The rise of part-time work - what it means for employers
Part-time workers are a source of talent that has largely gone untapped in New Zealand. As companies look for more ways to attract the best and brightest to their business, this seems set to change. There is still some way to go, however, and new research from SEEK shows that many workers are questioning the perception of part-time work.

The results of research recently commissioned by SEEK show that one-in-three part-time workers feel discriminated against and 53% of full-time employees have the same perception. These findings appear to buck the trend toward greater acceptance of flexible work practices and the overall growth in part-time roles across New Zealand.

Perceptions of part-time workers

Florian Dehne, Head of Strategy at SEEK Employment, says the growth in part-time roles is reflected in the jobs advertised on SEEK. “When we look at the proportion of part-time and contracting work versus full-time employment, a very strong trend over the past few years shows that non full-time roles are growing at the expense of full-time employment,” he says.

The landscape may be changing but the attitudes appear to be lagging behind. SEEK recently conducted independent research into employees’ views of part-time work, discovering that perceptions of discrimination towards part-time workers exist among a range of workers. When asked why they felt discriminated against, 30% of respondents working part-time stated it was because they weren’t perceived to be readily available as their full-time colleagues, and another 25% stated it was because of a perceived disconnection to the rest of the team.

Full-time workers also provided reasons for perceived discrimination.

Key reasons were that part-time workers ‘aren’t as readily available as full-time colleagues’ (48%), ‘disconnected from the team’ (42%) and ‘if they’re not seen in the office, they’re not working’ (40%).

In addition to perceptions of discrimination, more than half (58%) of all respondents believed that working part-time was career limiting.

Part-time workers full of talent

Fiona Harland, Director of ERG Recruitment Group, describes these attitudes as a ‘huge shame’. “I think candidates consider part-time work as not being the full quid and I think many employers feel the same way,” she says. “If they are both driving that, it won’t change. I think it’s up to employers and the recruitment industry to say that people who do the best in their job are valuable regardless of the hours they work.”

Harland believes part-time roles fall under the umbrella of flexible work and that it’s in the best interests of employers to embrace it. “It’s also about holding on to the best talent. Let’s face it, if you can’t keep your staff, then you don’t have a business. You need to be flexible in regards to the hours that your staff work in the office, so you have a greater opportunity to keep your staff.”

Ian McPherson, Chief Operations Officer for recruitment firm Enterprise, says there can be a perceived lack of transparency around part-time roles. “We’ve seen problems where full-time workers don’t understand the working relationship that the part-time worker has and they assume there’s more give and take than there necessarily is,” he says.

Making flexibility business as usual

McPherson notes that part-time and flexible roles can often lead to increased productivity. “You generally end up with better results,” he says. “What we’ve seen is that part-time workers are more open to thinking laterally about how they do their job and how they fit into the team than the traditional 40-hour people. They are hungry to make it work.”

PwC introduced a formal flexibility policy to its New Zealand operations in the middle of last year and reports that it is seeing positive results. The policy extends to all of PwC’s 1300 employees across New Zealand.

David Lamb, PwC Partner and People & Culture Leader, says it is based on trust and two-way communication between employer and employee. “Our core statistics are every bit as good, if not better, than what they were pre-flexibility,” he says.

While part-time work and flexible work are different classifications, PwC works to normalise flexibility so that all non-full-time roles are viewed as business-as-usual. “It’s really about the language from the leadership and ensuring that a contribution to an organisation is not measured by how many hours you’re sitting at a desk or how long your car is in the car park,” says Lamb.

Lamb notes that part-time workers contribute greatly to the overall success of a business. “At the end of the day, if you want to have the right skills to meet the needs of your organisation you have to embrace more part-time workers. It’s all about attracting the best talent,” he says.

Lamb believes New Zealand is on a path toward changing attitudes to part-time work. “I think that’s the journey society is on,” he says. “Are we there yet? Clearly this survey shows that we’re not, but it’s something that we all need to focus on.”

Of the part-time workers surveyed, 70% were female, 30% were male and the majority of them were lower income earners with an annual salary of less than $30,000. Half of all respondentsstated their main reason for working part-time was either specifically looking after their young family (26%) or, more broadly, for work-life balance (24%). Other reasons for working part-time included study (21%) and disability or illness (12%). The majority of people working part-time were doing so by choice.