The Joys of Part-time Work

Are you a part-time worker? If you are then you would probably have heard one too many times about how lucky you are that your company is accommodating this arrangement and that you get to spend time with the kids.

And if you are like me, you would flinch inwardly each time you hear that.

Some people have this notion that mothers returning to work have a sweet deal as they have the perfect excuse to work only a couple of days a week and then scoot off while other people deal with their problems. Well I can tell you that this definitely has not been the case for me.

I have been back at work on a part-time basis for a little over a year now (and another year before my second one was born), and I constantly find myself questioning whether this is the right arrangement for me. A few weeks upon returning to work I found myself checking emails on my off days to ensure that I did not miss out on important memos and that I did not have to spend half a day responding to emails on my first day back in the week. Then as I started taking on more responsibilities I found myself spending hours working from home while the kids entertained themselves. It got to a point that even I was on vacation, my mind was hard at work thinking about how to resolve issues that are due soon after. So even though I was physically with my kids, I was not spending quality time with them.

Of course, some of these issues are attributable to my own personality. But I figured over the two years I have been working part-time that there are a few things that has to marry up to ensure the on-going viability of part-time work.

The suitability of the role

Not all roles are suitable for part-time work. The types of roles that can be fall into one of the following groups:

  1. Where the majority of your responsibilities are contained within the period that you work and do not carry over from day to day – an example of this would be a retail role.
  2. Where you get to work autonomously, or in a consulting basis, or on longer-term projects where you have the ability to control and drive your own timeframe and activities.
  3. If your role does not fall into one of the above categories and you are required to meet short deadlines which involve daily interaction with people, the only way this can work is if you have a back-to-back who covers the same scope, is across the issues and can look after things on your days off.

Unless your roles fall into one of these categories, you will eventually find it a challenge to keep up.

Support from your organisation

This is a given. If you do not work for an organisation with management who supports and sees the value of retaining talented women (or if you are not able to convince them otherwise) then this arrangement is doomed to fail.

The ability to speak up when things are not happening how they should

If you have the support of your management and the right kind of roles exist in your organisation, then it really is up to you to monitor the progress of your work and communicate accordingly if things are not working out. Rather than sitting at home resenting the fact that you have to work on an off day or constantly worrying about things that you have no control over while you are at home and others at work, you need to be having conversations with your supervisor about the issues.

I found that things improved for me when I did that. Initially my role started off by being in the first category, and over time it crept into the third category except that I did not have a true back-to-back support. After having a meaningful conversation with my supervisor my role has now shifted more into the second category where I have more ability to control when I work. It was a learning process for both myself and my organisation to try and determine what works best, as the traditional norm of work in my team has never been part-time.

It is still early days for me to tell whether the current arrangement can be sustained in the future (or even for the next 6 months), and there were days when I thought that it might be easier for me to just return to full-time work. But I also realise that time I can spend with my pre-school kids now is too precious, so I will just have to continue trying to find the right balance until I am ready to give that up.

After all, we are mothers, so isn’t multi-tasking what we do best?

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