I want to work part-time in order to bring a sense of balance back into my life. There may never be enough hours in the day, but you can at least reclaim some time for yourself by disregarding society’s expectations and opting to take on less paid work than you’re capable of doing.
As part of my quest to go part-time, I have to choose the right type of schedule, since there’s obviously more than one way to work part-time.
The following pages weigh the pros and cons of different approaches to interspersing work and life (e.g. taking sabbaticals vs. having a shorter workday).
Truncated Workday (fewer hours per day)
This one is simple. Do you work 8 hours per day? Decrease that number to 6 and you’ll have a truncated workday that nets you around 475 fewer work hours per year (equivalent to an extra 3 months of vacation, assuming 8 hour days).
If there is a need for you to be present for every workday (e.g. answering calls or adjusting daily schedules), the main advantage to this approach is that you don’t have to miss a single day of work.
Even though you’re commuting, if you have flexibility in your timing, you can likely avoid either the morning or evening rush hour (ideally both!) if you shorten your workday. Note that “rush hour” in this context refers to the daily ritual of enormous traffic jams, not the
hilarious movie series starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
The best part of the morning rush hour won’t even be that you’re not stuck in it. The best part is that you might even be able to sleep through most of the traffic (or at least spend some of the time in your pajamas).
All this adds up to a leisurely (and consistent) lifestyle.
Unfortunately, if you’ve got an annoying commute (even when it’s not rush hour), this option does nothing to lessen the number or frequency of commutes. If the environmental impact of commuting concerns you, this is not ideal.
Since you’re still working the same days, this option gains you nothing as far as vacation flexibility. Want to take a month off? Truncating your workday won’t help (and if you already can take a month off, just do it already and worry about going part-time later).
The biggest concern here, however, is that you might not ending up working less at all. If you’re an information worker or otherwise always connected to email, there will be a strong urge to do a little extra work outside of your scheduled six hour window (especially since your coworkers probably won’t notify you of problems until after you’ve left the office). You will need to have strict work boundaries to make a shortened day worthwhile.
Part-Time (fewer days per week)
Anecdotally, working fewer days per week is most people’s definition of part-time work. Working just one day less per week equates to nearly 2.5 months of additional vacation time.
Given its pervasiveness, you will have no trouble finding information on what it’s like to work fewer days per week and your employer may already have policies in place.
Not sure if it’s coming through in my writing, but I hate commuting. I truly do. For me, part of the allure of working fewer days per week is that I wouldn’t have to commute as frequently. Spend less on gas and reduce your carbon footprint while unlocking your true potential outside of work. How great is that?
Speaking of great, remember the last holiday that landed on a Monday or Friday? Aren’t three-day weekends magical? Now imagine having a three-day weekend every weekend. I don’t even feel a need to include a hyperbolic sentence gushing over how delightful that would be.
In practical terms, you’ll still be working the same number of weeks and months, so taking, say, every Friday off can be an easy sell to management if you work on long-term projects where you can’t easily be replaced for large swaths of time.
Unfortunately, since you’re working the same weeks, you don’t really unlock any new, large, contiguous blocks of time for traveling. Of course, if you’re a homebody (or already satisfied with a couple weeks off per year), you might not care.
Similar to the truncated workday, the biggest drawback to not working on certain days is that your coworkers (or, even worse, your boss) might try to twist your arm into working on your day off. You have to hold firm and not accept part-time pay for full-time work. Sure, it’s ok to answer a quick email or two, but if you feel the urge to start typing on a physical keyboard, stop and remind yourself that you’re not getting paid and you need to treat this non-work pseudo-holiday with the gravitas it deserves.
Unpaid Vacation (fewer weeks per year)
Although it can be difficult to negotiate for additional paid vacation, your employer may be much more amenable to piling on a bit of unpaid vacation. A month of unpaid vacation per year seems like a good starting point.
If traveling is your goal, standard vacation policies (especially American ones) may be the bane of your existence. Your salvation can be unpaid vacation. Imagine being able to squeeze in 4 extra one-week trips per year.
Or maybe you just want to add a ton of three, four, or five day weekends. Flexibility is where extra vacation time shines (often literally, because hopefully you’re not going to travel somewhere cloudy and gray).
Sadly, many employers view paid and unpaid vacation very similarly since either way you’re no longer under their watch. This leads to some corporations being very stingy with unpaid vacation, choosing only to dole it out in extreme circumstances (at which point you probably just need the time to make sense of your world).
Some workplaces are even in the habit of boasting that you can take as much vacation as you want, as long as you don’t feel guilty about leaving your coworkers with your incomplete work. Although I haven’t seen a generic study, it seems employees at Netflix (which has an unlimited vacation policy) take vacation roughly in line with the prevailing allotment in their industry (which you probably perceive as inadequate or you wouldn’t be reading up on going part-time).
The last and most insidious aspect of unpaid vacation is that it may be hard to negotiate enough of it. Compare asking your manager for a part-time schedule where you don’t work Fridays (sounds reasonable) versus asking for an extra 2.5 months of unpaid vacation every year (I can hear bosses chafing at this). Both result in a similar amount of total time off, but the former part-time option sounds much more sensible (from management’s perspective) than the latter request from some lazy, entitled, ungrateful (their assumption, not mine) Millennial.
Seasonal Work (fewer months per year)
Maybe you work in hospitality and can find temporary work during the busy season or you’re an accountant who only shows up around tax time. Each season you don’t have to work equates to roughly three months of bliss.
Seasonal work is
readily available in certain fields. If it is available to you and you desire more free time, this is likely the simplest and best option for you.
If you have children, there is sometimes even the option to synchronize your time off with the school year. Imagine being an adult, earning money, but still getting to take every summer off, just like when you were a little kid. Try not to play video games all day, every day, though.
The flip side is that seasonal work is basically unattainable in industries that are unfamiliar with the concept.
Even if you can land seasonal work consistently, you will have to watch your cash flow carefully during your “down” months.
There is also the minor possibility that the “busy” season won’t align with your own subjective opinion of when you’d like time off, so you’ll end up being bored instead of living it up.
Sabbaticals (fewer years per decade)
Although technically sabbaticals are for college professors and other professionals who (allegedly) require time to deeply explore new ideas and, er, innovate, the concept of taking an intra-career “gap year” is gaining momentum.
Taking a year off every seven years is one promising approach.
If you’re lucky enough to have a sabbatical option available to you at work, by all means take it! Like, yesterday! If you can take a few months or even a year off and still have a job guaranteed when you get back, that is arguably one of the best benefits an employer can offer. Be grateful for it. And use it.
Even if your employer furrows its brow at the unfamiliar term, you can create your own sabbatical if you have the courage to quit your job, with the confidence that you’ll be able to get a new job next year. It’s a scary proposition, but if you’re employable and have valuable skills, the reality is that this option is available to you (and you probably won’t regret using it).
If you’re on a sabbatical, you are effectively untethered. Want to travel around in an RV? Go globe-trotting and kayak with miniature hammerhead sharks? Nothing (you can afford) is off limits.
And while you’re on the road, (similar to retirement)
there is no rule saying that you can’t earn extra money while funemployed. Maybe experiment with a new small-time business. Or just think really creative thoughts (possibly in, say, Washington or Colorado).
Just make sure you’re financial footing is solid before voluntarily losing your earned income for a year (or possibly longer if your sabbatical ends in the midst of a major recession and you struggle to find a new job). Although
most modern Americans sport a dismal savings rate, if you are able to methodically stash away money during your non-sabbatical years, covering expenses for 1 – 2 years should be achievable.
Sadly, the amount of time that must pass between sabbaticals needs to be long enough that employers aren’t wary about hiring you at the end. This usually means you have to limit sabbatical frequency to at most every 4 – 6 years. This sounds perfectly easy to many people, but if you spend 8 hours per day staring at a computer, 4 years looks like a long time (8,000 hours, give or take).
One last, often overlooked downside to sabbaticals is that, when you’re not working, all the extra vacation becomes commonplace to the point that you might just adjust to this “new normal” and forget that you’ve been looking forward to this time for the past 5+ years. In other words, you may suffer from hedonic adaptation. As ridiculous as it sounds, “treat yourself” is actually sage advice when applied occasionally.
Now to choose…
Now for the hard part: deciding which option fits your desires and circumstances best.
If you’ve ever considered part-time work, please leave a comment describing which option is most appealing to you. Other options and critiques are, of course, always welcome.