The rise of part-time work – what it means for employers
The structure of Australia’s workforce is not as it used to be. Here’s what’s changed.

Forty years ago, around one in 10 employees worked part-time. Today, more than a quarter of Australian workers fit this description. Despite part-time employment becoming more mainstream, new research from SEEK shows that many part-timers feel their job status works against them and their full-time colleagues tend to agree.

The results of research recently commissioned by SEEK show that one in four part-time workers feel discriminated against and 53% of full-time employees have the same perception. These findings appear to buck the trend towards greater acceptance of flexible work practices and the overall growth in part-time roles within the employment landscape.

Perceptions of part-time workers

Florian Dehne, Head of Strategy at SEEK Employment, says the growth in part-time roles is reflected in the jobs advertised on SEEK. “When we look at the proportion of part-time and contracting work versus full-time employment, a very strong trend over the past few years shows that non full-time roles are growing at the expense of full-time employment,” he says.

The landscape may be changing but the attitudes appear to be lagging behind. SEEK recently conducted independent research into employees' views of part-time work, discovering that the perception of discrimination was felt more among female part-time workers (30%) than their male counterparts (12%). While one in three were unable to vocalise why they felt discriminated against, 25% of respondents working part-time stated it was because they weren’t perceived to be as readily available as their full-time colleagues, and another 22% stated it was because of a perceived disconnection to the rest of the team.

Full-time workers surveyed provided more reasons for perceived discrimination.

Key reasons were that part-time workers ‘aren’t as readily available as full-time colleagues’ (47%), ‘lack of commitment to their company’ (38%), ‘absence is seen as a burden to their full-time colleagues’ (36%) and ‘if they’re not seen in the office, they’re not working’ (35%).

In addition to perceptions of discrimination, more than half (58%) of all respondents believed that working part-time was career limiting.

James Witcombe, associate director of Smaart Recruitment, agrees that this may be an unfortunate truth.In terms of management and leadership positions that are part-time, I can’t think of any company that we deal with who has senior managers who are anything other than full-time,” he says. “While we talk about job sharing, I think that that tends to be seen as suited to more entry-level roles where the skills and responsibilities tend to be more on a daily transactional basis.”

Changing the conversation

Mark Smith, Director of recruitment firm People2People, says feelings of discrimination towards part-time workers may surface due to employer expectations. “Employers tend to equate part-time work as flexible work. Yet when you talk to the candidates in the marketplace for part-time work, it’s quite the reverse as they are often restricted in the hours they can work,” he says. “This may be because they have to pick up their kids at a set time or be at university during certain days. There is a disconnect – an employer may view part-time as equating to flexible staffing solutions, yet the candidates may be inflexible because of their commitments outside of work.”

Debra Eckersley, Managing Partner of Human Capital at PwC, says there is a distinction between flexible and part-time work. “One size does not fit all,” she says. “That’s why two-way conversations between individuals and their managers are so important. The many people I know who work part-time are also flexible. If there is a problem or someone in their team needs help then they will occasionally take a call on the days that they are not working. So long as that’s not abused, then that’s ok, because it’s about being flexible.  It’s about setting guidelines and expectations up front.”

Eckersley believes attitudes towards part-time work will change when companies embrace flexible work practices. PwC has embedded the ‘All Roles Flex’ culture into its workplace. This involves extending flexible working options to all 6000 employees. By normalising flexibility in the workplace, Eckersley says employees are more accepting of each other’s work and life commitments.

“We’re all humans and we’ve all got things happening outside of work,” she says. “I think Australian companies generally need to see that managing people is not about managing the hours they work or where they work but it’s about helping them achieve clear objectives. As a team, you need to agree on how you’ll work together while recognising that you all have different things going on in your life.”

Of the part-time workers surveyed, 62% were female, 38% were male and the majority of them were lower income earners with an annual salary of less than $42,000. Their main reason (30%) for working part-time was work-life balance to ensure they has time to carry out additional duties at home. Other reasons for working part-time included study (16%) and parental commitments (13%). The majority of people working part-time were doing so by choice.