Since the Flexible Working Policy* was introduced in the UK in 2014, there has been lots of media coverage about flexible working, with headlines like ‘The workplace as we know it is changing’, ‘Employers offering more flexible working hours’ and ‘No more 9 – 5’. So when I recently considered a move from my current position (where I work 3 days a week), I could be forgiven for thinking that it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a professional position working similar hours, right? After all, I am an experienced and skilled UX Designer with a good CV, I’m 43 so I have many years of experience, I have worked for some well-known companies, I have common sense, good people skills, great references, you know – all the usual stuff a professional of my age could expect to have.
So I tentatively contacted a few recruitment agencies to get an idea of the opportunities out there. Believing it best to be up-front, I told them I was looking for a position working part-time, or to be more precise 3 or 4 days a week. I wasn’t quite prepared for the abrupt end to the conversation that this disclosure caused. I heard things like ‘To be honest, we don’t really get any part time jobs in this area, sorry’, or ‘Yeah, unfortunately this job needs someone who is really committed’ and the downright ridiculous ‘Have you thought about reception or secretarial work if you want to work part time?’ (Yes, someone really said this. Not that there is anything wrong with reception or secretarial work – but, really?).
To be honest I had already heard similar complaints from friends – educated, experienced professionals who were either struggling to find work after taking a career break to raise children, or who had managed to negotiate flexible or reduced hours with their current employer, but who now felt they were trapped, who felt they should be grateful that they actually had a part time job. The general feedback was that it was really difficult to find a new part time professional position.
I wondered if the blocker was the recruitment agents – after all, they would get less commission for placing a candidate in a part time role. So I tried applying for a few jobs without mentioning that I wanted (needed!) to work part time. I didn’t feel right about doing this as it went against my honest instincts, but I wanted to know if employers had the same attitude to part time work. So, by omitting this small piece of information I got past the recruitment agents and had an interview for every role I applied for.
But when I brought up the subject of part time hours directly with employers, they seemed to fall into two camps:
The first lot were open to the idea in principle, but struggled to comprehend how it would work in practice, citing concerns like it being difficult to plan meetings, what to do if a client wanted to get in touch on my days off, and how to manage holidays – all of which I knew to be easily solved issues. I was currently managing to ‘overcome’ these ‘difficulties’ fairly easily in my current role! Some suggested that maybe after working full time for a year or so, I could perhaps request to reduce my hours.
The other camp just looked confused when I mentioned part time hours, like it was an alien concept, and I quickly knew I would get nowhere with them.
It seemed that, despite the Flexible Working Policy, despite all the hype about flexible working in the media, there was a very real misconception about part time work. It seemed to imply a lack of commitment, of not taking work seriously, of being an inconvenience.
This was quite at odds with the way I approached my work. I took my current role seriously, I was fully committed to doing a great job, and managed my time so that I got my job done within my hours. And I knew that my employer knew that too. And the countless women I know who have manged to find part time work are also committed professionals, managing their workloads within their allotted hours.
God, I thought, all these employers are missing a trick! There are educated, professional, experienced people out there who can make a big contribution, but who just can’t be in the office Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.30. And at a time when employers cite skills shortages and lack of talented staff as the key blockers to growth, it seemed like madness that nobody realised they could use flexible working as a recruitment tool to attract high quality staff.
I decided to do some research and found that I wasn’t the only one thinking this, in fact there is no shortage of writing on the subject. London based think tank and recruitment consultancy Timewise are experts on flexible working and are way ahead of me. According to their research 14.1 million workers, equivalent to 46 per cent of people in employment in the UK, want to work flexibly, but only 6.2% of quality job adverts mention flexible working.
There is evidence that part time workers stay longer in their roles, they are more productive during their working hours than their full time colleagues and are happier and more refreshed to boot. All that and the employer gets more talent and experience for less cost.
Timewise are chipping away at the London market, but it seems to be taking a while for the benefits of employing part time professionals to filter up here to Edinburgh.
So I decided to do something and started up Part Time Professionals, to try to dispel the myths about part time working, and show employers the real commercial benefits of employing professional part time staff. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who supported the idea. Not just working mums, but working dads, people with portfolio careers, people caring for elderly relatives, and people who just want a good work/life balance.
I believe that times are changing – slowly, but they are changing. Employers will need to adapt to this demand for flexibility if they are to attract good staff. It’s about time, after all.
Be part of the change
- Employers, talk to us about recruiting professional part time staff.
- Professional Part timers – send us your CV.
* The Flexible Working Policy was introduced in the UK in June 2014, stating that an employee can make one ‘flexibility request’ each year to change their working pattern, and their company has a legal duty to consider it.