Patrick McMaster, executive coach and owner of Aim High Achieve More, writes about his decade working part time – what’s changed and what still needs to be done
According to the Office for National Statistics 14.7% of all UK people working, work part time. Some do so because they must, and some do because they choose to. If you’re a man reading this, you’re significantly less likely to be a part time worker than if you’re a woman.
Of all part time workers, 37% are men and 63% are women.
When I joined the UK workforce 20 years ago the percentage of men working part time was much, much lower. When I started working part time 10 years ago I didn’t know any men who did so. Looking at the Timewise power 50 lists in recent years we increasingly see male part time/flexible working role models in senior positions. It’s great to see shared paternity leave legislation is helping families make choices and most organisations, I believe, can accommodate part time working in most roles – when asked. So, it potentially comes down to men having the confidence to start a conversation. Asking for what they want. It’s a topic I’m passionate about and if any man reading this (or person who knows a man who’s thought about it) wants to hear – this is how it’s been for me over the last 10 years.
In 2009, I personally needed a “reason” to (assertively) request moving from 5 days a week to 4 days a week. I took Thursdays off and swapped days occasionally around business needs. My boss at the time was an amazing, insightful female leader who decided that she would keep my salary the same. Just imagine how engaged and committed I was to her and the organisation!
My “reason” was i) I had 3 children under 5 and ii) I wanted to do a 2 year programme of further education. As well as professional fulfillment the study was also to legitimately escape the pressures of having 3 young children which can be relentless, thankless and wonderful all at the same time.
When you talk to people you know who work part time or flexible hours you’ll hear the same story. You often end up doing the same in less time, as efficiently as you can. A few less Friday afternoons of largely unproductive but somewhat fulfilling filing/browsing/pub lunches. No difference between men and women there. My wife who also works part time and others I know say the same. Studies show men often play less of a role in the home than women too. As a life-long fan of free market economics, I never thought I’d be agreeing with unions that have suggested a 4 day week.
So, what’s different about working part time as a man? For me, it’s the surprise! People are still really, genuinely, surprised as it’s sadly not yet common enough. Until recently it’s almost been taboo for men to initiate in conversation due to sometimes irrational fears around career impact. Interviewing successfully for a job that’s advertised as full time is tough – however, take heart, it doesn’t mean you’re not the right/best person for the job! If more women can make it work, we men must ask ourselves the question – why do they do it and what do they get from it? All the women I know that manage to work part time do it to serve some purpose, to allow them the space to thrive in another aspect of their life (often children/caring). Whilst they’ll juggle and find it difficult much of the time, most wouldn’t swap back to full time work for the world.
What I most worry about is that some men may be missing out on something that will potentially significantly benefit them personally. They could work, and live and thrive. I can say that, hand on heart, there is a downside. There are projects I’d like to have worked on that I turned down due to capacity. One CEO wasn’t that impressed that I turned down one such project. However, the downside has been vastly outweighed by the upside. I’ve done better work, had a much better balance in my life and I’ve felt more energetic with a break mid-week. I’d still be working at full capacity on Friday afternoon at 4.45. (Obviously some colleagues don’t appreciate this!)
Although progress is being made, there are still gender stereotypes in society. Judgments and incorrect assumptions can be made about part-time workers regarding commitment, and aspirations for career progression and goals. As more men and women take time away from work (e.g. for shared parental leave, caring responsibilities, work life balance), the more all employers will become used to this as ‘normal’ and not a display of lack of commitment to work.
There are already national days celebrating everything from pickles (Nov 14) to fish fingers and custard (sorry if that excites you, you’ll have to wait a year for the next one as it was Apr 3). How about in 2019, we have a National day to celebrate “Part Time working men”. If so, I’m in!