Part-time and temp work – lifestyle choice or Hobson’s choice?

If you thought that London out-booming Mumbai, Shanghai and Hong Kong was counterintuitive, try this – part-time women in professional occupations earn 1.6% more than their full-time male counterparts! Part-time professional women earn, on average, £22.82 an hour while full-time professional men earn £22.47 an hour.

Is this a small victory for gender equality? No, because part-time men in professional occupations earn even more per hour – £27.55. According to research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, part-timers in professional occupations earn more than their full-time peers.

Should we be surprised? I was until I thought about it. As XpertHR’s Sarah Welfare points out, there are relatively few part-time professional roles so we are talking about a small group of people here. The pay figures are almost certainly skewed by a small number of high earners. These are the privileged few who can choose to work part-time yet can still demand high rates for doing so.

We often associate non-standard employment patterns (i.e. not full-time permanent) with low wages and insecurity but it ain’t necessarily so. Consider the workers we call ‘temps’ and those we call ‘interims’. Both temps and interims are usually employed either on fixed term contracts or through an agency. Their employment contracts are similar but their earnings and positions in the organisational hierarchy are very different. It is difficult to define what makes one person a temp and another an interim but we tend to know it when we see it. Interims have scarce skills and can negotiate high rates while temps don’t and can’t.

I suspect that similar forces are at work in the market for part-time professionals. A small number of highly marketable people are able to negotiate part-time contracts on very good rates. Some may have more than one part-time job, others may be working as non-exec directors. A few may be wealthy enough not to need to work full-time. Employers tend to be reluctant to employ part-timers in professional jobs so the very fact that people are in such positions may be an indication of their bargaining power.

As ever, skill levels and social factors, rather than types of employment contract, are the key determinants of pay. If you have highly marketable skills, good social support networks and/or affordable child-care and, crucially, powerful and well-placed contacts, you can make the flexible labour market work for you. If you haven’t, you can’t.

The higher up the social hierarchy you are, the more likely you are to be working on part-time or temporary contracts from choice and the more likely those contracts are to be highly lucrative. At the other extreme, part-time and temporary work is poorly paid, precarious and often all you can get. What is a lifestyle choice for some is Hobson’s choice for the rest.

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5 Responses to Part-time and temp work – lifestyle choice or Hobson’s choice?

  1. Pingback: Part-time and temp work – lifestyle choice or Hobson’s choice? - Rick - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  2. David Goddin says:

    I was talking to a colleague yesterday about a conversation he’d had with his mentor, who had asked what he wanted out of creating his business. After the “marketing speak” was over his mentor had given him 3 real-life choices :

    a. you want more discretionary time (eg work 3 days / home 4 days)
    b. you are trying to fund a project (eg buy the farm)
    c. you are trying to create an asset to sell (eg a company)

    The message behind this was that if none of these choices figure in your personal game plan then you should be working for someone, not yourself. At the time I felt there was something many of us could take from this (contractors, interims, part-timers, consultants, MDs, entrepreneurs).

    Now having read your post above I’m reminded just how much time I spend with people who have choice – even if they don’t think so – rather than Hobsons choice. Thank you Rick.

  3. Are what we – at least in the U.S. – call “contract workers” considered part-time workers in this data set? If so, that would explain a lot. As you suggest, name-brand talent can contract themselves out for pretty high rates.

  4. Doug Shaw says:

    Nicely put. I don’t feel very far up the social hierarchy personally, but I do enjoy the buzz of running my own business and the exciting uncertainty that brings with it. I guess that feeling is not for everyone and that’s fine.

    I found this interesting little seed of a read which adds to the discussion that you and Sarah are encouraging through this writing. Here you go:

  5. Pingback: Indentured Servitude or Life as a Temp | Pilant's Business Ethics

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