PART-TIME AT LAST? No greater departure from the industrial model of full time work exists than the provision of less than full time schedules with prorated benefits and equal opportunities for advancement. The conflict between old models and habits and the needs of millions of working mothers entering the workforce over the last two decades is one of the great unresolved tensions in today’s workplace.
It is fair to say that this challenge is one contributor to the unprecedented departure of millions of women from the workforce during the pandemic, and their reluctance to return as conditions improve. In the search for explanations of this phenomenon, many cite the lack of child care, health concerns and insufficient wages. Far less attention is being paid to the experience of millions of remote workers who found that full time work could be done very effectively on what amounted to reduced schedules. Employers who pursue the forms of part-time may yield major talent rewards. The options include:
Regular part-time One of the little noticed facts of today’s workplaces and workforces is the explosion of what is referred to as the gig economy. Fully one-third of American workers – approximately 57 million people – have chosen insecure positions without benefits to do a broad range of tasks on a less than full-time basis with the flexibility that meets their needs.
Employers have failed to recognize that it is possible to offer a broad range of part-time schedules that give employees the flexibility they demand and that get the job done well and affordably. Just as longstanding tradition and deeply embedded habits stood in the way of embracing the potential of remote work, part-time schedules have suffered the same fate. Tomorrow’s successful employers will abandon old ways and take advantage of the many gains part-time can offer.
Job sharing Decades ago there was a strong belief that part-time could work in hourly and low skill environments, but not in professional roles. Job sharing emerged as a way to split professional roles between two people, most often women. Typically schedules, compensation and benefits were shared 50/50 and the division of labor was determined by the participants – equally shared duties, tasks based on differential skills, etc. The job sharing pair managed the arrangement and relationship with the manager.
There were many advantages with this option, which usually worked well. Often the pairs brought complementary skills to the position, covered for each other’s absences and avoided the stress and burnout of full-time work. It remained a rare option often due to the perception that it created extra work for managers or was essentially just another form of the less than popular part-time work. In the current climate, given a renewed interest in options that offered enhanced work-life balance, companies might consider promoting this model.
Phased Retirement We address this option in the “Retiring” section of this website. In essence the various forms of phased retirement are part-time schedules. The combination of this fact and the strong bias against aging workers may account for the limited acceptance of this very promising form of flexibility. As we argue on the site, emerging challenges in the labor market may drive greater acceptance of this option by creative employers.