Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Why 'part-timer' isn't an insult

IT's one of those jolly office jokes that, for some of us, never quite manages to be funny: yelling 'part-timer!' at anyone leaving before midnight/taking a holiday/nipping out of the office for five minutes. Ho ho, very droll. Unless, of course, you actually do work less than the standard 40 hours a week.
So perhaps this is merely me being over-sensitive. But hearing Ed Miliband taunt George Osborne this lunchtime for being a 'part-time Chancellor', I admit I winced. Political insults are rarely subtle, but this one deserves a little unpicking.
The gag revolves around the fact that since Downing Street relies on Osborne for all sorts of stuff beyond his official Treasury duties, some feel he's not giving enough time to the day job. But what really gives it zing is the inference that being part-time is equivalent to being, frankly, a bit rubbish. Not trying hard enough; rather semi-detached; not quite up to it; liable to drop the ball. Niiice.
I don't, of course, think this is how Ed Miliband really sees all part-timers. But the point is that dumb prejudice is already widespread enough in corporate life, thanks, without being unthinkingly fuelled by those who know better.
Over half of mothers of small children work part-time: so do a growing proportion of men. (As luck would have it, today's employment figures show yet another rise, especially among people who wanted a full-time job but can't get one).
Too many of them already have to put up with snide remarks about their 'days off' - 24 hours with small children being, natch, a rest cure - or weird reluctance to work until midnight. Or cram five days' work into three lest anyone say they can't hack it. Or mumble apologetically that they're 'only part-time', in the same way you might say 'only junior' or 'only temporary' or 'only hanging onto this job by my fingernails, damnit.' It's not like they need reminding of what some people, in the teeth of all the evidence about flexible working, still think of them.
And besides, using 'part-timer' as an insult in this case isn't just mildly offensive but inaccurate.
The reasons the Budget has unravelled are many and various and mostly nothing to do with Osborne's hours, but if he symbolises anything at all it's not the perils of part-time but its opposite - the downside of overwork. He's doing not too little, but too much.
He's a walking advert for the benefits of tackling work intensification - taking those people who are spinning far too many plates, not all of them well, and redesigning their work to spread it between several people (some of whom might even - shock horror - then be able to work less than the 80-hour week typical for a Cabinet minister). That's hard to turn into a witty parliamentary one-liner, I grant you. But for millions of people, the 'part-timer' gag isn't that funny either.


  1. Oh I am so glad I came across your blog! I can SO relate to what you're going through, as I recently made the same decision. I wasn't as "big" of a fish as you, but it's still a big transition! :-) Best of luck, and I look forward to following your blog! (Here's my story:

  2. To avoid the negative connotations of "part-timer" I will be taking your lead and referring to myself as a "Downshifter" ... at least to less than 45 hours per week.
    P.S. - in Germany they like to put-down those returning from holiday by referring to them as an "Urlauber".

  3. I stopped working full time when my children were born, and I can honestly say I have never looked back. I feel lucky that the choice was open to me. I worked for a Japanese company where the culture dictated you 'attend' long hours, or fall by the corporate way side. Jackets were left on the back of chairs in an effort to disguise the fact that the owners had dared go home! Sad really.

  4. I've only just read this and I couldn't agree more. I worked 'part-time' for years - all that means is that you do a full-time job for half the pay. And for most women, it also means that you then go home and do everything else as well, because no-one thinks you have a 'real' job.

    My husband works at least 50 hrs pw and then brings work home. He is also frequently away on business. I have now stopped work altogether - I know I am very lucky to be able to do so, but someone has to run the house, children, pets, elderly parents, etc etc. I would quite like still to be working part-time, but I so hate this culture of dedicating your entire life to the job or being classed as a skiver. Men (and it is usually men, but I appreciate there are some women who also like to push the 'look at me, I've had 10 children and I'm still an investment banker working all the hours God sends' image) can only work the ridiculous hours that some of them do because they either have a partner doing the back-up work, or have sufficient wealth to pay cleaners, nannies, etc.

  5. Enjoyed this, and funnily enough have written about this very subject for Femail in the Daily Mail, which should make it in tomorrow (but you never know!). Keep an eye out. You might enjoy my blog too... Ex

  6. Working from home is not really new; it existed in the medieval ages and throughout the time of the Renaissance. Based on one study, about forty percent of the total population of the world is possibly opting for work-at-home , or are self-employed.

  7. This is a wake-up-call to those who balatantly discriminate against the involuntary part-timers. I think that this arises from the superiority complexes associated with the corporate environment, which should be verily avoided. As for the other type, they should change their ways. It's hard enough to find a decent job this day and age, and many others can replace them if the higher-ups realize their inefficency and lack of work ethic. This was a fun read, even the comments. I will definitely read more.

    Donna Roland @

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