Let's drop the prejudice against part-time workers

Part-time work is concentrated in industries that are female dominated – trade, accommodation, health, culture, recreation and education.

Part-time work is concentrated in industries that are female dominated – trade, accommodation, health, culture, recreation and education.

I both adore and dread school information night in equal measure.

It’s always great to meet my children’s new teachers but I often come home unsettled. Usually it’s because I feel I’m the only one who doesn’t enforce homework.  But what got up my goat this year was more about the way that adults work, both in and out of the home.

My daughter has two teachers. Both went part-time after having kids; one works Monday and Tuesday, the other, the rest of the week.  As we squeezed our big butts into little chairs the two teachers calmly explained how they shared the job, even detailing how they divided the curriculum and communicated with one another. The two women had clearly thought long and hard about the job share. They also had a lot in common and were so in–sync they not only finished each other’s sentences but accidentally wore identical shirts. Both were passionate, dedicated and extremely organised. 

Most parents relaxed as they bathed in the glow of light, warmth and professionalism.  Yet there was a distinct chill emanating from the back stalls.

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That’s where the fathers were sitting.

Quite a few of the dads proceeded to give the teachers the third degree about the job share. There were questions about how they could effectively teach, handover responsibilities and communicate with each other.  It wasn’t so much the questions that were uncomfortable as the body language, tone and attitude  – it seemed to say ‘part-time job share doesn’t work. I don’t want it.’

I know it can take kids some time to get used to having two teachers. But they will. I’ve seen many advantages to the arrangement; a teacher coping with 20 plus kids a day could be well understood for being grumpy, over it and slack come Friday, while job sharers return rejuvenated.  They also get kids ready for the constant change of teacher that comes in High School and they offer different perspectives, methods and capabilities.

It felt to me that many of the men in the room were not just questioning the teachers’ ability to manage a job share but also their capacity, commitment and life style. Part-time, full-time or not working we were united in pain at the men’s hostility to the job share.

Yesterday an employment tribunal in the UK heard that a BBC Chief was so antagonistic to working mothers he made a job share request impossibly onerous and wanted the woman marked ‘at risk of redundancy’.  If true, it’s a shocking attitude that’s alas not that shocking to hear.

Because while this shouldn’t be a ‘woman’s issue’, it is.  There’s a massive gender divide as 70% of part-time workers are women.

I’m not blaming men for this.  Who works and how much is not always a free choice.  A study from the University of South Australia found nearly half of fathers would prefer fewer hours at work and many would love to go part-time.  The problem is, men are more likely to earn more than their female partner.   Hence in heterosexual relationships it usually makes more economic sense for the bloke to stick to a full-time job.  It’s another consequence of pay inequity and it has many ramifications.  Part-time jobs are less secure, less well paid, accrue less superannuation and offer less chance of promotion and pay rises.  They can enforce female disadvantage and can be an underuse of women’s talent, brains and human capital. Yet, I deeply understand why part-time work appeals and believe my human capital can contribute to two jobs – both carer and career.

The fact is, those who prickle at part-timers better drop their prejudices.  They are here to stay.  According to the Bureau of Statistics almost a third of employed Australians are part-time and the rate of this work is growing at twice the rate of full-time work.

One problem is our working culture; it’s macho, or at least masochistic. Australians work long hours in comparison to other nations (41 hours a week on average with more than a quarter of us clocking up 48 hours plus).  This culture can be contemptuous of part-timers.  I know many women who work 4 days a week and struggle to be accepted, respected and included in the workplace – especially if they miss out on Friday night drinks.  Many are so keen to keep up they end up doing a full time workload on a part-time wage.

Not all jobs are suited to job share and part-time positions. Yet it’s interesting what institutions and organisations can do when they have to. Part-time work is concentrated in industries that are female dominated – trade, accommodation, health, culture, recreation and education.  These industries simply have to accept part-time workers to function.

What’s more, part-time work is, in fact, good for the bottom line.  International workplace provider Regus found companies with part-time jobs achieved real increases in productivity and greater revenue generation. Managers across the globe also reported that staff were more energized and motivated thanks to flexible working.  Job sharing is now being successfully used as an important talent retention tool.

Then there are the unbilled benefits: the unacknowledged work that women do with their other hours.  Most are not watching daytime soaps on their day off; they’re doing the majority of unpaid work in the community, at schools, on committees and in charities, not to mention the housework, aged care and childcare.  If society had to pay for this it would cost a bomb.

At the end of the information night the teachers asked for volunteers to be class parent.  That’s when all the involved dads’ went silent and put their hands down.  I get it. They work hard.  There’s no time.  So, I and another mum stepped up.  We both work. This will be another unpaid job we will do to help the school, our community and the kids.  But I’m tempted to sign off every class email with ‘Sarah, Part-time job-share Class parent.  Like it or lump it.’   

As part-time work becomes increasingly common employers need to ensure they provide quality jobs with security, capacity for advancement and decent wages and conditions.  Employees need to know they are entitled to ask for such jobs.  And we all need to not just accept part-time workers but to show them some respect.

 

27 comments

  • Hip, hip, hooray Sarah McDonald, your article is right on the money. I am a job share teacher we & had to fight & campaign for 2 years to return to the career we love at reduced time fraction. The school community are now extremely supportive as their children are getting a great education from two experienced teachers who are enthusiastic and love being at work.
    Lets hope as this becomes more common in our community along with promotion as it is near impossible to go any further than a classroom teacher in education if you are part time.
    I often tell people I feel very lucky to be able to be at home with my young children & do the job I love, but wish that was just how the workforce was structured & not like I have won a lucky 'part time' door prize.

    Commenter
    DMac
    Date and time
    February 26, 2013, 7:22AM
    • As a part time worker in an advertising agency I completely agree with this article. In my experience, there is a complete rejection of part time workers as some kind of B team. I have won numerous awards, have a great track record, but on return from maternity leave - thus moving from full time to part time hours - I have been told 'do not expect to be put on leading accounts', 'do not ask for a pay rise' and 'it's a pity you're not around for Friday drinks as you're just not visible' (re chairman). These comments were all made to me by board level women!

      Prior to having my baby I was the business lead on global FMCG brands - cooking products, mainly bought buy 'MGBs' (main grocery buyers) ie that usually means 'mums'. I returned to work feeling excited that for the first time in my career I had real experience in what being a mum means - being 'time poor' and balancing a single income household budget were no longer distant theoretical concepts but now real and personal experiences. I thought my agency would welcome my seasoned understanding of the everyday consumer. Instead I was made to feel lucky to have a job. My part time status feels like a stigma to be tolerated, certainly not embraced.

      Rigid minds need to be forced to change - legislation and tax breaks needed to initially induce business to support part time / job share and accord these workers fair share of progress and success.
      Given the opportunity to succeed and impress businesses will soon come on board to the notion. But right now, part time workers are not given a starting chance.

      Commenter
      Ad Woman
      Location
      Annandale
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 8:50AM
      • Count me as one of the dads that strenuously disagrees. I just took my kid out of a school due to a lack of full time commitment from the teachers. I'll repeat that word. Commitment. I expect the teachers to turn up every day just like the kids. I expect them to show the kids that their education is important to them, not just some part time hobby. So long as the teacher's lifestyle come's first, they have no right to expect any diligence from the kids and the kids suffer.

        So much talk about employee's rights, but no acknowledgement that the company does not have a right to exist, you don't have a right to a job, and if the company isn't profitable, everyone loses their jobs. Where's your lifestyle when the company goes belly up? Ah. Living off the superior wage of the one who takes their job seriously.

        Commenter
        JTO
        Date and time
        February 26, 2013, 9:44AM
        • Newsflash JTO, odds are that your teacher also a parent, that is they have their own family to take care of. And even for the most committed teacher, the needs of their family will come first, as they should for any person in any profession. If part-time and shared teaching means that experienced teachers are able to return to the classroom sooner while still being able to meet their needs of their own children, then it can only be of benefit to the school, students, the teacher, their family and society in general. The number of hours a person spends at their workplace is NOT an accurate measure of their commitment to the job. Indeed, it could be considered an indication of their inefficiency or lack of commitment to their families. (No, I am not a teacher)

          Commenter
          geejay
          Date and time
          February 26, 2013, 10:45AM
        • What you fail to acknowledge is when a person job shares or has a part time job, they are still expected to take their job seriously and they are in fact expected to forfill their job description, but their job description will be altered to that of someone who is working full time. Part time or job sharing teachers should be diligent, they should show the children their education is important to them, but as per their job description that is a role they need to fill 2-3 days a week. There is no reason children should suffer because they have two different teachers, there going to end up with multiple teachers at high school anyway.

          Teachers are also role models and young girls grow up to be women with children who need to balance the needs of their job with the needs of their family. This is the real world and these children are going to grow up watching all the adults in their life juggle multiple roles, that is not to say their teachers are not taking their job seriously, it is showing these children that they can have a career and a family.

          As for "living off the superior wage of the one who takes their job seriously" would you have ever have told your mother the job she did was not important? Would you tell your sister or wife that your 'job' was more important than theirs because they spend half their time working and half their time raising the children? Nobody may have a right to a job and companies may not have a right to exist but you are working to maintain your lifestyle, just as every person in this country is. Even full time workers have a 'lifestyle'.

          Commenter
          Tia
          Date and time
          February 26, 2013, 11:54AM
      • The men probably have had to constantly deal with the issues of half-managed handovers and work left uncompleted for half a week because the person doing it had to rush out before they could leave enough detail (or any). Or the fact that two people now need to be across everything that only one person had to be across before. Or the fact that two people might do things different each time and create confusion. Or that they might have varying styles of doing things and that ends up with the customer or whoever is on the receiving end only wanting to deal with one, creating an unfair asymmetry in work load. Or that emails that are necessary are locked away in someones personal account when they're on their day off...and so on.

        These are just some of the fun things I've witnessed job sharing people come up against (and typically fail at, leading too all kinds of arguing about responsibilities that waste yet more time. Usually heralded by "we need to sit down in a meeting and draw up a chart of accountabilities and responsibilities and other nonsense that would otherwise not be necessary).

        Can it work? Yes. Is it grossly inefficient most of the time? Yes.

        Commenter
        Tim the Toolman
        Date and time
        February 26, 2013, 9:56AM
        • My son went into year 4 at the our local primary school with two teachers job sharing and what a disaster it was.

          One teacher was very, very good and the other one was horrid, one was well prepared, fair and good at discipline and the other was basically babysitting.
          The kids ran rings around the two of them with stuff like "but Miss ......said I didn't have to" etc. It was not a fruitful year for any of that class and apparently the two teachers who had been friends hated each other by the end of the year.

          I recently spoke to my boss, a well respected Early Childhood professional about why there wasn't any job sharing at the centre I work, she laughed and said in her experience it just didn't work and she wasn't prepared to try again after two failed attempts in previous years.

          Commitment is the key and a consistent presence essential particularly when it comes to children and learning so perhaps it depends on the industry.

          Commenter
          Mayday
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          February 26, 2013, 10:58AM
      • JTO and Tim the Toolman,
        It seems you just don't get it or are incredibly jealous that one person chooses not to work a full time load. Actually, the job share teacher brings two advantages

        1) They don't become tired and cranky
        2) Children benefit greatly from different styles in teaching and teachers

        I work at a western school in KL and the Principal is very job share friendly. All the teachers are team teachers. We share the load 50-50 of 60-40. We are fresher, we know exactly what our job share teacher has been doing as we have both co-written the program. We liaise. Where is the disadvantage is that?

        Commenter
        Gordie
        Location
        Kuala Lumpur
        Date and time
        February 26, 2013, 10:13AM
        • Also @JTO: but what actual reason do you have to doubt their commitment or skill? What on earth makes you think that arrangement would be worse? Seems more likely to me that it’d be *better*, to have two brains on the job. You seem to simply resent the flexibility of their work, and go from there. What actual *reason* do you have to object here? Why not try it?

          I’m a dad. I have never been more impressed than I am by my boys’ teachers. I have no idea how they do what they do – some kind of crazy voodoo antics must be involved to herd all those maniacs. They’re passionate about their jobs, they think of things that I never, in a million years of trying, would ever think of (which is, incidentally, my definition of ‘art’), the kids love ‘em and – holy hell – somewhere in all of this, folk are learning stuff. My 6-year-old is reading books meant for 10 year olds and loving it.

          I can’t imagine ever criticising anything they did without some spectacularly good reason. What the hell do I know? They’re like doctors – you just sorta nod and smile and feel grateful that they know a million times more than you.

          If professionals say they can job-share, I’m inclined to believe ‘em.

          Commenter
          Magpie
          Date and time
          February 26, 2013, 10:36AM
        • "Where is the disadvantage is that?"

          As per my other post, there are numerous opportunities for problems. In teaching young kids, not so much, but as the kids get older and the expectations get higher, I would be, lets just say, extremely irritated if I had to keep repeating myself to a different teacher half way through the week (now as a mature age student and previously in high school and uni).

          You don't know what the kids have said to the other teacher, what specific issues they've had, how they're progressing on things and so on. You miss out on knowing about things that might impact their performance and you're basically half teaching the kid either through wasted time catching up on what they're doing or wasted time in not understanding their progress in a holistic manner.

          Commenter
          Tim the Toolman
          Date and time
          February 26, 2013, 10:39AM

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