Published On: Sat, Nov 29th, 2014

About Soap, Boxes and Part-Time Work

about soap boxes and part time workThis is a long one … but bear with me if you can cos I’m standing (rarely) on a box made of soap. It will turn into bubbles again before too long. Also, sorry for swearing. For it seems that the word ‘part-time’ in our capitalist-driven culture is something of a dirty word.

I’ve been in the enviable position of freelancing from home on the days my girls have been in childcare, flat-out without a work lull for the past five years. With the economic downturn hitting my end of the food-chain post-July this year, I’ve realised how finding a part-time job in your professional field is like having Harrison Ford drop by and pop the holy grail in your letterbox.

‘Here honey – here’s your holy grail, with a part-time job sprinkled on top for added flavour.’

I know I’m whingeing. These jobs do exist, and there are flexible and fantastic employers out there. It’s just that maybe 10% of the awesome jobs I find advertised will consider part-time or contract arrangements. The competition for those roles is always fierce. As an editor and writer, rather than a firefighter or butcher, I find that a bit rigid, given that words work the same way no matter where I sit.

That sounds a little simplistic, I realise, and I do understand the employer’s perspective. I’ve been on the hiring side, and there’s less cohesion in having part-time or job-share arrangements, or situations where employees telecommute. They’re at times not on hand for last-minute meetings, or to take care of urgent work that needs a same-day turnaround if they’re only in Tuesdays and Thursdays. The reality is though, that retaining skilled staff and keeping them happy is difficult, and being a better scheduled and organised manager to facilitate such arrangements will likely produce the reward of loyal and hardworking staff.

Study results published in the SMH last week showed that 25 hours spent working from home is equivalent to 40 hours spent working in the office. I’d believe it, given the kind of possessed demon I am when at home working. I don’t take breaks, or Internet surf, or talk on the phone. I just power on through, because otherwise it’s my own sleep and TV time I’m eating into.

Encouragingly, the government is running a campaign launching this month, aiming to increase the number of teleworkers to 12% by 2020 which should improve the situation, theoretically, for workers physically unable to travel to work. It’s being backed by the PM also committing today to having 12% of public servants working from home. Figures from Michelle Grattan’s article today suggest “telework will deliver an extra $3.2 billion a year to GDP by 2020-21 and the equivalent of an extra 25,000 full-time jobs”.
It’s a good plan – less road congestion, better productivity, entry of previously excluded people to the workforce. However, it’s not going to have much effect if attitudes don’t change at management level.

As a society, we need to work smarter and harder, not longer, but acceptance of that needs to happen at a cultural level. There’s a perception in the top-tier accounting and law firms that as a grad employee it’s vital to be seen to be putting in the time. Whether or not you’re actually sitting at your desk playing solitaire until 9 pm is irrelevant, as long as your bum’s in that seat. These are the people that go on to make partner then hire the next generation of graduates. What a ridiculous system. I glad I jumped the law shark early, straight after uni.

Bum in seat = high-performer

I used to work in a full-time role where I was playfully jibbed with digs of ‘part-timer!’ if I left for my 1.5 hour commute at 5:30 too often. This was my first job, and my initiation into the culture of how much we valued the working mother. The few mums we had were an annoying 0.2 or 0.3 ‘head’ usually suffered if the team leader wasn’t allocated the resources of a ‘whole head’. They were handed the crap work nobody else wanted, because they had no leverage to complain. They were also no fun, mainly because they put their heads down and worked their arses off till it was time for afternoon pickup.

I’m a mum, and I’m proud of that. BUT I’m a person who spent a lot of time being educated, loves the challenge of work, and gets a buzz out of finishing something (you know, other than a load of washing. Blegh). Why did I do all that if I have to now go and earn money making sandwiches or in customer service? It’s not my forte – I’m not very good at ‘people’, particularly demanding ones. I get all sweary. Luckily I’m in the position of being able to wait and apply for one, maybe two jobs a month and wait for the right one, rather than having to take the only available part-time work because I need immediate income. Not everybody can, and I really feel for those women and hope they hold out hope for a job that feeds their self-respect and their professional dreams while they pay the bills.

Why do we deserve part time work? A part-time worker is usually a good worker. We’re not there to talk about our kids. In fact – we’d rather not. We’re there for a little ‘working holiday’. We work hard because we have a limited number of hours in which to get the job done, because kids don’t understand about ‘staying back’. We ARE fun. In fact, if you take us out for work drinks, we will probably party like it’s 2009. Just kick us when it’s time to back away from the tequila bottle. In a job-share you get two sets of ideas for the price of one, and two freshly energised people within the one working week, instead of one burnt out employee desperate for the weekend by Thursday morning. Telecommuting means you’ll get an extra two hours’ of productivity out of your person each day, working the time they’d otherwise spend swearing and singing GaGa songs in traffic. They arrive at their desk fresh and caffeinated in their best trackies and ugh boots, rather than stressed and frazzled, too late to grab any coffee till they waste 20 minutes ducking out for one at 10:30.

We are awesome. Hire us.

Kim Frost 2012
Copyright 2012

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Kim Frost

My name is Kim, and I’m an Australian editor and mum. Occasionally I dye my hair pink so I feel like I’m not in my mid-30s. That’s called denial. My small people are the biggest part of my life, and certainly the most time consuming, but I also have my work as a freelancer, a husband, friends, a limp and flailing social life, dog Herbie, cat, rabbit (called Peter), and a new and unwelcome ‘third child’, Type 1 diabetes.

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