More and more men are choosing to work part-time to share childcare responsibilities or pursue other business opportunities.
Think of a part-time worker and you will most likely imagine a mother juggling work with caring for children. However, in today’s working world this is only part of the picture.
A growing number of British men are also working part-time. In the UK, one in eight men are now part-time employees compared with just one in 12 two decades ago, according to new research by the Resolution Foundation.
While this is due in part to a lack of available hours for lower paid workers – the think tank’s researchers found that lower paid men were working on average 42.2 hours a week in 2016 compared with 44.3 hours in 1997 – many men are actively choosing to work part-time.
Working fathers prioritise family
A study by the University of Plymouth Graduate School of Management last year found increasing numbers of fathers worked fewer hours to help accommodate childcare commitments, while more mothers worked full-time.
“In the UK, traditional patterns of employment and parenting are in decline, and the stereotype of fathers going to work while mothers raise a family [is] increasingly diminishing,” Jasmine Kelland, the lecturer in human resource management who led the research, told the UK’s Independent newspaper.
In fact, by 2024 British employers should expect a 20% increase in the number of male part-time workers, the former UK Commission for Employment and Skills predicted in a 2016 study.
UK’s shared parental leave behind new trend
In Britain, the move is partly driven by the introduction of shared parental leave in December 2014, enabling both parents to share time off after a child is born or adopted. Depending on individual entitlement, parents are able to share a ‘pot’ of 52 weeks leave between them, either taking time off simultaneously or in turn. Parents receive Government payments for 39 of those weeks.
Part-time work is a ‘win-win’, says workplace dads expert, Josh Levs
US fathers are also keen to spend more time with their families and would welcome more flexible working opportunities, says Josh Levs, an expert on fathers in the workplace and the UN’s global champion of gender equality.
In fact, Levs points out in his recent article for LinkedIn, research from consultants EY (formerly Ernst & Young), reveals that US men are more likely than women to change jobs or careers to improve their work/life balance.
“Part-time work is really good for business,” he told Alvexo. “The number one thing I always tell businesses is ‘always communicate’. Have the conversations. If you say [to employees], ‘What might work for you?’ and get creative with job-sharing and part-time working, you find you make money and save money in that way.”
Offering part-time work improves retention
Levs, a former journalist, was forced to sue CNN’s parent company Time Warner after it refused to offer him parental leave when his daughter was born prematurely and his wife became ill. Now as an adviser to corporations around the world on fathers in the workplace, Levs says offering part-time work to men improves staff retention and slashes recruitment costs.
“The cost of replacing an employee is 90% to 200% of annual salary,” he says. “There are so many expenses. There’s the cost of paying a recruiter and all this time you still have a person doing [the person’s] job.
“Attraction and retention are seminal right now and you cannot [achieve this] without offering work-life balance. People who seek this know how to commit. They plough through work and they get their work done in seven hours [rather than 16] and they’re hopefully healthier too.”
Working in senior management, part-time
In the UK, the trend towards men working part-time also extends to senior management level, according to research by recruiter Timewise. In 2015, one in three of the UK’s high-earning part-time employees were men, a study by the specialist in part-time placements found.
An estimated 680,000 workers were formally employed on a part-time basis in 2015 and earning a minimum of £40,000 full time equivalent, according to the research. Of these employees, 230,000 were men and 450,000 women.
The study’s 2015 Power Part Time list, in association with Management Today, of the UK’s top 50 part-time senior business men and women, also found a record-number of men in business-critical roles at the likes of Dixons Carphone, advertising firm AMV BBDO and the Bank of England.
Granting men flexibility helps women ascend the corporate ladder
Offering flexible working for men also gives women greater opportunities for promotion, Levs argues. “A lot of businesses are trying to understand why they don’t have more women up the ranks,” he says. “I say, ‘are you doing this for men too?’ If you’re not offering this to me, this means men can’t stay at home.”
Grandparents in senior management are also getting in on the act. “There are also some grandparents who didn’t get to do this [care for children] the first time around and they want to have a relationship with their grandchildren,” says Levs.
“They’re high level and they’re saying, ‘I’m only going to work four days a week so I can do this’. [In the case of one family I worked with] three different grandparents and each of the parents stay home one day a week.”
Part-time working: the negatives
A downside of part-time working is that employees, whether male or female, can find themselves being passed over for promotion.
“It’s called ‘The Hours Stigma’ – it affects men and women,” explains Levs. “Men get raised up the ranks for sitting at their desks for longer rather than actually doing more work. [But when companies do their research into productivity] they find the most productive employees are not sitting at their desks all day.
“[Meanwhile] women get stigmatised in different ways. People judge them both for staying late at work [when they have children] and for caregiving.”
With nursery bills hitting £11,000 a year on average, and nearly £15,000 in London, many women also find it difficult to justify returning to work for financial reasons. A 2015 report by the National Childcare Trust found that 29% of women – twice as many men (14%) – found it financial unviable to return to work after having children.
Algy Hall: How I juggled a portfolio career
Other men are combining the flexibility of part-time roles to share childcare responsibilities with the opportunity to pursue other interests.
Algy Hall, tips editor at the FT Group-owned Investors Chronicle, worked a four-day week to help care for his son and daughter, while also working as a children’s books illustrator.
“[I chose to work part-time] to do my children’s books and also to work from home and do pick-ups and drop-offs for the kids,” he explains.
Initially going part-time to study for an MA in children’s book illustration in his previous job, on graduation he landed his first book deal “to earn some proper money,” he says and continued the arrangement in his current role. He found the very different roles worked well together.
“Illustration is very solitary and journalism isn’t,” he explains. “Coming into an office and interacting with people was a good juxtaposition and I could get both jobs done.
Working two jobs ‘is a juggling act’
“When you’re balancing two different types of work you are always juggling. Management were amenable and that’s one of the great things about [my employer]; creating work/life balance and accommodating people who have children. It’s quite hard to retain staff in this area – but if you’re doing some kind of writing job in a City firm [instead you might find it more difficult to secure similar flexibility].”
However, since he and his wife Emily had their third child, a daughter, Hall has returned to work full-time.
“The work gravitates towards the person who is earning the most and the childcare towards the person earning less,” he explains.
“I had to go back to work full-time as it’s so expensive having children. The money didn’t dictate our decision [to have another child] but [in doing so] we added another bundle of expense. And the easiest way to get a hefty pay rise if you work part-time is to work full-time.”
He now works from home on Fridays to help with childcare responsibilities.
Working fathers ‘super-charged and focused’
Hall believes his employer benefits from offering flexibility to its male employees. “They probably get loyalty in terms of staying at a company and in a role for longer so that you’re a more valuable contributor,” he says.
“You get people who are better in their jobs. Parents have to be more focused. They’re like those marathon runners,” he argues. “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger. [And after you get through the intensity of the toddler stage] I think there’s a better employee at the end of it.”
Fathers ‘understand the pleasure in working’
He also thinks that parents enjoy their work more because they enjoy the contrast with family life.
“You have to learn ways of doing things [as a parent] and you enjoy your work more, which is very important in terms of productivity,” he said. “And you understand the pleasure in working. At home in the morning, everyone is arguing, you get lunch for three people and yourself, you leave the house and suddenly you can switch your mind to something else.”
Hall calls on employers to recognise that for women to progress up the corporate ranks, it is vital for part-time work to be available to their male partners.
“There are lots of gender issues here and one practical one is that female workers are a proxy for part-time workers,” he says. “It’s harder to move up the ladder which is why it’s important for employers to allow men to do part-time working too.”