Why Companies Are Hiring More Part-Time Professionals

May 14, 2019, 4:35 PM UTC

Ever wish you could keep doing what you do—whether that’s marketing, or finance, or business development—but spend fewer hours at it? Maybe you can. Chronic talent shortages, along with employees’ yearning for more control over their time, mean that more and more roles once reserved for full-time staffers are now turning into part-time jobs.

If you still picture part-time gigs as mainly the burger-flipping or Walmart-greeting variety, think again. Career site FlexJobs.com recently dug into its database of 51,000 employers and came up with a list of the 50 that posted the most part-time listings in the first quarter of this year. Among the top 50 are well-known outfits like Apple, CVS Health, TD Ameritrade, the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. They’re looking for people with all kinds of skills, from finance and accounting, to medical administration, to social media branding, to just about anything else you could name.

That’s part of a bigger trend. Overall, the number of people working part time in the U.S. has stayed fairly steady for the past decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which defines part time as 35 hours or less per week. The difference now is that a huge proportion of part-timers used to report in BLS surveys that they were working part time because they couldn’t find full-time jobs. These days, by contrast, many more people are working part time because they want to. Of the the 22 million part-time employees across the country right now, only about 3 million are “involuntary”—suggesting that the other 19 million are working limited hours by choice.

In this job market, with unemployment at a 49-year low and job creation on the rise for 101 straight months (and counting), it’s not hard to see why companies would rather hire someone part time than leave a formerly full-time job unfilled. “Employers understand that, for a wide range of reasons, great talent may not be willing or able to work full time,” notes Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs. “Part-time jobs are also a great way for startups and small companies to bring on additional team members, so they can keep growing while keeping their costs low.”

As for why limited schedules appeal to job seekers, despite the inevitable drop in pay (and sometimes benefits), that hardly needs saying. Full-time work, especially now that smartphones keep many people on call 24/7, often cancels out time for a family, or a side business, or any other major outside commitment like, say, training for the Olympic triathlon team. The idea of putting in fewer hours at work, and having more time and energy for everything else, sounds great.

Just one note of caution: Working part time, even for just a few years, might throw your career off-track over the long run—especially if you’re male. In 2016, David Pedulla, who teaches sociology at Stanford, published a study wherein he submitted 2,420 fictitious applications for 1,210 real job openings in five U.S. cities, and then tracked employers’ responses to each one. Every hypothetical applicant had graduated from college in the same year, was around age 30, and listed six years of experience in his or her field. The only differences among the resumes were gender and a spell of part-time work.

Pedulla found that, first, employers didn’t respond at all to about half of the hypothetical candidates, male or female, who had part-time jobs on their resumes. For men, the response rate was even less than half. And second, when Pedulla and his team followed up with 903 of the hiring managers who had received those made-up CVs, it turned out that the managers viewed men who had held part-time jobs as both “less competent” and “less committed” than candidates who had been employed full time for their whole careers. Oddly, those managers saw women with the same employment histories as less competent, but no less committed. The study concluded that “part-time work severely hurts the job prospects of men” in particular.

Of course, that’s only one study, and its findings may no longer apply as more and more companies struggle to find the talent they need. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind—especially if your ultimate plan is to step back into a full-time job later.

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