Part time

Part-time work doesn’t seem to exist in the tech industry and I find that intriguing and perplexing. Why? Why are companies not filling gaps with part-time employees?

I’ve discussed this with friends and all the arguments that are presented to me actually don’t fit in my eyes. Many say employees are more expensive than, say, hiring a freelancer. But are they?

An employer hiring an employee who works 25 hours a week isn’t required to provide health insurance for the part time employee (the ACA requires that at 30 hours). Along with that, you may have to provide some paid time off, say for sick time (this is required in the city of Portland), but other than that, the only extra cost is payroll taxes.

There is the argument about getting only 25 hours out of the employee when they are going through the same ramp-up time as a full-time employee. And, since they are part-time, you don’t get to push them over the hourly limit they are hired for, unlike full-time which can morph from 40 hours per week to 50 or 60 or whatever is necessary should management push for that.

Freelancers are brought on to fill needs, still have ramp-up time, and they will walk away after the contract or project ends. Is this a better use of the time and money? A part-time employee can gain and retain organizational knowledge that can help move projects faster. A freelancer will take that out the door when they leave.

Part-time employees could do great work in that 25 hours a week, because time is limited, they will be more efficient and get more done than imagined. I know when I time-box myself for my freelance work, I get a lot done in a short amount of focused time.

I think there are a lot of people who would love part-time work. Many people want flexibility, can’t do the full-time hours, but still want to work in our industry. People with young children, or people who are nearing retirement but don’t want to fully retire, or people who just want to live a different lifestyle and only want to do tech work some of the time.

I freelance for a variety of reasons, but one of them? I want to work part-time hours some of the year. Full-time jobs have never been able to keep me busy, so being able to set my own hours is a better situation for me.

If a great company that I really love offered part-time, I would seriously consider it, but it doesn’t seem to exist. Why is that? Is it because companies don’t know how to do it? They don’t have a process in place for it? Is it truly cheaper? And couldn’t companies benefit from filling the gaps with a part-time employee? Maybe I’m missing something.

These are all just questions I’m still pondering. And it isn’t the tech industry alone that I see this problem. We see part-time work as being something for less-skilled labor, but I don’t understand why this barrier exists.

Thank you to Matthew Oliphant for both editing and spurring on my thinking through discussion. Also thanks to Sara Wachter-Boettcher, Val Head, Samantha Warren, Wren Lanier, and Steph Hay for their thoughts on part-time work.