Part-time hours and flexible working – the sweet spot

Notebook and pens- schedule

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Getting the work / home juggle right

From observing many full- and part-timers over the years – and having been both myself – somewhere around 3.5-4.5 days there is a sweet spot in terms of working hours, which enables both home and work life to thrive.

Full time hours, especially when rigidly sticking to a 9-5.30 or more schedule, can have a huge impact on home life.  Most of the women I know who have quit employed work entirely (either to be at home full time or to set up their own businesses) have done it as a reaction to being unable to agree a reduced-hours and/or flexible schedule.  They may have been barely seeing their children; their home and family life may have been chaotic; they have almost certainly been close to burnout.

However.  In order to really thrive at work (by which I mean being energetically focused, involved, challenged, developing, succeeding… and enjoying it), working hours that are closer to full time work better – for both employee and employer.

There is a tipping point below about 60-70% hours where an employee is just not around enough to be fully engaged and in the thick of the action – and there is just too much to catch up on after time out.

Just a 10%-30% reduction in working hours – especially combined with a level of flexibility around when they are worked – is enough to make an enormous difference to work-home balance.

It can enable all sorts of different working patterns, depending on the age of your family and what an employer will allow.  If they are younger and in expensive childcare that runs from early morning to after 6pm, then it may make sense to do fewer, longer days.  When they start school, working fewer hours, but every day could allow for pickups and homework supervision.

Some examples based on a 40 hour week:

70% hours: 28 hours

  • 5 short days (5h35): 9am-3.15pm with a 35 minute lunch break.  Or 8-2.15, or 10-4.15… you get the picture  Enabling school dropoff and pickup
  • 3 long days (9h20): 8-6 with a 40 minute lunch break Enabling two days a week at home
  • 1 long day (9h30) working from home and three shorter (6h20) ones in the office Enabling school dropoff and pickup presuming school is near to home

90% hours: 36 hours

  • 5 shorter days (7h10): 8-3.45 with a 35 minute lunch break. Or 9.30-5.15 Enabling either school dropoff or pickup
  • 4 long days (9 hours): 8-5.30 with a 30 minute lunch break Enabling one day at home

Making it work:

Of course it isn’t easy. All these permutations of hours, will be hard work and fast paced. Giving time for rest and recuperation is essential.

Organisation and efficiency is another necessity.   I find it makes sense for me to leave my son in nursery on my non-working day, as then my chores and admin get done in a fraction of the time (sound familiar?) and I get some time to relax.  Then weekends are completely focused on spending time together as a family.   Spending my non-working day without my child in fact means that we have more and better quality time together.

Partners need to share parenting and chores equally – for instance doing either school dropoff or pickup.  Household duties need to be shared.  It is impossible to be a Stepford-style housewife and mother while working 30+ hours a week.

The right work schedule can make a big difference to all the parts of life slotting together nicely, but what it does not do is magically enable you to “parent as though you didn’t have a job, and work as though you don’t have children”.

Boundaries and a laser focus on priorities are important, to keep work (mainly) within its scheduled hours – and after all, if you’re working a 90% FTE you are also only getting 90% pay.   But it is super important to communicate well, and to ensure that flexibility goes both ways, so that worker and employer both trust that the job will get done – and done well.

Both parents working a traditional 9-5 week is too big a sacrifice for many families, but it is surprising just how un-drastic the solution often is.   With a little bit of flexibility, and a small reduction in hours, it can become entirely possible to thrive at both home and work.

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