Part-time work - is it right for you?

Balancing work and childcare can be a challenge. While you might not be ready to put in a five-day week, that doesn’t mean you want to stay at home every day either. One way round this is to work part-time – it might just offer the best of both worlds

Part-time work There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to return to full-time work after having a baby or taking a break to care for children. Your old job might not give you enough family time; you may feel that you enjoyed your time at home and don’t want to give that up completely; or after two hours of trying to get your toddler to wear a coat each morning, you might be too tired to even consider returning to a 9-5 career.

Working full-time when you have a child can also be costly. If you have a partner, it might be that the cost of childcare means it makes financial sense for one of you to stay at home for a few years while the other becomes the main earner. Depending on circumstances, single parents may find that rather than having to go back to work to pay the bills, they simply can’t afford to return because the cost of childcare makes it prohibitive.

Assuming you’re happy with being a SAHP, all well and good. Lots of women find it really rewarding and love being there all day when their children are tiny. However, there are downsides to being a full-time SAHP:

  • You might miss the stimulation of work and adult company.
  • You may find that while you are off, your industry ‘moves on’ and you find it tricky to re-enter that particular workplace.
  • You may miss out on promotions, pay rises and other glittering prizes in your particular field.
  • There will obviously be a drop in your household income.

This is where part-time work comes in. It might mean a hit to your salary and a bit of juggling but if you plan for all that it could mean you get to have your cake and eat it.

“If you hate your job, give it up. Enjoy yourself at home, re-engineer your life so that it is more enjoyable, and then work out what sort of job you could do instead that would take the pressure off your partner without making you miserable and tired.”

Things to consider about part-time work

Going part time may sound like the holy grail of work/life balance but it’s not always plain sailing. Here are a few things to consider before you make a decision.

  • Finding interesting and stimulating part-time work can be a challenge and in some jobs, part-time work requires attention on your days off, too. Sometimes you can end up feeling like you’re doing two jobs badly, or being paid a part-time salary but actually putting in full-time hours behind the scenes.
  • Consider which parts of your job you’d be happy to give up? Might you end up not enjoying the job so much if you had to give up some of your preferred parts of it in order to go part time?
  • Think about whether you’d be better to ask to go part-time in your current position or in a new role. It might be that your present job isn’t a part-time role, but your employer could offer you a different role that could work part-time. Or you might feel you’re better off with a complete change of job – or even career. Parents looking for more flexibility in work hours, often find them in the public and voluntary sector. You could consider at jobs in schools and childcare.
  • If finding a part-time job in your sector might be tricky, could you consider going freelance, or starting your own business so you can dictate your hours completely?
  • If your employer isn’t keen on part time, would they perhaps consider allowing you to work from home instead, which would at least decrease commuting time?

What Mumsnetters say about the pros and cons of part-time work

Talking to other parents and part-time workers is a good way to get a feel for whether part-time work is a viable option for you, and deciding what level of work is feasible may be crucial in making the decision. Ask around friends who’ve done it in your industry, or similar roles. In the meantime, here are some Mumsnetters' reflections on part-time working:

  • “I am part-time and think it is the worst of both worlds. I feel like I am either trying to mentally prepare for my days off (what we’re going to do/where we'll go etc) or trying to prepare for my days at work (checking emails at home on days off, juggling two wardrobes, being organised). If I were full-time, I'd have more paid help and if I were a SAHM I'd take life day-by-day, I think.”
  • “I went back three days per week days after my daughter turned one and although I dearly wish I could jack it in at times, we're better off with me staying here. So many people would kill to have a flexible, well-paid part-time job. Remember your childcare costs will go down as your children age, and you keep your foot in the door with the option of increasing your hours in the future when the children are older and you want to concentrate a bit more on a career again. You are also getting pension benefits.”
  • “If you're fortunate enough to have had a professional job prior to having children, consider becoming freelance. I did it. I dictate my hours around the kids and now both kids are at school I am able to do drop off and pick up. Earning is at a higher hourly rate for generally fewer hours.”
  • “I've just (after about a year and a half back at work) upped my days from three to four and have found it's made a really big difference. It swings the balance back from being all about home with a bit of work, to being more about work with a bit of home, so I am far better able to remember what I was doing from one week to the next."
  • “I left a job that I knew wouldn't be the same part time and changed my career when I went back after some time off with my first daughter. I'm not using many of the same skills but I'm using me, which is, after all, what I have worked for all the time – my ability to change and grow. I think it's good to change; it's good to live a few lives – one would be really boring.”

If you're pondering part-time work, or a career change, and need some constructive advice, get over to the Mumsnet Talk boards. We can virtually guarantee that someone has been there, done that, and will be able to advise you.

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