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Sustainable life: Part-time success

Mia Swainson

Before having kids, I was focused on a long, upward career.

I hadn’t given part-time work a moment’s thought. After the first baby, my priorities quickly changed, along with my expectation for sleep at night.

So that I could enjoy a day or two playing trains and baking muffins with my young children, I chose to work part-time. Much to my surprise, I’ve enjoyed exciting, fast-paced and challenging leadership roles over the last eight years. The secret’s out… it isn’t just me. Right now, men and women are re-writing the rules about part-time work. It isn’t just about parents who want to spend time with their young children. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s recent Labour Force report, the number of part-time jobs in Australia is growing faster than the number of full-time jobs.

Part-time work has taught me how to be more efficient with the time that I do spend at work. I plan and think carefully about every moment in the office. Should I re-write that executive paper or would my time be better spent building relationships with people who matter? I am extremely careful with emails, only reading them if I’ll have time to action them.

Not everyone enjoys their part-time experience. Some people feel like their career is stagnating and they’re overlooked for promotions.

What is it that makes a part-time work arrangement successful?

Choose the right work environment

Some jobs are great for part-time and others are terrible. Working for a Minister, up on the hill? Forget about working short hours or short weeks. In government, try for an area that is operational – like a role working for a regulator, rather than in a high-profile policy team. In operational roles you’re more likely to be able to control the days and timing of your work.

Surround yourself with supportive people in the workplace. It’s especially good to have a supervisor who’s good at knowing when the work needs to be delivered. Did it need to be urgently completed by a colleague on your day off, or could it wait for a day? Having a team and colleagues that are similarly good at prioritising is also important.

Clear expectations

Within your role, make sure that you and your colleagues are clear about the work you’ll deliver and how this fits into the broader workloads. Role clarity is important for any job, but when you’re squeezed for time, this clarity is critical to the way that you prioritise your time.

It’s also really important for the people who work with you. Being clear with your team and colleagues about your expectations for the time when you’re out of the office is empowering. It lets them get on with the job, while you… re-arrange the dolls house furniture at home or get busy with your latest hobby.

Being clear includes checking-in. It’s ok to ask, ‘am I delivering the things that you expect of me?’ Do this regularly with colleagues and you’ll shine. Actually, there’s a heap of people who work full time that could check-in more regularly with colleagues.

Get the home environment right

Think about your home environment. Did you take the right amount of parental leave for you? Most people don’t regret taking the maximum amount of leave that they can afford.

Are you planning to work the number of days that will suit you, your family and your lifestyle? If you’re stretched too thin, you’re more likely to resent both work and home. If you’ve got young children, it can be good to share the pick-up and drop-offs with your partner. Then you’ll have time to catch-up on work, if you need too, at least once a week.

You might want to have the flexibility to be able to work from home in the evenings. We’re lucky that there’s technology readily available now.

We can hold ourselves back by not taking action to create the job and hours that we want. Don’t assume that there isn’t a part-time role out there for you. Plan for success and it will come your way.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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