Opportunities are getting better for workers who want to put in less time than 40 hours a week.
Most of those who deliberately choose part-time schedules are women who want to spend more time with their children. But some men also seek reduced hours, often to give themselves the flexibility to experiment with a home-based business or a second career.
In the past, most employers gave a cold shoulder to adults seeking part-time work, and many still do. But attitudes are changing. Some companies are moving to part-timers to save money; others are adopting more flexible schedules because of pressure from their employes.
Financial and consumer-service firms, small businesses and high-tech companies are fertile ground for those searching for part-time employment. So are state and local governments.
Take, for example, the teachers of Jefferson County, Colorado. During contract negotiations three years ago, they won a pilot job-sharing program that was particularly desired by teachers who had just come off maternity leave. The idea also interested teachers who were easing into retirement and those who wanted to try another job without giving up teaching completely.
Under the arrangement, two teachers share a single job -- each of them working half a day at half pay. They're responsible for finding a partner and for gaining the school's approval. They keep all employe benefits but must pay half the costs out of their own pockets.
Each flexitime arrangement is as different as the employer and employe who work it out. Some call for full-time work two or three days a week, while others involve half days and weekends on a special-project basis. Some jobs can be done entirely from home, with the worker reporting to the office via computer and telephone line.
Civil-service lawyers who participate in job-sharing programs in New York state receive full medical benefits at no extra cost. (Other benefits, including pensions, are affected by the amount of time the lawyer puts in.) But the majority of part-timers give up employer-paid life and health insurance, pension credits and other perks. This may not matter to a woman whose husband carries health insurance for the family, but it is a deterrent to self-supporting workers.
There are plenty of stories about workers who cut down on their hours, then returned full time without hurting their corporate advancement. Some are even promoted while they're on part-time status. But people who choose part-time work should expect it to interfere with the pace of their career. In effect, you are choosing other goals over strictly professional ones.
But to a working mother who wants to keep up her profession while spending more time with her children, part-time work may be preferable to quitting the work force for three or four years.
Generally speaking, a professionals can get part-time hours more easily if they already work for the company. You should work out a plan for dividing your responsibilities, and propose it to your boss. Companies don't want to lose good workers and may be willing to make special arrangements, especially if the employe plans eventually to return to full-time status -- for example, when the children are older. Nevertheless, it may take a hard sell to win your point.
It is harder to find a professional, part-time job when you're applying for your first job with a company. But it can sometimes be done, if you have a strong resume and a good proposal for how you can assist the company on a part-time basis. Employment advisers suggest that you pitch for part-time work during the job interview, rather than putting it on your job application.
More corporations now offer nonprofessional part-time jobs as a way of holding down their labor costs. With this kind of work you have no employe benefits, little or no chance of advancing to full-time employment, lower pay and poor job security. "Part-timers are the first to go because the whole point of flexible employment is to give the company flexibility," James Walker, vice president of the consulting firm Cresap, McCormick and Paget, told my associate, Virginia Wilson. Many workers accept these jobs simply because they can find no other.
But on the positive side, this trend is useful to mothers who want just a few hours of work a week (and who have working husbands to help pay the bills); to the unattached who want extra time for outside activities; to full-time workers who must moonlight to make ends meet; and to retired people who want to supplement their pension and Social Security checks.
Many companies still won't entertain a part-time job proposal, but it can't hurt to ask.