In my not-so-humble opinion, if you are earning enough from your full-time job to pay your expenses and save for retirement (ideally an early one), it makes sense to consider cutting back on your work hours. If you’ve ever dreamed of an early retirement where you travel the world, indulge in hobbies, and spend time with family and friends, consider part-time work as taking an advance on your eventual retirement. It’s morbid, but remember that you’re only one lightning strike or shark attack away from never being able to cash in on that dream. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and all that.
If you’re convinced that you need to cut back on work (even if temporarily), you need to choose the most appropriate path to get you there. The following pages consider several disparate options for taking control of your work hours (with the goal of decreasing them in the long term). Note that this is a comparative view of benefits and drawbacks for various options and not a how-to guide for landing these types of gigs.
Option #1: Go part-time in your current role
Whether this means asking your boss if you could stop coming in on certain days, weeks or months, or applying to new jobs that have the same type of responsibilities, just with reduced expectations around when you’ll be working, going part-time (or snagging a desirable job share) is the most obvious solution.
If your employer (or prospective employer) has rules and processes around part-time jobs, you can read about the policies and get an understanding of exactly how everything will work. This clarity is very compelling as compared to other options explored here (as will likely become obvious).
If you’re lucky enough to be able to stay on the same team, you also don’t even have to worry about moving desks, meeting a whole new crew, or proving yourself yet again (even though you’re going part-time and likely don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone). I would also assert that any company that allows you to go part-time with a minimum of hassle is probably a great place to work, with progressive views on work-life balance.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that a switch to fewer hours is, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly minor change. If your manager or your employer eventually gets spooked (or, more likely, some new VP takes over your division and dislikes anyone who works less than him or herself), it is likely that you can undo this decision (although if you’ve grown accustomed to a laid back part-time role, going back to full-time might be a deal-breaker).
Despite documented benefits on productivity of a shorter workweek, many companies and fields have a negative view on part-time employment. Large corporations are all about maximizing productivity per dollar spent, rather than preventing burnout or maximizing employee well-being. Part-time work therefore is not always even an option.
If your request to go part-time gets shot down, there is a certain stigma associated with having even asked for what you want (as ridiculous as that sounds). Maybe yesterday you were a real go-getter, rising quickly through the ranks, but now that you’ve publicly considered working less, it’s clear you’re just a lazy slacker. This perception may impact your career prospects.
Speaking of career, even if your request is approved, it will likely put a damper on your career and salary growth. Ideally, you’re not in it for the money, so this won’t bother you, but it is the reality of working to live, rather than the other way around.
If most of your new (or existing) teammates work full-time, be prepared to, well, prepare them for your regular absences. Make sure your calendar shows you as “out of the office” every day you won’t be around and always double-check every meeting request against your planned availability. You might even have to occasionally answer questions on your day off.
Above all else, strongly consider the possibility that you will be tricked into accepting part-pay instead of part-time. Anecdotally, some fields are notorious for allowing people to go part-time while still assigning them the exact same amount of work and responsibility that they had when working full-time. If this happens, get out as fast as possible (whether that means quitting or going back to full-time is up to you).
Note that if you’ve gotten used to a comfortable set of benefits, it’s possible that, if you go too low in hours (assuming there isn’t some minimum threshold that is shockingly close to 40 hours per week), you may end up losing some of those cushy benefits. Pay particular attention to health insurance if you live in a certain large North American country.
Option #2: Work remotely
Modern technology allows many workers to complete the bulk of their tasks with nothing more than a computer or phone and an Internet connection. While not nearly as widespread as it should be (given the numerous societal benefits), every day new options for remote work seem to crop up.
Without a doubt, the biggest benefit to remote work is that of location independence. This may be a very liberating feeling. For once, you can finally choose a different climate than the one that permeates your employer’s headquarters. Or what if you have family that lives on the other side of the country? Maybe now you can live closer to them and see them more frequently.
You also don’t have to worry about rush hour traffic or (ideally) even maintaining a car just to ferry you to and from a place you may not even enjoy that much. If commuting makes people “unhappy and anxious,” wouldn’t it be great to just avoid it entirely? On the whole, I’d say personally say that I disliked commuting more than actually working (and, often, more than anything else I can think of). If you are like I was previously and driving alone, it may irk you that you’re contributing to environmental destruction and the eventual displacement of millions due to climate change. And that should irk you! Killing the commute is arguably a moral imperative.
It’s far from certain, but I have a suspicion that employers that allow (or even encourage) remote work are simply better employers. Given the clear benefits of remote work, any progressive corporation should be pushing remote work as hard as they’re pushing healthcare cost-saving physicals and exercise incentives. If you find a remote-friendly employer, you’ve likely found an enlightened workplace.
Sadly, some jobs just aren’t amenable to remote work. If you need to monitor progress in person or work on any physical structure, remote work is likely not an option.
Even if remote work is an option, if you’re the only one on your team who works remotely, it can be an isolating experience. All those serendipitous hallway conversations and impromptu meetings? Yeah, you will probably miss those. Worse than missing out, there is the problem of perceptions. I have heard that, when working remote, employees often feel a need to prove themselves more because their efforts (sadly) aren’t as visible when compared to people sitting at their desks for marathon stretches of allegedly focused work. Don’t fall prey to your insecurity and end up working more just because you’re working remotely!
If you are going remote, try to find a team that is all remote so that you’re on a level playing field (not because this is a competition, though it very well may be, but because you don’t want to be constantly frustrated at frequent mis- and non-communications).
Note that if you have a provisional remote work agreement, it’s possible that shakeups in your company could cause your job to get “recalled” to HQ, as apparently happened at Yahoo. While I would consider this as a sign that you should start looking for a new job, the risk of having to find a new job for basically no good reason is a concern with remote work at more traditional and conservative MegaCorps.
Option #3: Become an independent consultant
Consulting is the shortest path from full-time employee to self-employment. You generally work as an independent contractor on short- (or shorter-) term projects.
If you already have a professional network, especially including managers that love working with you, you may already have a potential client base for consulting. Although your reporting and business structure are completely reconstructed, the work that you end up doing could be very similar to what you’ve been doing all along.
Since you don’t report up through your (now former) employer, you sometimes aren’t beholden to their rules around how many hours you must work. If this option is available, you can tune your level of work until it fits in with your lifestyle, with full discretion over taking on additional projects. Once a contract is up, you also have the option to renegotiate for new projects, or just walk away. This amount of work freedom is a compelling aspect of consulting.
Consulting also generally pays more per hour than you could get as a full-time employee (although there are some downsides you need to consider, enumerated below). Additionally, since you’re running a business now, you often can open up a whole new world of business tax deductions. Even better, you may be eligible for a Solo 401k, which allows you to shelter more of your income from current-year taxes.
Consulting is liberating since you run your own business. But it is also oppressive precisely because you have to run your own business.
For one, you’ll have to purchase your own health insurance (assuming insurance is even available to you). Be prepared for sticker shock if you’ve never had to pay your own health insurance premiums in full.
You will also have the displeasure of learning the ins and outs of business taxes. While there are enough options that you’ll likely be able to find significant savings, you’ll need to sort through all of those options (or hire a professional) to wade through the sea of regulations.
In boom times, it will be tempting to take on too many contracts in order to pad your savings. Even if your goal is to free up time, contracting can easily turn into an all-consuming endeavor. As the business cycle chugs along, you’ll also need to be prepared for your income to fluctuate (or disappear) as the economic bears descend. This may result in you needing to travel more or relocate in order to secure replacement contracts.
Finally, you may be starting from my own current position of knowing nothing about how to get started consulting. I’m sure the basics are easy to learn, but it feels like almost an entire parallel skillset that I have never bothered to learn.
Option #4: Un-jobbing
Don’t let the new-agey, Millennial-sounding name deter you; un-jobbing is a viable path for your future. In essence, you take on a minimal amount of enjoyable work in order to make ends meet. Whether that means being a ski instructor or cycling gear reviewer, you take a passion and run with it (but not straight to the bank).
One major advantage here is that you start with a dream job. This instantly results in greater fulfillment and, frequently, lower stress.
If your chosen job is seasonal, that leaves plenty of time to travel and work on other non-paying hobbies.
If nothing else, you can walk away from the unusual work experience with the feeling of a college student wrapping up his or her semester abroad. The memories you make and goals you achieve are likely to be fondly remembered for the rest of your days.
Although possible, un-jobbing might be the least realistic option considered here. If your passion is investment banking, sure, you can probably find your dream job if you dedicate yourself (although probably at a steep price with respect to time). If your passion revolves around video games, good luck earning enough to get by. Odds are, your pay will be very low, so make sure you start with a strong financial footing, if possible.
Worse, you might start your new dream job only to discover that, to your horror, this dream job still involves dealing with morons (whether customers or unfriendly coworkers). Although I truly hope this isn’t the case, the role you’ve been pining over may end up being significantly less glamorous (or even laid back) as you had cheerfully imagined at first. Hopefully you didn’t have to move to take the job.
The sad truth is that, the cooler the job and the lower the barrier to entry, the more competition there is, and this depresses wages, sometimes even to the point that there are no wages and only volunteer positions exist. While volunteering may be a worthwhile leisure pursuit, it cannot replace your income.
Option #5: Start a (very) small business
If you have that elusive entrepreneurial spirit and you see a gap in existing markets where you can create value, you may be tempted to strike out on your own and start a new business, hopefully with an eventual plan to automate most of the day-to-day operations so that you can maximize free time while still covering your expenses.
If you are able to, with low startup costs, take advantage of “market inefficiencies,” the good news is that there is no upside limit to your income. None! Although the statistics are against you, there is at least some small possibility that you will become truly wealthy through your own efforts.
Once the business is setup and you’ve got some automation in place (hopefully that was your plan!), you might be able to dramatically scale back your hours or outsource uninteresting tasks. This is freedom in its truest sense.
Similar to consulting, you may also be welcomed into the cushy world of business tax deductions. I don’t know a lot about how to maximize the benefits of business taxes, but wealthy Americans frequently seem to end up paying a lower tax rate than most full-time employees I interact with, so there must be something to it.
Even if you’ve got a great idea and a palette of amazing skills to work with, bringing your idea to life is often an enormous and draining task. Hopefully you can start from an existing “side hustle” or otherwise get on the fast-track to profitability. If you don’t have a clear (ideally market-tested) idea, you might be better served by some of the other options discussed above.
Similar to consulting, you also have to deal with the downsides of running a business: volatile income, having to learn about business taxes, etc. Throw in dealing with difficult customers and you’ll need an iron will to be successful.
More than just willpower, you need a substantial amount of time. Ideally, you’d enjoy the work more since you’re working for yourself, but sacrificing your current time in hopes of gaining additional freedom in the future is essentially what prompted me to explore alternatives to full-time employment in the first place. In other words, it’s possible all of this effort is an obstacle to freedom, rather than a path to it.
That’s all (for this particular list)
Those are all the major options that I personally considered when trying to imagine a realistic path from full-time employment to part-time employment (and part-time gentleman of leisure).
If there are other options or there are aspects I didn’t consider (or characterizations that you disagree with), feel free to leave a comment and we can collectively turn this into The Ultimate Guide to Part-Time Employment Options. Thanks!