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How to Ask for Part-Time Hours

I have negotiated going part-time twice in my career: once successfully and once not successfully.

In this article I’ll share some tips on how I asked for part-time hours and how you can do the same.

My switch from full-time to part-time hours (eventually)

You might already know that before I started working for myself, I worked for my employer four days a week. I wanted to be part-time for many years, and back when I was a Six Sigma Black Belt at my old employer I put in my first request for part-time working.

In the UK, employers have to consider your request, but they don’t have to grant it. I would have been the only part-time person on the team, and I didn’t have children back then.

My request was refused.

There’s a huge cultural thing around working part-time. In my experience, it largely depends on how your manager feels about part-time staff. Do they believe the rest of the team have to pick up the slack? Do they feel it would be too difficult to arrange work for the team if you aren’t there some of the time?

After my first child was born, I went back to work three days a week, and then eventually four. I had a (different) enlightened manager who was interested in results rather than hours, and who had children himself.

What working part-time actually meant for me

However, I did technically work five days a week. Fridays were my main writing and blogging days, where I draft emails to send to you, met with my assistant and generally got stuff done. So I had (and still have) childcare organised for five days a week.

I wanted to go part-time because I wanted more time for writing project management books and doing the fun stuff. Basically, I wanted something outside of my day job – I wanted to spend more time on my side hustle and not feel that time was eating into the balance between work and family.

Whether you have a side job, want time with your family, or want to balance study or retraining with work, going part-time could be an option for you.

However, what happened was I ended up taking calls about my day job on a Friday because I was at my desk anyway. On one project, the team meetings were set up for Fridays at 11am every week before I joined the team. When I took over the project management, the team wouldn’t budge from that time slot. I had to join the call weekly, do the notes, and to be honest I resented it.

Generally, though, working part-time worked for me. Sometimes I start work at 7.30am, other times I’m working until 10pm at night. Sometimes I take a long lunch break or go to the school for Stay and Play sessions. Everything I need to get done gets done, and I’m lucky to have flexibility from my employer to make that happen.

I’ve lost track of the amount of people who have asked me for advice on going part-time as a project manager – or in any job (I also seem to speak to lawyers about this quite a lot!).

Here are some commonly asked questions.

“Can I work part-time?”

Yes. Well, at least technically you can. There are very few jobs that demand you to personally be available all week, although if you are CEO of an international corporation that’s going to be a hard role to job share.

For middle management jobs, team leader jobs, project management roles, business analysis roles and many other jobs, whether you can work part-time or not relies on whether your company is open to helping you make it work.

“Can I switch from full-time to part-time?”

Yes! That’s what I did. I went from a full-time role to a four-day a week role.

Admittedly, I think that switch was easier because I had a period of maternity leave. I also had a period of time between my children being born when I was only working three days a week.

“How do you negotiate going part-time?”

Here’s what I’ve learned about part-time working in case you want to put forward an application yourself.

It’s about your manager and your team.

If they can’t support you, you won’t be able to make it a success. How can you show your working time won’t have an impact on the team? Or if it will, demonstrate how it can be made manageable. People care more about what it means for them than what it means for you.

It should be about results.

You should be judged on your contribution, not the hours you spend at the office. This goes for talking to your boss about flexible (i.e. work-from-home) working too. If your manager is someone who values presenteeism, your discussion will be more difficult.

Be clear about what part-time means.

I didn’t want to be a burden, and when I first started on four days a week I didn’t tell anyone that I wasn’t available on Fridays. I took meetings on Fridays because I didn’t want me being part-time to be “a thing.” That gets tiresome quickly. Be clear about your availability.

Now, I make sure my work balances out over the week. I do still do some work on a Friday but I make sure over the week I’m getting the time away from work. You might not be able to manage it flexibly like that, especially if you have to be in the office for work.

Start with an informal chat.

Talk informally about why you are considering part-time hours and what it would mean for the team. Ask what you need to do to make part-time working work for everyone. This will help you understand how your manager feels about it, and what concerns they may have. You can then address their objections in your formal request.

Ask clearly and follow policy.

Read the policy, and don’t assume your manager has. Ask formally for your request to be considered and be explicit about what “part-time” means, listing the hours you are prepared to do. Be prepared to compromise if that helps you get closer to what you need.

Think about the other conditions of employment that will change.

For me, going part-time came with some other conditions. It’s not just about pay and hours. You might lose some influence at work, you might not be able to attend meetings other people attend as they happen on your day off and all that can have an overall negative impact on your career growth over time.

You’ll have to live with it if you want to go part-time, but at least be aware it’s a possibility.

“How do I convince my boss to let me go part-time?”

Consider what it’s going to mean to them. You need to be able to see it from their perspective. How will you doing fewer hours impact on the team overall? Will the team’s deliverables be cut by a proportionate amount? Thought not.

Create a proposal that works for you both

Ultimately you need to put forward a proposal that works for you both, and for your colleagues. You don’t want them to have to be picking up the slack while you are out of the office, because that just means they have to work harder because of your part-time hours. Look for ways to make it workable and not a burden for everyone.

Consider a job share

If you think your job can’t easily fit into part-time hours or be reduced appropriately, think about a job share. This is where two of you work the same position, and you have a handoff in the week so that the other person can pick up the work the first person started.

Job shares mean the employer gets a greater degree of coverage i.e. there is never a day when someone isn’t available to do work. And you get the share the burden.

I know a few people who job share and as long as you have the right partner, it can work out very well for everyone.

Point out the cost savings

If you work fewer hours, the company pays you less.

That might be a selling point for your boss, especially if you only plan to be part-time for a short period of time, for example while caring for an elderly relative or for a few years while your children are small.

They could replace you with a full-time person (if part-time hours are a deal-breaker for you and you’ll go elsewhere) but then they’ll have to fund the recruitment and onboarding of a new member of staff.

Think about flexible working

If you can’t get your boss on your side, think about other suggestions you can put forward that give you the flexibility you want.

For example, working compressed hours, flexible start and finish times or working from home.

Part-time working is awesome!

Putting aside the drop in salary, going part-time was the best thing I have ever done. It wasn’t without challenges, like people expecting me to be available all the time, and forgetting I was a part-timer, but overall, it gave me so much more freedom.

I’d love to hear your stories of requesting part-time working hours and the results. Come over to our friendly Facebook group and share your experiences!

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

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