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The part-time myth

One common element that is talked about a lot within the overall theme of an increasing lack of skilled workers along with parent’s ability to juggle work and family life, is the question how mothers on parental leave could be enticed to return to the work force more quickly.

Now, everyone can, by law, switch to part-time. That is, as long as the employer cannot name valid operational reasons why that is impossible. While the law is by now rather strict about what counts as a valid reason, most who wish to reduce their work hours (and often it is those returning from parental leave) will think twice before going to court over the issue, not only poisoning the relationship with their employer, but effectively destroying any chance they might have had for advancement within the company.

Talking about advancement: I, personally (I could not find any rely-able statistical data) don’t know anyone who ever got promoted or saw any true advancement while working part-time. In theory employers must give part-time workers the same kind of consideration for promotions and offer the same kind of additional training as everyone else. In reality, part-time workers are often overlooked.

That neglect does not even usually happen deliberately or out of spite or disregard of the person. It might be that meetings are traditionally held on afternoons, or always on Mondays. Then the part-time worker who happens to work mostly in the mornings or Tuesday through Friday will quickly end up on the sidelines without anyone specifically trying to shut them out (or even realizing that it happened). The only cure is for everyone in the organization to watch out and if necessary insist on changing some long-held habits.

The bigger problem, though, is when someone is currently looking for a job and for some reason cannot or does not want to work full-time. Unless they’re looking for some poorly paid unqualified jobs they’re out of luck. Part-time jobs are rare. Part-time jobs for highly qualified individuals with a few years of experience under their belts are rarer. That companies generally are required to advertise job openings for part-time as well as full-time doesn’t have much impact there.

A quick search for IT jobs on a well-known large job board will reveal a long list of nice jobs. If you check the “part-time” box that list shrinks down to a number of student trainee jobs and one for an assistant.

Now, knowing about the law that all jobs have to be open for everyone whether they want to work full-time or not, one can of course just apply to those in the first list. That is when reality hits, though, because you’ll get a rejection letter the moment the first vague applicant willing to work full-time comes in. One example, which is definitely not representative but a very telling anecdote: Imagine a first telephone interview where not a word is spoken about the job or the requirements because the hiring manager is only interested in how much the candidate could possibly work, and conveying how little flexibility is part of the company culture.

Once our eager candidate finds a job that is actually open for part-time workers (often because a full position would be too costly or because there is just not enough work in that area to fill a whole week), they then run into the next organizational problem: part-time is a very vague term. In the volume, whether someone works for four hours every day, or fully on Monday and Tuesday and a half day on Friday, is roughly the same. Organizational it makes a huge difference. So employer and employee have to agree on that, too. Each side might have their own preferences, plus the obvious hard factors, like for example available child care or customer habits.

Then, a couple years later, when the worked decides that it is time to return to full-time work they suddenly have trouble convincing their employer that they can contribute more…

In short, while part-time work has become more accepted as a “proper” job, we still have a long way to go. The laws passed here in the recent years are important to send a signal, but it will take quite a while still until part-time work will manage to rid itself of the “second-class work” image.

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Herr Daniel Stock d.stock(@)top-jobs-europe.de