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When part-time work has full-time hours

Mother working from home
Credit: iStock.com/jacoblund

Many mothers opting for part-time roles to accommodate the responsibility of looking after their children, are ending up working well beyond their paid hours.

“Australian mothers of young children show a strong preference for working part time hours, especially when children are really small,” says Professor Rae Cooper, co-Director of the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group.

According to the Australian Department of Employment, as of January 2019 there were nearly six million women employed in Australia, with 2.7 million (46 per cent) employed in part-time roles.

Women accounted for 69 per cent of all part-time employment.

Rachel Perkins, co-Director of Working Parents Connect, where her team supports working parents and parents returning to work says that flexible and part-time work arrangements are not only sought after by working mothers, but over the past 18 months, they have seen a huge shift in working fathers expressing a similar preference.

The problem is that working parents opting for part-time work often end up working well beyond their paid hours.

“We know from hundreds of interviews that the problem is women who work part-time often work a number of unpaid hours a week in order to meet the expectations of their roles,” says Professor Cooper.

“We have a real challenge in that while hours might be reduced, employers and workplaces often don’t have an appropriate expectation about how much work can be done and goals achieved in shorter hours.

“This is all about job design, and we don’t pay enough attention to this.”

We have a real challenge in that while hours might be reduced, employers and workplaces often don’t have an appropriate expectation about how much work can be done and goals achieved in shorter hours.
Professor Rae Cooper

Why do women work unpaid hours?

When it comes to working unpaid hours, who is the driving force?

Is it the working mother “thanking” her employer for “giving” her a flexible role, or, is it the employer not designing the role to fit within the paid hours and turning a blind eye to the additional unpaid work?

“It is both a push and pull situation,” explains Dr Cooper.

“Often I think mothers of young children are grateful to be able to access flexibility at all and this means that they try their hardest to meet expectations of peers and their managers. 

“Sometimes these expectations are unreasonable, and it ends up with employees doing hours that are outside the scope of their paid role.

“Perhaps it is time that we had a conversation about unpaid work and also about job design to ensure that roles are manageable and sustainable.”

Rachel agrees, “most parents we speak with, if granted a part-time or flexible work arrangement will do everything and anything in their power to make it work for the business, particularly if they’re returning from parental leave.”

“Research suggests that employees who are offered flexibility in the workplace tend to be more loyal to their employers.

“When happily employed, most women don’t mind working a few additional hours here and there to ensure they’ve delivered on a set task or cleared their workload.

“On the flip side, we do see some women working close to full-time in their part-time roles and, for some of these women, they don’t push back as they feel they are fortunate having the flexibility they do.

“One example is a candidate I have been working with who is paid to work eight hours Monday to Wednesday but works 11 hours on each of these days.

“She then manages her administrative tasks from home on her days off.

“We certainly do see some employers placing pressure on their staff to work what is a full-time role in only part-time hours which is unfair and completely unmanageable.”

The benefits of a part-time role

According to a 2018 report, part-time employees across all types of employment has increased from 25 per cent in 1998 to 31 per cent in 2018.

This is due, in part, to employees wanting a work-life balance, which is one of the main benefits of part-time employment for parents.

“The benefits to parents are endless,” says Rachel.

“A flexible work arrangement may allow them to take their child to and from school, work part-time and care for their family, miss the daily commute by working from home or might be as simple as leaving early on a Friday afternoon to take their child to football training.

“Then there are the benefits to one’s health and wellbeing as with better work-life balance comes less stress and then this has a positive impact on the rest of the family.

“There are also benefits arounds cost savings, for example, reduction of childcare costs and costs associated with travelling to work each day.”

The benefits of part-time employment extend to employers.

“Research indicates that flexible employers not only win the war on talent and attract highly skilled employees to their business but also record lower levels of absenteeism, happier and more engaged and loyal staff so higher retention and greater productivity,” says Rachel.

“There is also the big benefit to save on costs through paying part-time salaries, reducing recruitment spend through low turnover and positioning themselves as an employer of choice for parents and freeing up office space with employees working from home.

“More part-time and flexible roles allow more women to return to work, therefore boosting female participation in the workforce with a huge economical boost to the country.”

What to do if you are in a part-time job with full-time hours

Rachel says that most women she speaks to work additional hours on occasion to meet business needs, so know that you aren’t alone.

However, if those additional hours keep creeping up, she recommends discussing your workload with your manager or human resources.

Dr Cooper agrees, “talk openly about expectations and hours and have conversations with your supervisor about what is and isn’t working”.

Rachel says, “there could be the option to delegate some tasks to colleagues or to look at a formal job-share arrangement”.

“Whilst some employees are able to accumulate time off in lieu through the working of additional hours, it is absolutely unacceptable to be paid only for your contracted part-time hours if you are actually working full-time,” she says.

Dr Cooper adds, “Ultimately and legally, employees are meant to be paid for the work they undertake, so it is up to your employer to make sure that unpaid work is not going on”.