Part time workers

When the latest employment statistics were released last week, with the lowest level of unemployment since 1974, there was a bit of commentary about the increase in part tme workers:

“Most of January’s labour market growth was in part-time jobs which grew by 34,600 to 3.043 million while full-time employment slumped by 7,800 to 7.588 million. RBC Capital Markets senior economist Su-Lin Ong said that as the participation rate peaked, businesses struggling to find staff were more inclined to put on more part-time workers.”

I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time chatting to fellow parents (mothers and fathers) about their struggle to find good part time work. The lucky ones have managed to parlay whatever full time role they had pre children into a part time job with the same level and responsibilities. The unlucky ones have, for various different reasons, ended up with part time jobs at a much lower level than the full time equivalent jobs they were capable of. In many cases, this wasn’t because the job couldn’t be done part time, it was because it was too hard for whoever was managing it to blaze a trail through the organisation and its beauracracy

There are many reasons, from an employer’s perspective, that a fulltime worker is superior to an equivalent part time worker. There is no restriction on meeting times. The fulltimer can more easily supervise other fulltimers.  The rest of the organisation, and the way in which work is traditionally divided, works around fulltime. Part timers require more imagination, and a bit more management time (proportionately).

But, also from an employer’s perspective, the unlucky part timers from my friends above are a fabulous resource. Where else can you find people who are mostly happy to work at a job significantly below their skill level (and therefore do it superbly well) without the disadvantages of ambition and resentment that usually accompany a full timer performing below their skill level?

In my optimistic moments, I think that the employers who have been forced by the low levels of employment that we have at the moment to experiment with employees who don’t necessarily fit the ideal employee mould (spending all their waking hours thinking about or at work) will realise that offering part time roles can significantly expand your skill base.

I know in my own organisation, in areas where there a big skills shortages, we are actively exploring all sorts of different ways of offering flexibility to people. The smart employers will be the ones who keep doing it even as the skill shortages stop being quite so acute.

  2 comments for “Part time workers

  1. JenniferV
    February 20, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Not to mention the straightforward equation that one part-time employee is better than no employee at all in that role. And in a full-employment economy, that’s what the equation’s going to be.

  2. February 21, 2008 at 8:43 am

    We do work quite hard at supporting part time work but in some contexts, it is a bit of a struggle to work it out. The main thing one has to work at is making sure that people aren’t left out, which is what tended to happen to supermum when she returned to work after our first on a three day week. Decisions would get made without her which she’d find out about weeks later – and she’s was managing people – and the responsible parts of her job would get mysteriously redistributed without her being consulted. The usual 🙁
    I have to observe that the most effective of our senior managers does it on a rigourously managed 4-day week – nothing eats into that fifth day.

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