Work Smarter, Not Longer: Opting In to a Shorter Work Week

Erin Zelinka
Jun 7 · 5 min read
Photo courtesy of Christina Morillo, pexels.com

As my daughter approached twelve weeks old, the end of my maternity leave, I searched for part-time jobs that would provide a decent living. I knew I couldn’t leave her for the 45+ hours a week that I worked before she arrived, at a job that paid 60k a year with benefits.

For some reason, our society doesn’t value part-time workers at the same rate that it values full-time workers, even if we bring the same skills and enthusiasm.

With my fiancé and I sharing expenses, I calculated that I only really needed to make around 30k. As such, I set out to find a job with half the hours and half the pay, so our family could live happily ever after in blissful work-life balance.

But no such job existed. Not even close. In my Southern Oregon searches, part-time marketing jobs were offering around $15/hour with no benefits. I had been paid twice that amount with benefits as a full-time employee.

For some reason, our society doesn’t value part-time workers at the same rate that it values full-time workers, even if we bring the same skills and enthusiasm. Perhaps more enthusiasm considering we won’t be burnt out from 40 hours tethered to a desk.

This lack of part-time options presents a problem not only for parents and caretakers who want more time for their children but for artists and entrepreneurs who want more time for their crafts. Or for straight-up humans who simply don’t want to feel like a 9-to-5 job is the sum total of their existence.

Some companies have experimented with shorter work weeks and have found that employees are more productive and creative. According to Business Insider, New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian experimented with a 32-hour work week, while still paying full-time salaries, and wants to make the change permanent.

As of 2016, Amazon has also experimented with allowing employees to opt in to a 30-hour work week at 75% salary. The Amazon Jobs page states,

“We also know of some great technical talent — both at Amazon and elsewhere — that need a part time schedule. We want these talented individuals inventing with us at Amazon, so the HR team has been thinking about new ways to make that possible. That’s why we’re piloting the Part-Time Team Initiative . . . These part-time employees will still receive the same benefits as employees scheduled for 40 hours per week.”

To make the most of our human capital, to engage a variety of intelligences, our society needs to start offering a spectrum of employment opportunities.

Though it costs more per hour to provide benefits to a part-time employee, Amazon values the human capital — the unique knowledge, creativity and skills — it gains by offering this package.

But at this point, this model is an outlier, not the norm. So, though I have multiple degrees and over ten years of PR experience, I find myself working in a cafe, because it’s the best part-time option in my area. It provides the schedule flexibility I need and, with tips, pays more than that $15/hour average.

This is not unusual. My restaurant co-workers are some of the most creative and educated people I’ve ever met, all with diverse skills and big goals. Their intelligence is exemplified by their refusal to succumb to an antiquated system of employment. They crave variety, excitement, and challenges. They are taking lower pay with no benefits so they can have some hours left in their week to dedicate to passion projects. But they shouldn’t have to.

To make the most of our human capital, to engage a variety of intelligences, our society needs to start offering a spectrum of employment opportunities:

  • 20 hours a week at 50% salary with 50% benefits*
  • 30 hours a week at 75% salary with 75% benefits*
  • 9 months on, 3 months off, at 75% salary with 75% benefits*

*Or additional pay to offset cost of benefits

To me, it seems pretty straight-forward. The benefits portion would obviously be the most complicated element for HR departments. The implementation of Universal Healthcare would resolve that issue entirely, but that’s another article.

Employers may also argue that a given job can’t be done in 20 or 30 hours, and that’s fair. But many jobs can, and some people accomplish in 20 hours what others do in 40. When will we start basing pay and benefits on productivity and merit rather than sitting in a chair for a set amount of time?

Or another idea. How about job timesharing? My fiancé and I both possess managerial and administrative qualifications. Couldn’t we tag team a job, each put in 20 hours a week to make that 60k with benefits that would sustain us comfortably? Neither of us would feel burnt out and both would be able to spend ample time with our daughter. We would bring a lot more enthusiasm and energy to the role, and the company would be getting two brains for the price of one.

Our bank accounts are healthy but our hearts are not. We miss our kids. We miss our creativity. We miss the homes we work so hard to pay for. If more companies will lead the charge in offering a range of employment options, everyone will benefit.

While many households have evolved to include a more equal division of chores and childcare, career-sharing hasn’t yet become an option. Both partners are being forced to commit to 40+ hours a week in order to receive a fair employment package, because there aren’t viable options with fewer hours.

Our bank accounts are healthy but our hearts are not. We miss our kids. We miss our creativity. We miss the homes we work so hard to pay for. If more companies will lead the charge in offering a range of employment options, everyone will benefit.

Companies will attract and retain diverse talent. They’ll save money on jobs that require fewer hours to execute. And we, the workers, will feel energized, creative, balanced, and valued.

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Erin Zelinka

Written by

Author of A Loss for Words & The Best Reef, a memoir. Words in @OutpostMagazine, The Startup, Noteworthy, @RVMessenger, @Medium. PR Specialist, too.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +524K people. Follow to join our community.

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