Thursday, 3 September 2015

What part-timers want

I hear there are people out there who have successfully navigated being a part-time professional. I am not one of them. When J was 12 months I returned to work two days a week for ten months. J was fine in childcare; she didn't get too sick, she only cried a few times when I dropped her off and I had complete confidence she was happy there. The child wasn't the problem. Day care wasn't the problem. The problem was I was not prepared. I expected to just walk in and pick up where I'd finished up 12 months prior.

In hind sight, I should have known people would treat me differently because that's exactly what happened when I was pregnant. I remember being in the middle of a meeting trying to gain support for something and the only questions I got were, "So when are you due?" and "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" Even though I was still committed to getting things done at work the people around me had written me off.

My part-time role was essentially to work on a strategy and then implement it. This was exciting for me. It was something I'd been trying to do for several years in my full-time role but the business as usual work had kept getting in the way. I went in motivated and excited. 

On my first day I was told that rather than reporting to my line manager, I would be reporting to the woman who has been doing my role in my absence. In fact it wasn't even the person who had been doing it for twelve months, it was someone who had just started. I immediately felt like I had been demoted but I didn't want to rock the boat so tried to just accept the decision. As it turned out, my "replacement" felt even more awkward about this arrangement than I did and had actually approached the boss to reverse this decision so that we were on equal footing. She would get on with operations, I would get on with strategy. We would be peers. Good! I had an advocate. 

In the ten month period I was there I actually had three different managers. The only benefit of this is that I can now write about my three different experiences. 

After the initial hiccup of Manager One not wanting a part-time direct report, I thought he was going to be great. He actually apologised and admitted he hadn't really thought it through. He gave me some good direction to get started and then left it to me. At first I thought this was fantastic as my greatest fear had been that I would be expected to do five days' work in my two days. However, I soon began to feel like Milton from Office Space, being kept busy doing not much and pushed further and further into the corner. At one stage, I considered sending an email to everyone saying, "Hello, I've had a baby, not a lobotomy." Thankfully, before this was necessary there was a reorganisation.

Manager Two also didn't want a part-time direct report but this time there was no negotiating so I was back reporting to my "replacement." We were getting along well and together decided not to make a big deal of it because whether the manager liked it or not the nature of the work required her to be somewhat involved. She had greater expectations of me which was refreshing but I felt constantly like she was stalling my work rather than helping me get it done. This drove me slowly insane. It's frustrating enough when you feel like your boss isn't on your side but when you've only got two days to achieve something, this is pretty soul destroying. She left to go on maternity leave after a few months of us working together. I like to think that if we'd had more time together we could have worked it out but I pretty much achieved nothing in this period.

Manager Three was by far the most successful for me. I was still technically reporting to my "replacement" but this manager was interested in what I was doing and keen to get things done. I had an initial re-spark of motivation but in many instances her ideas were different to those of Managers One and Two and by this point I was a bit over it all.  Perhaps I should have realised that given the strategy had taken years to get off the ground and still not really happening, maybe it just wasn't supported.

In a strange twist of events, my "replacement" moved onto another role so I was back doing the operational work and actually officially reporting to the manager. Even though it was only for a few weeks, this period was by far the most rewarding time of my short part-time experience. I achieved things every day. I actually achieved things all week as I had someone reporting through to me who was fantastic. Well she didn't officially report to me because as you may have gathered the organisation had extreme nervousness regarding reporting lines and part-timers but she did a lot of work for me. It worked well. We talked about what might happen while I was away and agreed when there might be times when she would call me. I think this only happened once or twice and I was completely fine with it. I actually encouraged it. I'd much rather someone quickly check in with me on my days off work than have things go off the rails or stall entirely while I'm gone. I was finally doing a job that actually needed to be done and it felt really good. Unfortunately it all came to a crashing halt when the obstetrician basically ordered me to stop work for fear of the twins arriving early (which they did).

So despite a somewhat failed experience, at least I have learnt some things about what I want when I one day return to work again. 

1. Meaningful work. There is absolutely nothing worse than spending time doing something that you don't think is going to be used. Of course this is the case for everyone, but when you're part-time your time is more precious than ever.

2. A boss who is on your side. This seems quite obvious but for some reason it isn't always the case. I want to be successful at work and I understand this includes keeping my boss happy but I don't want to have to waste time selling myself to my boss. I just want us to have the same goals and work together to achieve them.

3. Respect from my colleagues. I'm not just a part-timer. I'm working hard at home all the time AND I work part-time. I don't expect additional respect to my full time colleagues but I do expect equal respect.

4. A supportive environment. Whether this comes from my boss, my peers or even my subordinates, to get things done well I will need support. I accept this. I am likely going to have to take sick or carer's days, go in late or leave early sometimes. This is my reality. To make this work, I need the people around me to be flexible and supportive. I need to be part of a functioning team.

5. To feel like I'm learning and developing. To be honest, when I used to think about being back at work whilst I was on maternity leave, I didn't think this would be important to me. I thought I would just want to go, do my job and leave. I learnt this wasn't the case. Even though work isn't my priority right now, I do still want to progress in my career. I don't expect to maintain the same career trajectory as when full time but I do hope to continue to learn and develop.

I don't think these five things are unreasonable. I think they're actually pretty similar to what full-timers want. It's just that I'm now fortunate enough to be in a position where I get to choose whether I work or not so I'm only going to choose to work if it's good. If I choose to work, I am choosing not to be with my children. I am choosing to accept the challenges which come with daycare; cost, stress of rushing in the morning, stress of dealing with overtired children in the evening, inevitable illness. I am choosing to fit what I currently do in seven days into four or five. Basically I'm choosing to add additional stress to my family. I'm only going to do this if the work is good. Really good.

So does anyone want to offer me a job?


  1. I love it Julia! You've hit the nail on the head. I'm sorry to hear you had such a rubbish experience. I realism now that although I've had some ordinary periods, I've really been very lucky working part time for the betier part of the past 6 years.

    1. Six years is awesome. Plus you've been studying too. I knew there were people out there making it work somehow.

  2. Hi Julia, I just found your blog via Linked In and can really relate! I love the way you've summarised what you want in paid work if / when you go back to it. All the best, Aisha