Making the decision to work part-time in my early thirties may well be the best decision I’ve ever made.
As I write this article, I’m 31 years old. I’m not married. I don’t have kids, or anyone who’s dependent on me in any way. I’m not studying for a new qualification, or any of the other classic reasons to work part-time. For me that’s precisely why it’s the perfect time to start this new chapter in my life.
A caveat: I recognise that I work in a well-paid industry, and what I’m talking about in this article may not work for everyone.
I’ve liked the idea of working part time for many years. The issue I’ve struggled with in the past, is having to take a pay cut to do it. The importance of money had always been right at the forefront of my mind. But what I came to realise more recently, is that it’s not really as important to me as I thought (which is a complicated enough story to form its own post some time probably).
When I reflected on my career, while I had placed a lot of importance on the size paycheck, when I really thought about it, it hadn’t been my main motivation. In my early career, what mattered more to me than anything else was the people. People to get along with, to learn from and to help me grow. Many of these became my close friends. Later as I moved into a leadership position, the importance shifted to good people to teach in a company that cares about its employees. A company with a relaxed culture that respects me and affords me a great deal of flexibility.
As I thought about it more, I had always been protective about my time and peace of mind too. I didn’t go in for freelancing or side work in the evenings and weekends, like some of my friends. I didn’t go into the more stressful or risky tech sectors (like fin-tech or start-ups) that demand more from you, but pay a higher wage.
As strange as it may sound, it was only after all of this reflection that I realised my wellbeing, health and happiness are all way more important to me than money (and always have been). I realised that this focus I’ve had on working towards a comfortable retirement meant sometimes I’d forgotten to live and look after myself along the way. Throughout my career, I’ve clearly been making decisions (sometimes subconsciously) to maintain a certain level of work-life balance. So why not adjust that dial more in favour of life?
Recently, I’ve found myself in a fairly new situation in my career. I found that I’m not getting the same sense of satisfaction out of individual contributor work that I used to. I came to realise that mentoring and helping others work through problems and find direction in their careers was far more rewarding to me than the other aspects of my role. The side that had delighted me for years prior.
I’ve also grown a lot since I started therapy at the beginning of 2020, and as part of that I’m getting more in touch with the person I really am at my core. Some of this is resulting in a shift in my values and what’s important to me, in other cases I’m uncovering values that were guiding me all along. Having some more time to figure out how I could respond to this change, and how I might incorporate it into my career, seemed like it would be particularly helpful.
As I said at the beginning of this article, It’s the perfect time to take some more time for myself right now. I’m in a very fortunate position in life. I had a comfortable start and I’ve worked hard to get to a good position at work. I have a mortgage locked at an affordable rate. I have savings for the future that I can fall back on if really needed. I can afford to take a 20% pay cut in order to work 4 days a week, and all that really means for me financially is that I won’t put as much into savings each month.
I honestly didn’t think there would ever be a better time to give part-time working a go. So I did.
The company I work for, Potato, has always allowed me a great deal of flexibility in my job. I can take as much holiday as I feel I need, adjust my working hours to fit in around the various demands of life, and more recently a whole host of other benefits.
Not that I’m looking to promote my employer on my non-working day, but I was pretty confident from the start that they’d be accommodating. We have a policy on how to make a flexible working request, which essentially boils down to filling out the right to request flexible working form from gov.uk and then sitting down with our Delivery Director to discuss how this might impact things like casting for projects and the division of my time.
It all happened quite quickly really. In the space of a couple of months it went from an initial musing I had, to my first official non-working Wednesday.
One of the main things I do now is writing. This very post that you’re reading is a product of my non-working days. It has become a bit of a passion of mine. I really enjoyed sharing my story at the end of last year. I found the responses to it really encouraging, and I feel a strong sense of purpose when I see some of the impact my writing has had on others. There are more topics that I would like to cover and experiences I’d like to share, but they don’t necessarily tie in with my job. So it’s something I want to continue to pursue in my own time.
Self care. Making more time for me. I’ll follow-up with a more detailed post about how I’ve been looking after my mental health this last year, but this can take all sorts of forms: Bike rides, meditation, journaling, taking a bath or anything I find therapeutic to do, like gardening or building something out of LEGO.
As I touched on earlier, I’ve grown a lot in the last 18 months, and with that I’ve honed my values and my sense of what is fulfilling and meaningful to me. I want some time to reflect on this, and to explore what it could mean for me in terms of role direction (and maybe this is a big enough topic for an article in its own right). It’s likely that off the back of this exploration, I’ll be working with Potato to make some changes to my current role, in order to find more fulfilment at work. There’s a small chance I’ll decide to pack in the tech industry all together and go in a completely different direction. I really don’t know, but I’m excited by the possibilities, and the time I now have to explore them.
I wanted to make sure that I really use this extra time to my own benefit. I was concerned that if I took it on a Monday or Friday it would feel like just an extension of the weekend. The weekend is where I have social plans, go out and about with my partner, do jobs around that house, or just sit around and play some Xbox. While more time doing any of these things would be awesome, what I really wanted was time dedicated to me. Wednesday is perfect for this. It’s in the middle of the working week, so I have more mental energy, and I'm still in a focused mindset. I haven’t yet dropped into the “switch off and relax” mindset that I aim for at the end of the working week. Nobody else I know has the day off, so I have far less chance of being interrupted or distracted. To top it all off, my working week now essentially consists of two Monday/Friday pairs.
Quite simply, I love it. I love having a day truly dedicated to myself. I’m looking after myself better, and I’m doing some things that I’ve wanted to for a while. Sometimes I wake up on a Wednesday thinking I have work, then get a rush of excitement when I remember I don’t. Thursdays have never felt so good either. I feel energised when I return to work, and find myself having more headspace and patience.
Some days I feel some kind of obligation to be productive, which can be both a good and a bad thing. I definitely don’t want to “waste” this extra time I’ve afforded myself. Today I had to give myself a bit of a nudge to get started writing, but I’m trying not to set unrealistic expectations. I don’t need to justify this time to anyone, and I don’t have to have any kind of an output to show. There will be some days when the most productive thing I can do for myself is simply to rest, and not begrudge myself for doing activities that may appear “unproductive”.
At work, I’ve fallen a little bit into the classic trap of trying to fit 5 days of work into the remaining 4 days, which obviously isn’t possible. But I feel that I’m far more productive on the days that I do work. While I may not be getting 100% of the things done in a week that I used to, it’s definitely not as low as 80% either, which you might expect it to be with a 20% reduction in time. On any given day, I definitely get more done than I used to. My workload is something I’m still figuring out, and will continue to look at over time. The important thing is that I’m being disciplined about my time, and not working extra hours to compensate.
Not everyone I speak to understands my decision to work part-time, and that’s okay. I was prepared for that. I’ll explain the way I see things, but if it doesn’t resonate with them, I just accept our different views. Plenty of people tell me how lucky I am, or how they wish they worked part-time, but choose to prioritise the money instead, and that’s totally okay too. I know that what I’m doing is right for me, but I’m sure it’s not right for everyone.
Sometimes, I fall back into the monetary mindset and think about how much less I’m earning. In those moments, I remind myself that “money isn’t everything”, and think about how much more valuable my wellbeing is to me.
Maybe. I hope so! I don’t have any great desire to go back to working a 40 hour, 5 day week. I’m a realist though, I understand that it’s quite likely a time will come when I go back to full-time employment for the sake of the extra 20% pay, even if just temporarily.
Given time, maybe the rest of the world will follow in the footsteps of Iceland and working 4 days a week will become the norm. I’d love to see it happen, but I think it’s a little way off yet.
For now though, I truly believe that working part-time is the best career move I’ve ever made.