When Did Part-Time Working Become Normal?

By Inspiring Interns

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What’s the deal?

Part-time working is on the up. A recent study by Timewise, a flexible working campaign group, shows that one in six of employees earning £40k or more work fewer than five days a week – a rise of 12% over the past two years. ONS data indicates that 8.5 million people now work part-time in the UK, with far more wishing they did.

One of the arrangements currently booming is the job share. The Power Part Time 50 – that is, Timewise’s list of the most influential part-timers in UK business – includes nine job sharers.

And the trend extends to all sectors. Even the Army, RAF and Royal Navy are now offering part-time work. Although the scheme will doubtless save the Ministry of Defence millions of pounds, it offers numerous benefits to employees to: reduced risk of front-line deployment, flexible hours and increased family options.



So why the sudden popularity? According to Timewise’s Karen Mattison, the financial crisis is partly to blame. Following the 2008 crash, she claims, many people cut down their hours in order to convince companies to keep them on. The result was a communal realisation that part-time work is not only viable but desirable.

On a more basic level, part-time arrangements have the potential to benefit both employer and employee. The latter gains increased autonomy, freedom and, in the case of new parents or carers, the flexibility necessary to provide for their family. Employees that work time are happier, more productive and more in-tune with their own wants and needs – after all, they have the time to pursue them.

Similarly, offering reduced hours is one of the most powerful things a company can do to boost employee happiness, reduce absenteeism and minimise turnover. It can save the business not only money but time. And, because workers are fresher when they are at the office, they’re more likely to work to full capacity. Result.


Isn’t part-time frowned upon?

By some people, yes – though not nearly as much as it used to be. The reality of working part-time is that you won’t spend as much time in the office as others. Colleagues may resent your sweet deal, you may not be first in line for that promotion and you may be at increased risk of not being taken seriously by future employers.

While requests for part-time work seem to be par for the course from mothers – still often the care providers of the family – they have historically been seen as less acceptable in males. A 2014 case where Erik Pietzka, an employee at PwC, was refused flexible working while his female colleagues were granted it has helped pave the way for male part-time working. These days, more and more men are employed on a part-time basis – although they still only make up 10% of the Power Part-Timers!


How can I work part-time?

Hannah Pearce, head of external affairs at Age UK, says of requesting job shares: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Historically, companies have been shy about granting part-time work requests. The most common arguments involve ‘company culture’ – i.e. whether other workers will be jealous – and concerns about output.

This, however, is changing. Statistics and research increasingly show a correlation between part-time work and productivity. A recent trial by Swedish businesses proved that, although potentially expensive, reducing workers’ hours results in greater output when they are around.

As the working world undergoes a gradual culture change, companies are switching on to the power of the part-timer. Float the idea with your boss informally first. If the response is receptive – though not necessarily enthusiastic – then you can proceed to put together a plan.

Be concrete in your requests and don’t be afraid to keep your reasons for part-time work to yourself. Present your proposition in writing, stressing your value to the company and what benefits your part-time work will grant it. Allow the higher-ups time to mull things over 

Never threaten to leave a job if part-time isn’t granted, even if it’s the reality of your situation. You want your bosses on side, not en garde. And if your employers still won’t play ball, it’s time to consider your own options.


Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.


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