Self indulgent drivel, and some thoughts on part time work

It’s Monday, blog day.

I have the morning to myself on Mondays, so I’ve assigned myself the task of writing a blog post on Monday mornings. I haven’t written that explicitly in this blog before, but there you go. 

Why did I decide to do that? It’s weird, it’s hard to explain. On the face of it, it makes not a lick of sense, because I’m swapping potential paid work time for time which I’m still obliged to spend in a fixed way, doing something that can feel a lot like work. I feel it this morning, when I’m not really too inspired. And, instead of labouring toward a dubious and most likely ultimately unsuccessful commercial goal, I’m grinding out a post which will reach a, well, fairly exclusive audience, shall we say?

It feels different. I think it’s self determination, you know? In the end, I choose what to write, I make all the final decisions, I post (I was going to say “I edit” in there, but no one would believe that). And I *could* decide not to post. In posting, I am freely deciding not to not post.

This is crucially different to paid work. Paid work is qualitatively different to coercion, clearly; I can decide not to go to work. However, it’s different to this, because if I don’t go to work I have strict material consequences (no job, no money, no food/shelter/clothing). That still feels like coercion, even if it’s only the universe itself directly oppressing me. It motivates me to do it, but not to like doing it. It makes me want to rebel! Bloody universe.

Ok, so that’s the fire in the belly department taken care of. Now a little riff on part time work. Thanks to Fergus, my brother in-law, for the chat that this derives from.

Riff Part 1:

Part time work has a funny social status at the moment. There seem to be two competing trains of thought about it. Formally, there is this thread that says part time workers are more productive, at least as dedicated, bring less of their crap to work, are happier, and generally make better employees. The informal thread against which this is set says part time workers are less committed layabouts, who can do peripheral stuff but shouldn’t be given any real responsibility, they must be out on the fringes. As with any formal/informal conflict, the informal line wins. People use all kinds of bullshit reasons to justify that, but the result is, part time generally equals doing the shit work.

There’s a new type of part time worker though, even in fields which have traditionally been all full time, and that’s the skilled professional family person. That person has power in negotiations with the employer; they can call the shots to some extent. And it’s become acceptable to work part time so you can “spend more time with the family” (a phrase previously only used by politicians who’d been sacked or were forced to resign), a nice golden bridge for employers who otherwise might feel as though they’ve been forced into the arrangement at gunpoint. 

I think we’re seeing a slow shift in attitudes, which is taking some fraction of generational time to filter through, from full time work being seen as the only serious option, to part time work becoming a valid lifestyle choice. We’re right in the middle of it now, where some people can do it (people in shit work, or already skilled professionals), but early career track professionals are excluded. (disclaimer – I’m writing this in Australia, and I think we can be quite backward about such things, I’ve noticed there are some very different, progressive things going on in the EU). It’s got the feel of a cultural attitude change in progress. Just hang in there, keep pushing here and there, and the good stuff will happen eventually.

Riff Part 2:

I think many of our problems with work may stem from an over simplistic valuation of our time – the linear model. We say “how much are you worth?” “$X per hour”. But that’s not true, is it? Is 11am to 12am on Wednesday worth the same as 10pm to 11pm on Saturday? Is 4pm to 5pm worth the same amount if you worked 20 hours in the week so far, as opposed to 60 hours? Is doing something you love and are skilled at worth the same as scrubbing the floors?

Now we do in fact have this non-linear  patchwork infrastructure to correct this. We have the standard work week, overtime (well we used to have overtime), weekend and holiday pay, etc. You can charge different rates for different employers, which roughly equates to different types of work (although not always, just think of those times you’ve been sold on a job by the promise of cool work, only to find the reality was an avalanche of crap).

But that’s very patchworky. Kludging around a bad model. We can do better than that.

Drop all the patchwork, and let’s look at $/hour. An example of the standard outlook would be working at $40:

  

Well ok, but what’s going to hurt more? The 50 hour weeks or the 10 hour weeks?

What other criteria could we capture? Common ones might be:

  • I need a minimum amount of work (let’s say 15 hours)
    • This isn’t really a minimum amount of work, it’s a minimum amount of pay, 15 hours * $40/hr = $600.
  • I don’t want to work past a maximum (let’s say 30 hours)
    • Now here I might modify this to say that there is a level of remuneration at which I’d be willing to do it, but that it’s higher than our $40 hour. In fact, I’ll say it’s an exponential-looking function. For fun, let’s say it’s $80/hour for the first 5 extra hours, doubling thereafter for each extra 5 hours.
So the graph looks like this:
Pretty crazy big money there out past 40 hours per week. Which makes sense to my hypothetical employee. It’s what people colloquially refer to as f*ck-off money. Whenever you think “I don’t want to do X”, you can profit by instead asking “How much would I have to be paid for X so that I’d feel ok about it?” There’s usually a number.
This is just a start, because I haven’t even begun to incorporate the other factors I mentioned above into this system (eg: there is no consideration for type of work, or when the hours are to be worked). I’ll leave that to a subsequent post…
(btw, my lovely graphs took me a couple of minutes to whip up, here: http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/ )
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Self indulgent drivel, and some thoughts on part time work

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