing time to train? Are you a community volunteer, for example an office bearer for a school council, or other charity?

Not only has the entry of women into the post industrialised workforce stretched our childcare resources; it has also left many community organisations short of hands to assist with the very worthy work they do. Ask any school parents’ association (perhaps with the exception of a privileged few). And those that would otherwise do that work, if they had the time, miss out on the enormous benefits of connecting with and supporting their local communities.

The persistently high level of work/life stress and of women dropping out (or down) once they become mothers is a sign that many employers are not taking sufficient account of the very real whole life needs of their employees. We are spending too much time at work. And while many employees will be attracted to the rewards that come with long hours, the truth is it usually doesn’t bring greater satisfaction, just more material things. Of course there are some people who cannot afford to work any less. There are also some jobs that necessarily require long hours but I struggle to think of many examples where this is necessarily so when, given a different mindset, so much of what we do can be delegated or shared.

For most of us, part-time could and should become the new full-time, the new default position. Those who choose to work longer hours will be working the new ‘Over-time’, but they should not be rewarded any more than their results reflect. Employers should embrace this new regime as part of their responsibility for the health and well-being of their employees and the community. This will mean employing more to do less, and restructuring work roles, but there is evidence to suggest that the productivity gains will outweigh the extra cost.

This will be an effective way to retain women and pick up our aging population who we need to work in the interests of, productivity and well-being. And, of course, employees will need to accept rewards commensurate with what they deliver. If it is too hard to measure results, then the standard pro rata of the current ‘Equivalent Full-time’ or EFT will do as a start.

Gradually measures dependant only on time committed, such as EFT, will need to be replaced with or complemented by a more flexible measure keyed into the results reasonably expected of the role in question. If the hours committed remains a factor, and I suspect it will given the vagaries of measuring actual results in some cases, then I suggest we would be better served to make four days a week the new default position, the new EFT if you like, with scope for those wanting to work longer hours (and produce commensurate results) to add a day or two. But we should aim to reward on results as much as possible.

Freed up in this way, we will all have more time for thinking, sleeping, exercise, recreation and looking after others who need help. Importantly for mothers, who still tend to bear the burden of the ‘double shift’ and end up relatively impoverished, we will be able to share the breadwinning and the care-giving with our partners. Our partners will benefit too since they will no longer bear the burden of being the main or sole provider as well as enjoying the benefits of a more balanced life.

This proposal is intended to be controversial. I expect that Human Resources, Compensation and Productivity experts, which I am not, will likely pick holes in my argument. But let’s keep up the debate it. It is too important to ignore.

Parents@Work 20 Jan 2014

By Amanda Milledge
Source: Women’s Agenda, 14 Jan 2014.