Why you shouldn't work part-time

Closeup of guy working on a laptop indoor


(MoneyWatch) The other day, an executive who was newly back from maternity leave asked me what I thought about part-time work. She was debating requesting an 80 percent schedule. It seemed like a good way to stay in the game, but limit her hours. So what did I think?

I gave her my standard line: Working part-time -- especially if you're not asking for much of a reduced schedule -- is a bad deal for three reasons.

First, no one knows what part-time means. The vast majority of managers have no idea how many hours they're actually working. Time use researchers have found that people who claim to work 70, 80, 90 hours a week or more are in fact working less than 60. People who claim to be working 55-59 hours are working in the mid-40s. If people in your office claim to be working 80 hours, they'll call an honest 60 hours part-time. But it isn't. It's exactly how many hours they're working. If you're thinking of working part-time, make sure the denominator is nailed down -- but also know that most of your colleagues are probably rounding their workweeks up to sound more impressive.

Second, it's quite possible you can get 100 percent of your work done in 80 percent of the time. Few people are truly optimizing their workdays. Try listing your priorities for the day and knocking them out first instead of procrastinating. Stop checking email so often. If you're not actually done at 4 or 5 p.m. (or whatever time you want to leave) you can leave anyway -- and put in an hour or so at home later in the evening.

Third, while part-time work may not get you as much time back as you think, you'll definitely get paid less -- and probably slow your career trajectory. There's nothing wrong with taking the scenic route, but the problem is that the higher you go in most organizations, the more flexibility you have. That flexibility is what people are usually seeking when they decide to work part-time in the first place: The freedom to go pick a kid up at school some days, or take a Friday morning off to do something fun. Better to get yourself into a position where you can do that -- and then take whatever time you want.

Do you think part-time work is a good deal?