1. Be considerate (walk the walk as well as talking the talk)
2. Respect boundaries (don’t do their job for them)
- You are undermining the concept of accountability. Your behavior is indicating that people don’t need to “own” responsiveness and proactive communication for their projects, because you or someone else will fill the gap.
- You are perpetuating a culture of haste, valuing impatience over quality, efficiency and respect (quality, because you may not have all the details, so your response could be wrong / unhelpful; efficiency, because the temporarily unavailable colleague might have already solved the problem / done the analysis / got the answer; and respect, because you are making progress / decisions without valuing the input of a key stakeholder).
- You are — at best — a thunderstealer (if someone has worked hard leading a project, let them have the joy of circulating the first indicators of success!), and at worst, making someone feel superfluous.
3. Don’t waste their time (don’t waste anyone’s time!)
And what have I learned – directly, and from others – that might help you if you are switching to a part-time role?
A. Be realistic…
B. Don’t refuse to be accountable…
C. Timebox your working hours
D. Get the balance right with meetings
E. Don’t trust your memory
F. Don’t let the change of workspace limit the ways you work
G. Having a personal life is no longer a guilty secret
8 Thoughts on "Coping with Working Part-time and Being a Better Colleague to Those Who Do"
Thank you for this piece. A lot of the points in it resonated. I think the pandemic has allowed (or forced?) people to experience others’ reality in respect to part-time work, and hopefully, only good can come from that.
An article I read many years ago was a discussion of the word “only” in relation to part-time work: “She’s only part time”, “She only does three days a week” – that kind of thing. The article made the point that the use of “only” can be seen to devalue that person’s contribution, or even the person themselves. The use of “only” has grated on me ever since, and I still hear it today.
Similarly, with flexible working becoming more of a norm, I sometimes see out-of-office responses that say “I work full-time hours condensed into X days”. Why make the distinction there? Is the reason for the phrasing to emphasis that the sender is not “just” part-time? Why not list the hours that you *do* work?
Part-time work still has something of a stigma attached, it seems (although not as much as in years gone by), and I think we need to get beyond it. A more careful use of language may help. There are many reasons why someone may be a part-time worker, and the pandemic has pointed out quite clearly that choices over the hours we work can very quickly be taken out of our hands. Maybe we can finally take that step to ditch the “only” and the “just” as unnecessary qualifiers?
Thanks for commenting – great point about the language around part time work. I remember a colleague some years ago being very clear that he preferred to refer to “working days” and “non-working days”, rather than describing the latter as “days off”. He asked us (his colleagues) politely but firmly to adopt this language too. It was a useful habit to pick up / lesson to learn that continues to make me cautious about the language I use.
It’s also (for some people) a two-way street. During my period working part time, I was more than usually sensitive around my capacity and productivity. I was conscious of the risk of (a) judging myself more harshly than anyone else was doing (b) reading too much into people’s language choices. I needed to come to terms with the situation I was in and stop projecting my own anxieties, prejudices etc onto others. That’s also something I’ll remember when supporting colleagues in future.
Thanks for this article, Charlie! I have a number of colleagues struggling with this, with an additional wrinkle — financially, they CAN’T switch from full to part time. So, they’re challenged to keep up with all the normal deadlines of monthly journal production schedules, home-school young children, maintain their family relationships, and ‘take time for yourself,’ ‘give yourself grace.’ Although they’re supported in theory, they’re working themselves ragged because the work still needs to get done. (COVID certainly hasn’t freed up extra budget dollars for interns, extra help, or freelancers.) I’m not expecting you to have all the answers; just sharing a difficult situation I’ve been hearing more and more. I welcome anyone’s thoughts on how to address this untenable situation.
I am aware of one company that has offered interest-free loans to employees who have had to go to part-time hours but who cannot manage financially on a part-time salary.
I don’t imagine that this is a widespread practice, however.
Thank you, Karen – that’s a really important point that I didn’t touch upon. COVID hasn’t been a ‘normal’ scenario in which to go part time, for sure – many of us have been spending less which has helped to offset lost income. There are different considerations in different countries, too. In the UK, the government was quick to introduce a ‘mortgage holiday’ scheme and we were also able to temporarily reduce things like pension contributions. Some car insurers even offered people money back on their premiums to reflect the fact that they weren’t driving anywhere. All these things made the transition to part time work / salary different under COVID than it would be in other circumstances. Even still, you make the good point that for many people none of these options were available, or didn’t make enough of a difference, to enable people to choose the part time option. Which creates the too-common scenario where people are trying to complete a full-time workload in what may boil down to less than full-time capacity, while juggling other responsibilities. Anon’s point above, about interest-free loans, is a really interest response (solution?) from employers. This is a challenge that could usefully be discussed further whether here and / or at seminars etc – what can an employer do to help in this scenario; indeed, what is it their duty to do, to support colleagues caught between this particular rock and hard place? Thanks for raising this.
Great piece Charlie. I’ve been amazed at how those with caring responsibilities have managed to get so much done over the last few months.
One other tip from me, related to juggling life and work, is that the workspace / desk doesn’t need to stay the same. I need focused hours at my computer for many tasks. Other more creative thinking happens in cafés over coffee or while walking.
Niggly problems or things that need different thinking might happen by asking advice from my partner or friends over dinner.
These more creative things wouldn’t be served as well sitting at the laptop.
Finally we may be seeing that presenteeism is not a healthy way to measure value!
Thank you Bernie, and yes, that’s a good point. Funnily enough, just yesterday, I was grappling with something and annoyed that I had to stop work on it to do the school run. And then, of course, the answer I was looking for came to me in the 5 minute walk to the school gate. The irony and aptness of that (having just published this post) made me smile.
Exactly! It is hard to remember in the moment. It’s a bit serendipitous. But switching up the day is important I think.
Lying in bed in the quiet early morning is a good time for me to think things through too.
I now think of 9-5 in an office as a bizarre concept!