Silver lining: is now the opportunity to change the standing of part-time work?

We know that the ‘miracle’ of the UK labour market reflects trends that most of us are not happy with: people are working for lower wages and in greater insecurity.   On top of this, they are working fewer hours, so incomes are dropping, and people’s uncertainty about their employment depresses their wellbeing.

The table below, from Craig Holmes’ contribution to a most interesting set of papers from the Policy Network,  shows that ‘self-employment’ has grown considerably faster for men than women, and we know that this often disguises un- or under-employment.  We also know that underemployment generally is growing, where women and men want to longer hours but can’t (overemployment also exists, especially for older professional men).

But it’s part-time employment that interests me most, as readers of this site will know.   We know that part-timers are generally regarded as less committed to their work, even though many of them work beyond their hours, and that shifting to part-time employment is usually near-fatal for a career.  These are major reasons why women work below their competence level.  So why do I find a ray of light in the figures below, which show a big proportionate jump in men working part-time?

The answer is that I believe it is only when a significant proportion of men, across all levels, work part-time that we shall get a real change in attitudes and practices in relation to part-time working, and  women be enabled to make full use of their competences.   Or maybe (weaker version) we can say that the pace of change will accelerate the more men there are in this position.  That’s a matter of realpolitik, not a normative judgement on my part.

So although it’s causing a lot of pain, it’s just possible that the jump in male part-timers might open the way for change for employment conditions for all in this category, if we can seize the opportunity.  In another of the Policy Network contributions, Sylvia Walby addresses exactly this issue (though not specifically from angle of the Paula Principle).  She argues:

1.  the regulation of employment should be improved so that more women can stay attached to the same employer before and after childbirth;

2.   women who are intending to return to employment after a break (but not the same employer) should get  access to free training, so they can re-enter the labour market with refreshed up-to-date skills; and

3. applying the practice of ‘gender budgeting’ so that the gendered costs and benefits of financial decisions can be made more visible.

I’d strongly support all of these:  especially the second because it naturally it appeals to my continuing belief in the value of training, and the third because as the PP shows we are wasting an awful lot of skill and experience.

High-quality part-time work could also be high-productivity work – something we need a lot more of.  So maybe now could be the time to argue for a real sea-change in attitudes and practice in relation to part-time work,  to balance the notion that the real business is to expand the number of full-time jobs.


Table from : Craig Holmes, Turning over the ‘hourglass’ labour market argument, Policy Network, Nov 2014






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