What I Learned Working 32 Hrs/Week

4 years ago

First we had Anya Strzemien at HuffPo suggesting the key to happiness is working part-time. Then we had Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! suggesting the key to success is facetime (or at least it is in Sunnyvale). I myself have been thinking about the nature of work, success, happiness -- and yes, flexibility -- a LOT lately. Let's discuss.

In 2007, I wrote "Where Will We Ever Find Part-Time, Professional Work?"

It seems to me that only two possibilities exist for professional/managerial working moms: white-collar full-time or a hop over the wall to pink-collar or retail part-time. Unless you’re in the medical profession, it’s very difficult to find a professional job that requires a three-day-a-week commitment. Why is that?

Credit Image: Dave Stokes on Flickr

I feel like I could still write that exact same post today. However, those positions can evolve, particularly if you've already been in a job for a while before asking to go part-time.

Before I left the company I was at when I wrote that post, I actually did find the great white whale of white-collar jobs -- the 32-hour-a-week-with-benefits position, which I received after having been at the company for around six years. I worked four days a week at 4/5 my salary and paid I think half of my benefits instead of the normal amount. Fridays were mine -- I wrote a good part of my young adult novel during those Fridays, and sometimes I wonder if I would've finished it if I hadn't gotten such a huge start before I came to BlogHer.

But, of course, there was a huge downside: In these days of 50+ hour "normal" workweeks, I was working almost 40 hours a week in four days and getting paid for 32 with reduced benefits. Also, any time there was a big meeting that had to happen on a Friday, I either rearranged my schedule or just said screw it and came in, anyway. And that, I think, is the hard thing about having a white-collar job in a plugged-in world -- it follows you home, even if you've already set part-time boundaries. It was hard for me to avoid being resentful of what I thought would be a perfect scenario.

As my father would say, "Well, they call it 'work' for a reason."

In thinking about all this work, I've come to the conclusion that choosing a job (if you're lucky enough to have choices, which in this economy is no given), a person should really take her personality and extracurricular activities, family and economic situation into consideration more today than ever before. Going into the office five days a week really worked for me when I was in my twenties -- yay for getting dressed up, hanging out with my friends after work and meeting new people! After my daughter was born, going into the office became interesting at best and a nightmare if my daughter got sick (every month her first year in daycare) or if my husband and I both had to travel at the same time. Now I work full-time from home and my daughter is in elementary school, and my working life choices are more about my job than my child again -- she's in school from 8:15 in the morning until 4:15 in the afternoon and she's a third-grader mature enough to have pretty free range of the neighborhood and plenty of neighborly playmates. In other words, I could go into an office at this point and it wouldn't be as painful as it was when she was teething.

Many of the comments on my post about Mayer's death-to-telework policy focused on Mayer being a working mother and flexibility for parents. While in my life parenting was my big sticking point, I know that's not the situation for everyone. What if you have chronic back pain? What if you can't climb subway stairs easily? What if your elderly mother needs someone to go with her to her doctor appointments? Everyone's got something, it seems, so really we are all in this together.

What's your ultimate job scenario? Have you ever had it?

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the senior editor of BlogHer. Find more at www.surrenderdorothyblog.com.

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