Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Part-time work

I’m about to be controversial. Probably*

Recently one of my friends on Facebook  shared this story on part time work. It made me mad.

 Part time work has been around for a while now. It’s usually the reserved for the new mum, trying to cope with small children, running a household and also trying to earn some money to provide for their family.

I have worked part time and it’s hard. There’s a  premise is that you have more time to spend with your family. Quality family time. It’s a crock really. Well maybe not. If you can work in a role where there is a definite start and end, it’s probably ok. Shift work might work. A role where you don’t have to take work home or you don’t need to travel. I’m sure there are some jobs where part time works. I haven’t really had one of these.

This article makes the point that you end up squishing full time hours into the part time hours the organizational has agreed you can work. I think that for the most part this is true in my experience.

When I had Aiden, and he was 4 months old I returned to work 3 days a week, and then 4 days and said I would take phone calls on the other days to support the organization. I also took calls while I was on maternity leave and did some work that I could do from home, which was my choice but I must admit I was worried that I may not have a job to return to. I took phone calls from employees about their redundancy package while I changed Aiden’s nappy as he screamed. I don’t know how the employee didn’t notice the crying on the end of the line. Maybe he was too worried that he was losing his job? Maybe he didn’t care? I also took calls standing outside one of my new mummy friends’ houses to talk to a manager at length about terminating someone’s employment, when I desperately wanted to be inside learning about how other mummies were coping with breast feeding and very little sleep.

I stayed up late and got up early to “express” on a trip to Perth so I could continue to breastfeed my son when I returned to Sydney. I was exhausted. I also attached myself to the pump while sitting in a storeroom at work with no lock, so I could provide some breast milk at least part of the time he was at daycare.

When I did return to work and I was so tired that each day I wanted to crawl under my desk and sleep and was so upset that the business head didn’t even remember I was coming back that first day.  I wanted to crawl under my desk and cry. I guess they didn’t realize the stress it put on my family to turn up that Monday morning. It’s a big deal returning to work. There is no formula to work it out and there are very few women to show you the way. When you manage to get your shit act together it’s an amazing feat.

We are so far away from supporting women to return to work after having children that it’s really not funny. We now have paid maternity leave, which is great but what we really need to better access to childcare and better strategies to support women. We need to change the conversation. Instead of people saying:

·         “Do you think you spend enough time with your boys?”

·         “Have you asked to work part-time yet? (when I was working full time with 2 boys under school age)”

·         “Oh those boys must miss you when you are away” (reference to me travelling to do my job. No one asks a man that)”

·         “I’m so glad my wife didn’t have to work” and “I couldn’t have stayed home when the kids were sick” , comments from men .

 I have all these comments said to me. They are mostly well meaning and definitely not helpful.

But my biggest gripe is with this article where it says that when you work part time you should not take on anything extra, and push back…..WHAT?!  Seriously? Look if you work and career is not that important and it’s just a means to an end, fine.  But if at some point you want to progress why would you sit back? Why would you not contribute more. THIS. IS. DUMB. ADVICE. You need to lean in. I see the difference between how women are perceived when they hold fast to their part time hours and those who go beyond. Let’s face it, many of us working in full time roles go beyond these hours, particularly as roles become more senior. Across the board, employees who are more engaged and who contribute more will always have more opportunities.

While I’m on the soap box I also want to talk about managing your part time work. The reality is the organisation is unlikely (unless they have an evolved HR and management team) to be forthcoming in working out a part time role for you. YOU NEED TO DO THIS. You shouldn’t have to. I know, but this is reality. Also, I have seen some women return to work 2 days a week. I’m sorry. This is stupid.  What value does it bring to you? (not much money) What does it bring to the organisation? (not much value).  Childcare is expensive and oversubscribed but try and work it out if you can.

If you are returning to work:

1.       Have a plan. Ask other women how they did it. Get on with it. It will be hard. You will be tired. It will get better. Promise.

2.       Your partner must help and you must ask them to help, even if you are working part time. You must let them do things the way they do them, not the way you do them. Let it go.

3.       Do not stop contributing. There are times when it will be tough. There will be times when you have to juggle. Men don’t have to do this and it’s not fair. Get on with it.

4.       In my view, if you can make it work, get back to full time work as soon as you can. I think it’s a poor bet to leave work and let someone else support you indefinitely. Keep your finger in something that is valuable. It might be part time work, it might be community work.  What happens if your relationship breaks up? What happens if your partner passes away? What will you do? You have kids to support and you need something for yourself.

*This is my opinion and my opinion only. I truly support the choices any woman makes in relation to their children, their family, their work and their career.


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