I’m a big proponent of part-time work (though I’m not the only one). But of course, that is coming from my perspective as a part-time work aspirant who desires more time for living and less time working.
On the other side of the table is the management of a publicly-traded corporation that is generally beholden to shareholders to generate profit. This article explores concerns from my employer’s perspective related to allowing one of its dear employees to work slightly less than is typically demanded.
Corporations’ primary concern is money (turns out it really is all about the Benjamins), so let’s address that concern first.
Each employee has a number of fixed costs associated with him or her: benefits, human resources, people management. Going part-time does nothing to lessen these costs and (thanks to different paper work) may even modestly raise some costs. In general, you would expect a part-time employee to produce less total output than a full-time employee, so your fixed costs are relatively higher when accounting for the additional workers required to maintain current output.
I see two ways to mitigate this concern. The first is to look at data and notice that part-time, less stressed employees are generally more productive per hour worked. Part-time employees also take fewer sick days (presumably since they have more time to rest when symptoms first appear). Most enticingly, part-time employees should also be expected to have a lower turnover rate because they don’t get burned out nearly as quickly, due to their lighter work schedules. The net result of all this is that an employee working 60% of full-time hours is likely to maintain more like (and I’m just making this number up) 70 – 80% of full-time productivity.
The second way to deal with management concern about fixed costs is to simply acknowledge the higher relative cost and adjust the proposed part-time contract to account for these costs. For example, if 10% of my total cost to the company is in the form of fixed benefits and I wanted to decrease my workload by 40%, I could just tack on an additional 4% pay cut and call it even. Obviously, this wouldn’t be my first suggestion (see above for that), but in the end, it’s all just paper.
Some jobs, whether reasonable or not, frequently have “fire drills” where urgent issues appear out of nowhere and (allegedly) require immediate attention. If I was managing a team and the local widget expert doesn’t work on Monday, I’d be very nervous about handling a widget crisis on a Monday.
The longer-term version of a work crisis is “crunch time,” where marketing promises collide with engineering reality. It is common for salaried employees to pitch in extra hours to get those widgets out the door in time for the vaunted holiday season. Again, not having that widget guru running at ludicrous speed during crunch time is worrisome.
How to assuage these concerns?
As far as the mini-crises that seem to crop up daily, the right solution (regardless of part-time status, since even full-time employees go on vacation and get sick) is to maintain backups. Not “backups” in the sense of data backups into the cloud, but in the sense of ensuring that, similar to the recipe for Coke, at least two people have a working knowledge of all areas and processes. If one half of that team is off work, the other half of that team can help. Note that there is no need to go overboard and require that the two employees are never located in the same building. If a plane crashes into the building and takes them both out, it will quickly become apparent how unnecessary the supposed widget crisis actually was.
Crunch time availability is a reasonable employer concern because it’s unlikely they could hire a new employee and get them up to speed in any realistic timeframe. Ideally, prudent planning will avoid a mad dash leading up to the holiday season, but my personal plan to deal with crunch time is to just embrace it and bump my schedule (temporarily!) back up to full time, assuming that crunch times remain few and far between.
Management of many corporations, despite all available data, often acts based on intuition, impulse, or even emotion. A request to go part-time may be seen as a definite sign that an employee is no longer engaged in his or her work. Even worse, the employee may just be trying to open up more time to broaden an ongoing, external job search or ratchet up moonlighting efforts that could birth a new competitor.
If you truly are disengaged, looking for another job, or otherwise planning to quit, there isn’t a lot I can say here other than: just tough it out. But if you mostly like your job and want to maintain you and your employer’s symbiotic relationship, be honest about it. Make it clear to management that you like your job. If you are being genuine and have good rapport with management, they should believe you. If they don’t, maybe you should start looking for another job because clearly your employer doesn’t trust you.
Ah, morale. A word I’ve only seen in two contexts: modern corporate workplaces and old timey descriptions of pirate ships run by cruel, peg-legged captains (“the beatings will continue until morale improves”). Why is it that only heartless overlords seem to concern themselves with morale? Oh right, it’s because they’re precisely the ones who will have to deal with morale problems the most often.
Hyperbole aside, employers are concerned with the possible contagion effect of part-time work. If an Fred’s peers witness the carefree way he walks into the office on Tuesday morning (the start of his work week), those same peers may want to follow suit, or just jealously grumble about it. It’s been said that white collar politics are so bitter precisely because the stakes are so low, and that description is, sadly, often accurate.
Although I acknowledge the potential viral spread of part-time work once people get drift of it, I won’t make any attempt to discount or explain away the possibility because I feel that part-time work is a righteous evolution of the workplace.
Jealousy, on the other hand, deserves some consideration. Realistically, preventive steps will vary widely from one situation to the next, but the key points to express and keep in mind are: 1) don’t boast about your financial situation or ability to handle a decreased income because it will cause others to question their own financial choices and possibly get upset, 2) the additional non-work time is required to meet important personal obligations (no need to explain that one such obligation may be to sleep more), and 3) you will do everything you can to ensure that the new arrangement does not increase everyone else’s workload.
In the grand scheme of things, I think part-time work is actually a good move for both employer and employee, but there are legitimate concerns that must be dealt with from employers’ perspectives.
In general, you should acknowledge these concerns and clearly articulate how you will mitigate potential problems. If you do a good job heading off the above concerns early, your chances of coming to a consensus with your employer that involves you working less will improve.
If you’ve gone part-time, especially if you faced opposition, I’d love to hear your story (and any concerns you personally had to deal with). Just leave a comment below. Thanks!