Mar 22, 2012

Career: Part Time Vs Full Time Work

I've spent a good part of this blog fretting about how hard it is to combine child-rearing with full-time work (like here, and here, and here). Having gone to the brink of a nervous breakdown (though my husband would probably say I went right on over that brink), I am living proof that it is very very hard, or that I can't do it well. I still haven't decided which of those is more true.

You'll notice I don't say that combining full time work with parenting is "impossible". This is for two reasons. One, there are certainly many smart, capable and loving mothers out there who ARE doing it, and are doing it well and enjoying it. And two, no one likes to acknowledge it much, but it is just not possible for every parent who wants to, to work part-time.  Sometimes circumstances preclude it, such as:

  • being a single parent
  • tight job market (few part-time opportunities or too risky to leave/change your current job)
  • type of work makes part-time work difficult or less convenient than full time work (e.g., shift work, evening work)
  • unwilling employer
  • difficult family circumstances such as a sick or absent spouse
  • family debt too high to afford it

So I know I am not the only one who gets irked by magazine articles, books and the like which imply it is within reach of every woman to "re-prioritise" or "scale back". It just can't always be done.

Having said all that, I am currently (and temporarily) fortunate enough to be working part-time. Yay!! After what feels like so long working full-time and working very hard, I can still not quite believe in my new life. Don't get me wrong, I am loving it - but I am just too well aware that this cannot last forever. If nothing else, we will need to bring in more money to shore up our future family and retired life (to say nothing of the kids' education - shudder).

But for now, as my circumstances allow it (thank you redundancy!), and while I have a flexible and advantageous arrangement with an excellent employer, I am taking advantage and working part-time.

So here is what I believe to be true so far, about full time vs part time work.


Less money. Duh. Currently I am earning less than I was at my last job, even pro-rata. I would love to be earning more. But for now the job I have is wonderful, and it is worth it.

Less career. The holy grail - fulfilling part time work with a career path - remains elusive (at least for most). But then, even working full time if you are the woman leaving at 5 to pick up kids and unable to work extra without massive adjustments and personal impact, your career path is going to be limited anyway. On the other hand, don't dismiss all part-time work as dead-end work. Especially if you can work 4 days (instead of 2 or 3), there is no reason why you can't do most full-time roles.

Less interaction with co-workers. This is not a given but it stands to reason if you are working a 3 day week you will miss out on some team lunches, and you are likely to be working full-tilt during the short time you are in the office, which tends to cut down chit-chat and coffee meetings. But you might not give a toss.

Less (or no) paid leave. If you are contracting, there is usually no sick leave or annual leave. If you are working 2, 3 or 4 days, your entitlements are the matching proportion of full-time entitlements.

Less superannuation. Not a small thing, so don't dismiss this. Working part-time reduces your superannuation benefit considerably by retirement age.

More time for kids' activities and school, not just volunteering in classrooms (if you want to), and taking your kids to school, picking them up at 3.30 instead of 6pm - but even just the logistics of managing school notices, lunches, catching up with teachers, and other bits and pieces, are so much easier when you have some time (however little) at home during the week.

More time for home, including (obviously) your kids, but also personal admin, food prep, planning etc. The whole point of working part-time. A huge advantage for living an organised, calmer life, and one that offers some semblance of the work-life balance that the world's been wittering on about for the last 30 years.

On the other hand, it may involve...

Fewer breaks. If you work within school hours on weekdays for example, you might only be "working" 20 hours a week but from the time you get up to the time you go to bed, you don't stop (assuming you don't take a lunch break at work, because you're only there 4 hours). This can leave you as exhausted as before, with much less money for your efforts. The advantage of course is more time with the kids and being home in the afternoons - but it can still be hard.


Basically the opposite of all the above.

Studies seem to consistently show that most women would like part time work, and prefer this to either full time work or being home full time. Also, the way women (and increasingly men) work changes with different stages of their lives, including the age of their children.

What is your preference?
Have you been able to get it? 
Or have you learned to work without it ?


  1. Part time would be my preference, but, as you say, this arrangement is getting difficult to find.

    Here in Geneva, it's a UN city filled with spouses who can not break into the UN stream, irrespective of quals, experience, willingness etc. Some of my friends here study via correspondence or volunteer, but their partners are on very generous incomes.

    We are just scraping by, and I'd like to help more than just be the domestic dishrag. No part time work exists here, or, if it does, it gets handed on to friends or rellies and is never advertised. A fellow Aussie got a two day a week admin job last month. She's a qualified economist and said, "Yeah and it only took me five years and finally knowing someone."

    So, freelance writing for a pittance it is!

    1. Sounds frustrating Kath. So only another 4 and a half years to go before your foot's in the door? :-(
      On the flip side though it must be nice to have the time you have, with your current lifestyle. And at least you are getting to know lots of people, so that's all go to pay off eventually. :-)



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