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There are many benefits of promoting more part-time roles at all levels. We just need to change the way we view part-time working.
Our survey for National Older Workers Week shows a big appetite for working reduced hours, with 73% of those surveyed saying they want more work life balance. Adverts for part-time work fell during the pandemic as the industries worst hit were those with a high number of such workers, such as hospitality and retail. Remote working came to be seen as synonymous with flexible working whereas back in the 2000s it was part-time work.
So what is stopping employers offering more part-time opportunities or job shares [44% of those surveyed would consider a job share]? In large part it is because of the way part-time work is still viewed. We are still wedded to the idea of ‘full time’, although in a 24/7 culture one wonders what full time is. Full time is the gold standard, but perhaps for the industrial era rather than now when we have more people with caring and other responsibilities in the workforce and the care infrastructure is crumbling, when everyone needs to keep learning new skills across their lifetime because things are moving so fast and where the population is rapidly ageing.
Cranfield School of Management did some research on part-time work and how Covid impacted that. The researchers were interested to find out if flexible furlough – where workers could claim some furlough, while returning on reduced hours during the pandemic – would make managers more confident about managing part timers. They found that it did. Now we need to capitalise on that and help managers have the skills and confidence they need to manage all types of workers. In that way we can abolish the old-fashioned hierarchy of different ways of work and normalise flexible approaches.
Can we afford it, however? The workingwise.co.uk survey shows 66% of older workers said they would like to reduce their hours, but 41% can’t afford to. Part of the problem is the lack of career progression for part-time workers and the lack of more senior part-time jobs that are well remunerated. Another issue is whether we need to introduce a Universal Basic Income for those who need it to keep working.
We have also seen a lot of experimentation with the four-day week where people get paid full-time wages for working less. The idea is that the desire for more time outside work will motivate workers to be more efficient and more productive. So far it seems to work for many of those who are piloting it. We spoke recently to a law firm who successfully brought in the four-day week in early 2020 and are constantly looking for and incentivising ways to improve the way they work. There are a lot of time savings to be made, from reducing or getting rid of unnecessary meetings to using technology to streamline different ways of working. Working parents know better than most how to be time efficient. It used to be called juggling, until that got a bad rep, but it’s really more about going from A to B, but managing to incorporate C, D and E en route. Anything to get more quickly to the moment you can sit down and relax.
Part-time work has a lot of benefits for the kind of workforce we now have. Many people – me included – work full time, but by doing a variety of part-time jobs. That gives greater flexibility, but also greater variety keeps people motivated and it can be very creative – ideas from one job percolating into the other.
It’s really just about shifting our mindsets and moving away from old-style ways of thinking about work. If we can do that, the opportunities are many.