Consider Part-Time Work

Monday, September 26, 2016

It has long been predicted that with more automation and more technology, we could all work less and have more leisure time, but we continue to fall short of that promise. In many ways, we're working harder and longer, with more stress, than previous generations did. I think that a large part of that is because of societal pressures to work long hours, even when doing so doesn't make sense.

That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. We shouldn't work long hours just for the sake of it, especially because right now, conditions are almost perfect for accommodating part-time work. It would benefit everyone if we could reverse societal pressures and encourage part-time work and shorter hours.

Many arguments center around the benefits to the employees - which are numerous - but there are immense benefits to employers, families, and society as a whole.

Employers Benefit

Here are a few of the reasons that you should consider part-time work for your employees, whether you're running a startup or a multi-national corporation:

  • Programmers are like cows... and we know that happy milk comes from happy cows. Traditionally, we have tried to make programmers happy by giving them perks like ping-pong tables and free beer, but those are exclusionary perks (not everyone drinks, not everyone wants to live like they're in college) that benefit a particular demographic, whereas everyone can benefit from having fewer hours, so they have more to do what they want.
  • You remove waste while retaining throughput. When you cut down hours, you will mainly remove the wasted hours - those spent on long coffee breaks and long lunch breaks and talking at the water cooler. But you will also remove other forms of waste, as your employees will start to police meeting length and cut down on the Nerf dart battles, because when their time is limited they will not want to waste it.
  • You can retain people who would otherwise leave. There are plenty of people who leave jobs because their schedules aren't flexible enough. I recently left a job because the hours were not conducive to the other projects I want to work on, and it's fairly common for new parents to leave for a job that gives them more time with their families. If you let employees work part-time, you will be able to retain these talented employees and avoid leaving gaps in your lineup.

Employees Benefit

The benefits to employees are fairly self-explanatory, but here goes anyway:

  • You get to have a fresher mind when you're at work, because you're not at work as often.
  • You have more free time to explore the hobbies you love, whether that is running or reading or even more programming.
  • You will cut down on wasted time at work (less reddit, shorter meetings, shorter coffee breaks) and will end up leaving feeling much more fulfilled.
  • For those of you with families or planning on having one, you get more time with your family - who can argue with that?
  • If you want to start your own company, it gives you another option instead of just quitting your job or trying to burn the candles at both ends while working a full-time job. (This is what I'm doing - consulting part-time, and starting a company in the rest of my time, so I work full-time but only get paid for part of it.)

Society Benefits

Probably most important here are the benefits to society at large, especially because getting a lot of part-time work will require a societal shift so that it is not looked down upon to avoid full-time employment (and to pressure employers to allow it and provide benefits to part-time workers). Here are just a few, although there are many more I've missed:

  • We can create more white-collar jobs. There is a certain amount of demand for programmers and accountants and actuaries, so if each of these employees provides fewer hours, we can hire more of them. In the long-run, this demand will encourage creating job training programs, encourage more people to pursue these fields, and hopefully help elevate more people to the middle or upper class.
  • It makes for a more equal society and reduces some gender barriers for women (and men) who want to be parents. No one should have to choose between having a career and being the primary parent, so accepting part-time work would aid in this. Primary parents could still have careers. Children of career-oriented people could still have parents. Everyone involved gets more time with those they love and it would be great.
  • Society would have more innovation and more startups. As other nations are getting more and more innovation, the US is at a critical juncture. We need to ensure that our economy stays strong and our innovation sector stays at the forefront if we want to remain economically competitive - let alone dominant - for years to come. People come up with their best, most innovative ideas when they are well rested and when they have time to just sit and think and be bored, so let's create more of that. Having longer hours and longer commutes may grind out productivity right now (although, I'm skeptical) but in the long run it will not benefit our society. We need a culture that fosters creativity, not grinding out widgets.

So, that's my pitch. I think that any of you who want to be more creative, who want to learn more, who want more freedom - you should consider working part time, and you should consider the same for your employees. I've taken the leap, and so far it has been great. I'm more creative than I was a month ago, and it seems like I'm becoming more creative every day. Join me.

If this post was enjoyable or useful for you, please share it! If you have comments, questions, or feedback, you can email my personal email. To get new posts and support my work, subscribe to the newsletter. There is also an RSS feed.

Want to become a better programmer? Join the Recurse Center!
Want to hire great programmers? Hire via Recurse Center!