Would You Work Part-Time if You Could?

Someone told me recently, “I work 10 hours a day and can barely keep up. I love what I do in my job, I just wish there were less of it.”

When I hear things like this I feel grateful that I am able to work part-time. I work 2/3 time and because I work evenings, weekends, and am always “on call,” the mid-week hours are more flexible. So I can take my kids to the park, or get my haircut in the middle of the day and avoid the rush. I don’t have to find time to squeeze in some exercise—it’s built into each and every day.

Yes, it’s challenging sometimes. There is a sense of “falling behind” career-wise. And as a friend and fellow PT pastor put it, “It’s hard, feeling like if you just had a liiiiiiittle more time to spend, this thing you’re working on could be REALLY great.” I knew what she meant. And I know part-time work is not economically viable for everyone. I choose to work part-time because I like it—it allows me to live a more well-rounded life—but I’m able to work PT because my spouse doesn’t. And I feel a pang of guilt when he pulls out of the driveway at 6:50 a.m. to beat the traffic to work, before the kids are even awake. (Getting them out of the house singlehandedly is no trip to the spa, mind you, but that’s another post.)

I hear people talking about what we’re learning from the economic downturn. Some of us hope there will be a resurgence in old-fashioned stuff like saving and living within one’s means. One thing I’m hearing again and again is that many of the jobs that are gone are not coming back. High unemployment could be with us for years. What are we going to do about it?

I’m wading into territory I know little about, but I’ve wondered whether we’ll see the rise of part-time work, and whether we can find ways to make that a healthy change and not just a “best we can do”  thing. There’s nothing sacred and eternal about the forty-hour work week. It became the national standard only in the 1930s, though its roots are much older. It was meant to protect workers from being forced to work too much, not to force them to work “enough.” Futurists in the last century predicted that labor-saving devices would allow us to work less and have much more leisure time, yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. We work more than the citizens of any other industrialized country and take much less vacation.

Could more part-time work be part of the answer? Churches all over the place are downshifting full-time staff positions to part-time ones, often with a great sense of shame. Of course these are people’s jobs we’re talking about. But I know folks who would work PT if they could—if they could work out the personal budgetary issues and if their workplace would let them. The person I quoted above would never dream of asking to work part-time because it would be seen as a lack of loyalty, or that the individual “can’t cut it.” If PT workers become more of a norm, maybe that reluctance would change.

Of course one of the major barriers is economic—would people make enough to live on? (That’s where the simplicity/saving stuff comes into play.) And we’d either have to make PT employees eligible for health insurance, or de-couple healthcare from employment (I favor the latter, but that too is another post.)

If the jobs really aren’t coming back… what will we do?

Would you work part-time if you could? And are there other barriers besides economics that stop you from doing so?

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18 thoughts on “Would You Work Part-Time if You Could?

  1. Teri says:

    I don’t even “have a family” but yes, I would work part time if it were a financially feasible situation. It would give more time for volunteering or checking out other community organizations, for exercise and cooking/freezing/maybe-even-canning, etc.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      And your comment brings out another complicating dynamic, which is the double standard that often exists for single folks and/or folks without children—that because you don’t “have a family” that you have all this time on your hands to OVERwork…

  2. Lee says:

    Such good questions, MaryAnn. I have often found myself feeling envious of part-timers lately, even though my full-time job is incredibly flexible. I think it must take a lot of discipline to do what you are doing.

    From a different angle, though – I wonder what more part-time workers would mean the organization/company. My church has one full-time staff person (me) and eight part-timers, all working at various levels of time. It often doesn’t seem very efficient – especially from the standpoint of having to manage and communicate with all of them. But maybe if we had two or three people who were all working 3/4 time, that would make more sense.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      (Side note) Yay! I have your blog address now! I’d been meaning to ask you for it…

      You bring up a very good point about coordination. 8 people! Whew! Tired just thinking about all that cat-herding 🙂

      And now having written all this, I got a call that someone is being taken to the ER, meanwhile I have to pick up Caroline from school… such is the messiness of ministry whether FT or PT…

  3. Kelly says:

    Haven’t read the whole thing yet, but absolutely!

  4. Kelly says:

    Read the whole post, and while I probably couldn’t do it as a classroom teacher (although I have heard of teachers job-sharing), I would go part time in a heartbeat. I would love to do reading and math enrichment – go in for a few hours a day and pull small groups to do cool things. Without any of the other responsibilities classroom teachers have. Yeah, I could do it.

    I would have to have another source of income, though. I couldn’t make it financially as a single person.

  5. Erin says:

    I was just having this conversation with a bunch of unemployed mothers of young children yesterday, only instead of working less, several want to work more. Unfortunately, the cost of part-time childcare, especially for more than one child, is prohibitively expensive. This truth is exacerbated by the fact that our pre-child careers weren’t particularly lucrative ones in the first place (social workers, youth ministers and teachers, in this case).

    There is also the sense among many part-timers I know that they are in constant danger of being sucked in by the full-time undertow. They end up working close to full time hours, but for part-time pay and benefits.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      I know that is rampant, because when I tell people that I work PT they almost always tell me their tale of woe that involves FT hours and no benefits and a lot of wink/nudge. I also know that exists because I lived it prior to seminary, though I went into the situation knowing it would be that way and felt that the chance to learn on-the-job before seminary more than outweighed the lack of money/benefits. I also ended up with a scholarship to seminary, partly because of that work experience.

      Here’s what I end up saying:
      “YES, true part-time ministry does exist.
      Yes, really.
      No, I mean it.
      OK, I’m just going to stop talking so you can get it out of your system.
      You done?
      OK. As I said, PT ministry exists because I’m doing it. And so are several other people I know.
      But that does not mean that every situation can work as a PT situation.”

      The last caveat is important. You can’t fit 60 hours of work into 30 hours without the entire system changing, and many churches/workplaces don’t want to do that adaptive work.

      I also think we are our own worst enemies. You CANNOT be a perfectionist and work PT. You just can’t.

  6. sherry says:

    I am a pediatrician and I have worked part time for the past 18 years.

    Most of the time, it has been the correct decision for me and for my family. Because I am in practice with my husband and because we are an independent practice, I have been able to rig my hours to accommodate my responsibilities and calling as a mom. And I do mean my CALLING to be a mom.

    But now, now that one child is gone and the other is “14 and just doesn’t need me around all the time” (his words)…..my practice is smaller than I would like and at times I am lonely at work.

    Certainly, between working part time and some of the rocks that life has thrown into the road in the past few years (ahem: Katrina, the sucky economy)….it is becoming very difficult to see where my career/job will go next…or if it is time to change careers completely.

    If I had to do it again, I would make the exact same decisions about work hours. My concerns are that by doing that I have removed the possibility of full time private practice in this community for my future….and I just don’t know what is next.

  7. Jules says:

    I worked a 20 hour week the from the time my oldest was 11 months old until I left for seminary when he was eleven years old and WG was “almost-eight”. It was the perfect balance.

    But, yes, I was able to because my spouse, the major bread winner, worked his tail off.

    Now that I am temporarily (I hope) out of the work force, we are able to cover the economic gap because he stayed working all those years and is now at the top of his professional game.

    If I could, I would do ministry 2/3-3/4 time now, if it is work I am *called to*. That for me makes all the difference. (But with PLUS loans hanging over my head, I might feel a little guilty about the economic bite.)

    And if you are fully called, why is that “underemployed”?

  8. NuevaCantora says:

    I mostly love my part-time (20 hours) arrangement. I definitely have days where I feel/know that such-and-such would be better if I had more hours to spend. But one of the things I love about my part-time ministry position is that it enables me to focus on the parts of ministry I love (chidren & youth) and to say no to things that suck up my time and aren’t part of my work. The cost for me seems to be a level of connection to folks who aren’t as directly involved in the programs I serve, which is hard.

    When I run into former parishioners or colleagues and tell them what I’m up to these days, many folks say “Oh, gee, I wish it was full time.” I usually smile and say “I don’t. I’m home with my daughter the rest of the time and its great.” Still, the message that I’m not living up to my potential is loud and clear, but right now, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      I’m so glad to hear from another pastor who is rocking the part-time thing and enjoying it (mostly).

      The unspoken message about potential you mention is why I put “underemployed” in quotes. I get that vibe from time to time as well.

  9. sherry says:

    I wonder if it is possible for people to acknowledge when we are “overemployed” with the same pitying looks…..

  10. I’ve actually been blessed with the opportunity to work part-time since just before Hunter was born. I supplement it with freelance web/writing work, Shawn’s school loans (and, truth be told, some help from help from both my and Shawn’s parents, who think it important that I be able to be with Hunter as much as possible at this age.)

    I don’t know if I *could* go back to full-time, after all these years.

  11. sko3 says:

    Yes. Before Selam I wanted to be part-time (3/4 time) in order to pursue interesting part-time work that wouldn’t include benefits. And with Selam, I want to be able to choose a part-time pre-school and have her truly attend it all the time without having day care where I have to take her out for doctor’s appointments all the time.

    As a single person, it’s the money but it’s also the benefits. There’s nobody else to insure us, so full time it is!

  12. I do, as of about a month ago when my daughter started kindergarten. I’ll point out my situation is different — I’m a software engineer, which means the financial hit isn’t as much (75% of a good salary is still a good salary, but I haven’t felt the effect of the cut yet). But it’s taking discipline to make it work — I have to set reminders and walk out every day, say no to afternoon meetings, depend on my teammates to handle urgent things that come up when I’m gone. It helps that I have to be at school to pick Josie up.

    I will point out that from the company’s perspective this is a *benefit* (and a way of keeping skilled mommy-types in their workforce) — it costs them more per hour (when you factor in benefits, which I do get) with me at 30 hours a week than it did at fulltime. (In other words, they don’t think of it as saving money.) In reality, I’m getting about 90% of my previous work done, so the cost-per-work should work out to be the same or lower.

    I do feel like it has/will affect my career — I’m considered to be less ambitious, and perhaps I am. I’d like to figure out how to be ambitious on 30 hours a week, but it requires more energy than I seem to have while pregnant or what I expect to have with a new baby and a 5 year old.

    I previously worked a very firm 40-hour week, but that made me the shortest-hour person on my team — in other words “full time” was considered slacking. (I don’t feel it affected raises, but it definitely affected promotions.)

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