Part-time work, full-time life
"You're a part-timer? Your life sounds full-time to me!"
So remarked one of my friends on seeing that I was listed in the Timewise Jobs Power Part Time List, citing 50 of the most senior-level part-time workers in the UK. The list aims to debunk the myth that only low-skilled, low-paid jobs can work on a part-time basis. I've been a long-time fan of Timewise, the UK's first specialist jobsite for professional part-time roles, and I'm happy to be on any list that makes part-time work something to celebrate.
Some of the trendsetters on the Power Part Time list, including our Patti Whaley (extreme top left)
As my friend implied, "part-time" refers to "the part of your life that you get paid for", and there's perhaps an implication that the rest of the time, you're sitting on the patio leafing through food magazines. That's certainly not what the Top 50 Part Timers do. They are full-time busy, leading other charities and social enterprises, raising children, teaching, writing books and generally pushing the boundaries. If I were to describe my life, I'd say that I have four jobs: keeping the Forum legal, solvent and a great place to work; being vice-chair/treasurer of ActionAid UK; being treasurer of our local string orchestra; and being a parish organist. I love all my jobs; fortunately, one of them pays me enough to live on. At the Forum, about a third of us work some sort of part-time or flexible schedule, but we are all leading full-time lives.
Which brings me to that other phrase, "work-life balance". If "part-time" suggests that the only part of your life that counts is the part that you get paid for, then "work-life balance" is at the other end of the spectrum, implying that real life begins when you leave the office. Again, I don't know anyone who believes this. Certainly all of our Forum part-timers are deeply committed to the work we do, and while any workplace has its frustrations, most of us love working here and love working with our partners. I get that same feeling reading through the biographies of the Power Part Timers list; their love of their paid job shines through in their achievements and in the way they are described as "an inspiration", "a trailblazer", "infectious", "a shining example". These are not people who are counting down the hours until they can shut down their laptop and go back to real life. Their paid life gets the same passion as their unpaid life.
It took me a long time to get to this point. I first asked for part-time work in 1996; my supervisor was returning from maternity leave, and wanted to work part-time. I had been acting up in her absence, and we proposed that the two of us could job-share her role on the senior management team. The response we got was "job-share is all very well, but not at senior management level, no." So she left the organisation, and I continued full-time.
I started at the Forum full-time in 2003, and thanks to a supportive and focused CEO, and a supportive and talented team, I have gradually reduced to three days a week, eleven months a year. It's taken 16 years, but I'm finally just where I want to be. I'm very lucky. I hope the example of the Power Part Timers list will inspire other organisations and other CEOs to think again about how part time work at all levels of their organisation can help them retain committed and talented workers, make their organisation more flexible and resilient, and help us build a society where we all lead satisfying, sustainable, full-time lives.
Read more about this story:
- The full Power Part-time list
- Patti Whaley's story
- Coverage in the Financial Times
- Coverage in The Telegraph
- Coverage in Management Today