SHOULDN’T WE STOP CALLING IT 'PART-TIME'?

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By Ellie Barker

It was only when a very good friend of mine said it out loud it occurred to me: ‘What exactly is ‘part’ about part-time?’

My friend, like me, is a part-time worker, she works four days a week as a lawyer. But, as she declared one night in the pub: ‘I don’t work ‘part’ of the time, I don’t do ‘part’ of a job. I am often working for more time than I am paid, so why is it called part-time?’

There we were all huddled, a group of mums in the local (a little too late for a school night with a little too much of the house white consumed) but her words made perfect sense. The statement was met by several rounds of ‘Hear Here!’ and much hand-slamming on the wobbly table followed by the raising of our part-full glasses to her.  

Was she making a valid point? Juliet Turnbull, Founder and CEO of 2to3days.com, a website matching mothers looking for part-time work with employers, believes we are in the middle of a social and economic crisis. Companies, she says, are lacking talented, hardworking people while there is a hidden talent pool of mothers who believe working part-time in an established career isn’t an option.

However, the good news is she believes this is changing slowly. Many large companies are trying to embrace the idea of mothers working two to three days a week. Juliet believes the media focuses on the negatives of this country and while the UK is not yet as good as The Netherlands, Sweden or Denmark where flexible working is the norm for most, she insists we are much better than some other countries and we are getting better. But this is a huge culture change which she warns is a very slow process.

The problem is language, she believes, and I can hear my friends back in our local pub chanting their ‘hear heres’ once more. There’s a perception that if someone works ‘part-time’ they are only partially committed, which is simply not true. Mothers who have made the commitment to work two or three days a week are incredibly hardworking and focused. ‘In my experience, it is the full-time workers you will catch shopping online or looking at Facebook. These mothers have fewer days to their best job. We must stop measuring value by ‘being present in the office’ and look at productivity instead.’

So what should you do if you feel you are being overlooked or undervalued because you are not in the office five days a week? These are Juliet Turnbull’s golden rules:

Be honest

There is not enough honesty. Bosses cannot help if they don’t know exactly what you want. But you also have to be honest with yourself - what do you really, really want? Do you want that promotion which involves longer hours and travelling away from your family? Or would you rather work remotely two days a week so you’re free to do homework with the kids?

Be realistic

Some jobs simply need to be done five days a week. You may not be able to ‘have it all’ but what about ‘having both?’ Yes, you may do a slightly smaller job, but you get to be the mum you want to be too. What is so wrong with that?

If you really feel you are unable to progress in your company, look around. Many firms have now realised they only need someone to do a job two or three days a week so why pay them for five? 

Know the difference between office banter and bullying

If you feel someone is bullying you because you work part-time, report it.

Be optimistic

We have a government which wants mothers to work and many companies are doing what they can to change the culture. Juliet’s company has people asking her to give them talented, hard-working people – these are in short supply in the work force. They are so desperate they will make a job to fit them.

As for my lawyer friend, she no longer calls herself a part-time worker. She prefers to say she works ‘reduced hours’ instead. She, like Juliet, also believes the working world is changing but we all have our part to play.

‘Life is too short to be miserable’ she declared, once she'd made her decision. And we all raised our part-full glasses to that. 

What's been your expereince when it comes to flexible working?