Choosing between part-time and full time work

Market worthMore people in Britain are working part-time than ever before; 1 in 4 employees now work 30 or fewer hours a week. But what’s the right choice for you - full time or part-time work? Your decision will impact on you, on your family and on your career. There’s no right or wrong - it’s a matter of deciding what will work best for you and for your family.

Think through the following questions to help you decide:

1.  Can you afford to work part-time?

If you decide to work part-time you need to make sure that your income won’t be swallowed up by costs such as childcare and commuting. List your monthly outgoings and make sure you can still balance your budget if you decide to do fewer hours. Draw up a budget based on 3 months or so of your actual living expenses – don’t just guess what your outgoings are. Also remember the impact on your future pension and your ability to save if you work part-time rather than full time.

2.  Are part-time roles easily available for the type of work you do?

There are differences in the availability of part-time jobs between different sectors, role types and salary levels. Asking for part-time work from your current employer is one thing, but trying to find a new job part-time can be much more difficult. You need to find out if it’s easy to find part-time vacancies for your type of work. Read some of the articles in our Looking for Jobs section for ideas on how to get a part-time job. But be prepared for the fact that, if you work in an area that’s resistant to part-time, you will find your jobsearch challenging.

3.  Is working part time more important to you than career progression?

Research by Timewise has found that a significant proportion of mothers choose to ‘trade down’ their careers while their children are young. They trade salary and status for flexibility and less stress. Some women make this choice gladly. For others it’s a compromise when they can’t find part-time work at the level they want, and prefer to downshift rather than work full time. There’s no shame in choosing to downshift – it’s what’s right for you and your family that matters. You do need to go into it with your eyes open, however. Once you’ve downshifted, it can be hard to climb back up several years later.

4.  … Or are your career goals your priority?

If you’re ambitious, and choose to work part-time, take care to explore your employer’s track record on career progression for part-time workers. According to Timewise research, 73% of part-time workers claim not to have been promoted once since working fewer hours. However, we believe that it’s perfectly possible for a committed, talented employee to get ahead whilst working part-time. It’s a matter of focusing on your achievements, and making sure your colleagues notice them too. Read these useful tips on how to get promoted when you work part-time. Timewise’s Power List can also be a source of inspiration – read the stories of men and women who are working part time in leadership roles.

5.  How much support will you have at home?

It’s been said that your most important career decision is your choice of partner. Certainly, if you have children and choose to work full time, you’ll need plenty of support to handle family obligations. Will your partner be prepared to take on their share of childcare and household chores and administration? If you’re a single parent, have you got relatives or friends who can help out in times of illness, or if your childcare arrangements fall through? Note our gender neutral language here! These days, it’s getting more common for men to be the partner who works part-time and takes on the role of primary carer.

6.  Will there be enough ‘me time’?

‘Me time’ isn’t just for celebrities – we all need to look after ourselves both physically and emotionally. Many people feel pulled in different directions by their career and other commitments, and this can lead to feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Try drawing up a time budget: note down how you spend your time right now and work out what changes you will need to make depending how many hours you decide to work. What do you need to make you feel good? Whether it’s time for you to exercise, see friends, pursue a hobby or watch your favourite television programme - make sure you factor in that time.

7.  Flexibility: a third way?

Another option you might consider is working full time, but asking for some flexibility. This might be the flexibility to work from home for one or two days a week, the flexibility to start late and finish late (for example, to allow you to do the morning school run), or the flexibility to take unpaid leave to cope with emergencies. You need to consider just how flexible the employer is, and how much time your job really does require. Some full time jobs can be 50 hours a week rather than 35.

Flexibility might not be enough for you, as you may definitely need part-time hours, but it will be a lot easier to negotiate - especially in very senior roles.

8.  What are your priorities right now?

Remember that no decision is final and your priorities may change over time. You might decide you want to work part-time for a few years, intending to return to full time hours later on. Or you could take a full time role and then, after a year in the job when your employer knows and trusts you, see if you can negotiate a reduction in your hours.

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