Part-time working is as old as the hills. Yet it
is clustered with other new ways of working as a departure from
the "industrial age" norm of an 8-hour (or more) day. Certainly
it has been becoming more popular as a work option. Since 1971
the number of part-time workers has risen from 2.2 million to
more than 7 million.
For employees there are often work-life balance
attractions in working fewer hours per day or per week - such as
caring responsibilities, civic responsibilities (e.g. being a
magistrate, school governor, lifeboat volunteer, etc) or
recreational interests. Surveys consistently show that the
majority of people doing part-time work do so because they want
to, not because they've been forced into it by lack of
opportunity or by downsizing employers.
Part-time is a particular popular option for
women returning from maternity leave. In fact, the majority of
people working part-time are women - and much of the rise in
part-time working can be put down to the rise in women's
employment. There are people who see this as a problem,
reflecting traditional stereotypical gender roles, and a problem
in workplace equality as it consolidates an inferior position
for women in terms of pay and career opportunities. It also
leads to men opting out of parenting/caring in the domestic
environment, as they enjoy the role of breadwinner while the
woman juggles home and work responsibilities.
A different way of looking at it is that with
women having a longer tradition of part-time and flexible
working, they have been better able to adapt to life in the new
economy, and the decline of manufacturing industries. In
de-industrialised areas men who have worked in traditional
industries like mining and engineering have often found it
harder to find work than women, who have been more willing to
accept work with fewer hours - and lower pay, no doubt.
The problems of lower conditions of service has
been largely addressed by the Part-time Working Regulations (in
the UK - similar legislation applies throughout the EU). These
require that par-time workers should have the same rates of pay
as full-time workers doing the same kind of job, and the same
entitlement to holiday entitlement, training and benefits on a
pro rata basis.
For employers, part-time work has many
attractions, particularly in terms of retaining the skills and
experience of (usually female) workers who want or need to
reduce their working time. A perceived downside may be that it
is a greater management task to supervise more people doing a
full-time equivalent role. ON the other hand, 2 part-time
workers are often more productive than one full-time one.
Jobshare is a particular structured form of
part-time working, where a job is shared between 2 people. It
could in principle be more than 2, but examples of this don't
leap out at you, and one would expect the coherence of the job
would begin to disintegrate with more than 2 people involved.
Models for this vary. A 50:50 split is common,
but other variations are possible. Some employers find it best
that both workers have at least one day in common, so that the
baton can be passed on more effectively, with the jobsharers
able to pass on necessary information and brief each other on
current tasks and issues.
Some jobshares, however, may involve a more
rigid distinction of skills, so the overlap in tasks may be
Formal jobshare arrangements are still
comparatively rare, less than 1% of the workforce. But they are
becoming more common, particularly in the public sector, or at
least the principle of allowing it.
Have you noticed how much less congested roads
are at rush hour during the school holidays? The common wisdom
is that it's all these environmentally-unfriendly parents not
driving their kids to school that makes the difference. But that
doesn't explain why I can get a seat on the 7.45 train to Kings
Cross during the holidays.
No, the fact is that far fewer people go to work
altogether during the school holidays - and not just teachers.
There are two reasons for this: many parents (either together or
individually) time their holidays with the school holidays, or
parts of them; and secondly, there are large numbers of people
taking unpaid leave during the holidays.
A term-time working contract will specify the
amount of holidays - around 9 or 10 weeks - and may stipulate
that paid holiday leave should also be taken during the school
holiday period. Together these should add up to at least the
normal 13 weeks of school holiday.
There are clear advantages in terms of
ordering one's domestic life. But there may be problems of
continuity and cover for the employer, balanced by the reduced
costs of employment and the capacity to recruit and retain
skilled staff who have caring responsibilities. For the
individual, there is the risk of intrusion during the periods of
unpaid leave, particularly if the role involves responsibility
or specialist skills and knowledge.
flexible retirement is discussed in more detail in another
Flexibility article. There are no particular reason,
other than habit and bureaucratic ease, why there should be a
time in life where one day you're working flat out, and the next
day you have no work at all.
For some people such a clear-cut end-point to
working life may be highly desirable. For many it is not. Either
side of this divide - which is both institutional and
psychological, many people want to work, but work a reduced
number of of hours. The format of the work schedule may vary:
almost any of the flexible work options can be tailored to a
reduced total amount of hours.
The two major reasons for currently low uptake
are financial disincentives (both lower pay and tax issues), and
a mindset that sees older people taking on menial tasks at the
sunset of their careers - the "light duties" job opportunity
that ends "would suit active pensioner".
Most older workers would probably continue to do
the work they are good at - and it is in employers' interest to
retain the skills and experience of their older workers, whether
on a part-time or intermittent basis.