Natalie Smith from the QUT School of Business studied 16 male and female part-time workers, many of whom had previously worked 60-hour weeks, about their experiences of “going part-time”, and eight of their managers.
She found three main responses to the request to reduce their hours to a part-time schedule.
“One was ‘yes, sure’ and the job didn’t change at all. Half the people in the survey didn’t have their performance measures reduced to a part-time load. These employees ended up with the same workload to do in fewer days for less money,” Ms Smith said.
“A second response was for a part-time arrangement to be easily achieved by reducing the number of clients, the number of subordinates, and the workload.
“Thirdly, some jobs were completely redesigned, even those that were difficult to perform on a part-time basis, to fit the employee’s reduced working week.
“Even the most notoriously difficult role of IT project manager was successfully redesigned by having competent team leaders and delegating work.
“This shows that even complex client-facing roles and managing staff can be accommodated into a part-time schedule so there is no need to ‘demote’ to behind-the-scenes operations, as was evident in some organisations.”
Ms Smith said other research had shown both men and women wanted to work fewer hours, but part-time jobs were usually associated with women.
“The study found the low percentage of successful transitions to part-time work could shed light on why Australia is struggling to get women into leadership positions,” Ms Smith said.
“Many organisations still haven’t reviewed the old standard of one breadwinner who is dedicated to work and has no other interests.
“The fact is there are fewer people in the demographic from the single breadwinner era so firms cannot rely on a never-ending stream of people who are prepared to ‘live to work’.
“It’s a myth that only women are interested in part-time work because men, people close to retirement and many young people want to work fewer hours.”
Ms Smith said the research revealed exciting potential for redesigning jobs with excessive work hours to be attractive to a broader range of people.
She said one example of this was that the organisations reaping the most rewards from part-time work had allowed their staff true autonomy to get the job done – not just flexible hours – to hire and fire the staff they needed and allocate budget and resources.
“The benefits for professional service firms who accommodate part-time requests with meaningful work are that they are able to attract and retain excellent staff other organisations are not interested in,” she said.
“Other benefits include development of younger staff – because part-timers tend to delegate and train more – and in an ageing work population, the organisation can retain vital organisational knowledge capital by designing meaningful part-time roles.”
Media contact: Niki Widdowson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org
** High res photo of Ms Smith available for media use.