‘Going part-time doesn’t mean I lack ambition’

Joel Cooper was riding high in the cut-throat newspaper business. He explains why he decided to go part-time and what he learned as result.

Work part time


Joel Cooper is a trailblazer on Fleet Street. He works on one of the country’s busiest newsdesks. But he recently went part-time.

His son’s diagnosis on the autism spectrum made him realise he had to change his working pattern. He had to face down some long held views that his industry isn’t suited to different ways of working and those that do go part-time lack ambition.

He told us about why he went part-time and why he branched out into coaching to help other parents as a result.

What family have you got?

My wife, my five-year-old son – who is on the autistic spectrum – and my baby daughter.

What is your working arrangement?

I work three days a week as an assistant chief sub-editor at a national newspaper and two days a week as a life coach specialising in working with the families of children with autism. My wife works three days a week for an NGO but is about to take a year’s sabbatical to spend more time with our children.

Why did you go part time?

The trigger was my son’s autism diagnosis. I was already exhausted from working nights as an editor and feeling guilty at not being able to spend enough time with him. Learning about his diagnosis was a very painful shock but made me more determined to give him the hands-on parenting he needs to thrive.

How easy or difficult was the process?

It wasn’t easy because part-time working is not the norm in my industry – previously those in my workplace looking to reduce their days generally had to resign and worked as freelancers. I also found it emotionally hard because part of me wrongly equated not wanting to work full time with a lack of ambition. That said, my employers were understanding, especially when I explained I was doing it because of my son’s diagnosis.

What’s been the reaction among colleagues?

Generally supportive. Some surprise at first, and questions about why I was doing it and how they could do the same thing.

Are there particular challenges around going part time in your industry?

Senior jobs in the newspaper industry are still quite male-dominated – particularly on the editing side, with its late and irregular hours. So, in my experience, the idea of flexible working to fit around a family has not really taken off yet. It’s also seen as important to be completely on top of the whole weekly news cycle. But in my view this does not have to be a barrier to part-time working. A good journalist will always want to keep up with the news, even on their days off!

Has it made you a better dad?

I think the biggest factor that makes a good dad is putting the time in – which I can now do. I get to play with my children after school, take them to activities and put them to bed in a way I rarely could before. That time and space has helped my wife and I to put in place strategies for helping my son, from speech therapy to techniques to cope with challenging behaviour. It’s also made me calmer and less judgmental as a husband and father; partly due to some of the techniques I’ve learned as a coach and partly because I’m less knackered.

Has it made you a better employee?

I’m much fresher now, and more able to concentrate on the job itself without the distractions of tiredness and stress. I also view my employer more positively for being reasonable and accommodating.

Why did you decide to go into coaching?

I was inspired to become a coach after having coaching myself following my son’s diagnosis. Being coached was a transformative experience. It helped me to work out what I really want in life and how to make it happen. It has also had huge benefits for my family. I think there is a real need for coaching, in particular among families whose loved one has had a diagnosis of autism or social communication difficulties. To find out more about how coaching could benefit you, please visit www.personfirstcoaching.com

What would you say to any employer wary of embracing flexible or part time working?

Don’t be afraid that the employee’s commitment will wane. They are likely to become MORE committed because they feel happier and that they’ve been treated fairly.

What would you say to any dad thinking about going part time?

Be honest with yourself about what is most important to you. If it’s family then don’t be afraid to follow your conviction and act on that.

And if you face obstacles along the way, try to remember your core reason for doing it. Going part time does not mean the end of your career! It can be the start of an exciting new chapter.

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