About soap, boxes and part-time work.

This is a long one … but bear with me if you can cos I’m standing (rarely) on a box made of soap. It will turn into bubbles again before too long. Also, sorry for swearing. For it seems that the word ‘part-time’ in our capitalist-driven culture is something of a dirty word.

I’ve been in the enviable position of freelancing from home on the days my girls have been in childcare, flat-out without a work lull for the past five years. With the economic downturn hitting my end of the food-chain post-July this year, I’ve realised how finding a part-time job in your professional field is like having Harrison Ford drop by and pop the holy grail in your letterbox.

‘Here honey – here’s your holy grail, with a part-time job sprinkled on top for added flavour.’

I know I’m whingeing. These jobs do exist, and there are flexible and fantastic employers out there. It’s just that maybe 10% of the awesome jobs I find advertised will consider part-time or contract arrangements. The competition for those roles is always fierce. As an editor and writer, rather than a firefighter or butcher, I find that a bit rigid, given that words work the same way no matter where I sit.

That sounds a little simplistic, I realise, and I do understand the employer’s perspective. I’ve been on the hiring side, and there’s less cohesion in having part-time or job-share arrangements, or situations where employees telecommute. They’re at times not on hand for last-minute meetings, or to take care of urgent work that needs a same-day turnaround if they’re only in Tuesdays and Thursdays. The reality is though, that retaining skilled staff and keeping them happy is difficult, and being a better scheduled and organised manager to facilitate such arrangements will likely produce the reward of loyal and hardworking staff.

Study results published in the SMH last week showed that 25 hours spent working from home is equivalent to 40 hours spent working in the office. I’d believe it, given the kind of possessed demon I am when at home working. I don’t take breaks, or Internet surf, or talk on the phone. I just power on through, because otherwise it’s my own sleep and TV time I’m eating into.

Encouragingly, the government is running a campaign launching this month, aiming to increase the number of teleworkers to 12% by 2020 which should improve the situation, theoretically, for workers physically unable to travel to work. It’s being backed by the PM also committing today to having 12% of public servants working from home. Figures from Michelle Grattan’s article today suggest “telework will deliver an extra $3.2 billion a year to GDP by 2020-21 and the equivalent of an extra 25,000 full-time jobs”.
It’s a good plan – less road congestion, better productivity, entry of previously excluded people to the workforce. However, it’s not going to have much effect if attitudes don’t change at management level.

As a society, we need to work smarter and harder, not longer, but acceptance of that needs to happen at a cultural level. There’s a perception in the top-tier accounting and law firms that as a grad employee it’s vital to be seen to be putting in the time. Whether or not you’re actually sitting at your desk playing solitaire until 9 pm is irrelevant, as long as your bum’s in that seat. These are the people that go on to make partner then hire the next generation of graduates. What a ridiculous system. I glad I jumped the law shark early, straight after uni.

Bum in seat = high-performer

I used to work in a full-time role where I was playfully jibbed with digs of ‘part-timer!’ if I left for my 1.5 hour commute at 5:30 too often. This was my first job, and my initiation into the culture of how much we valued the working mother. The few mums we had were an annoying 0.2 or 0.3 ‘head’ usually suffered if the team leader wasn’t allocated the resources of a ‘whole head’. They were handed the crap work nobody else wanted, because they had no leverage to complain. They were also no fun, mainly because they put their heads down and worked their arses off till it was time for afternoon pickup.

I’m a mum, and I’m proud of that. BUT I’m a person who spent a lot of time being educated, loves the challenge of work, and gets a buzz out of finishing something (you know, other than a load of washing. Blegh). Why did I do all that if I have to now go and earn money making sandwiches or in customer service? It’s not my forte – I’m not very good at ‘people’, particularly demanding ones. I get all sweary. Luckily I’m in the position of being able to wait and apply for one, maybe two jobs a month and wait for the right one, rather than having to take the only available part-time work because I need immediate income. Not everybody can, and I really feel for those women and hope they hold out hope for a job that feeds their self-respect and their professional dreams while they pay the bills.

Damn you L’Oreal, for turning a tagline into Kleenex.

Why do we deserve part time work? Because we’re L’Oreal. A part-time worker is usually a good worker. We’re not there to talk about our kids. In fact – we’d rather not. We’re there for a little ‘working holiday’. We work hard because we have a limited number of hours in which to get the job done, because kids don’t understand about ‘staying back’. We ARE fun. In fact, if you take us out for work drinks, we will probably party like it’s 2009. Just kick us when it’s time to back away from the tequila bottle. In a job-share you get two sets of ideas for the price of one, and two freshly energised people within the one working week, instead of one burnt out employee desperate for the weekend by Thursday morning. Telecommuting means you’ll get an extra two hours’ of productivity out of your person each day, working the time they’d otherwise spend swearing and singing GaGa songs in traffic. They arrive at their desk fresh and caffeinated in their best trackies and ugh boots, rather than stressed and frazzled, too late to grab any coffee till they waste 20 minutes ducking out for one at 10:30.

We are awesome. Hire us.

Fake it till you make it?


Feeling a bit like this today.

This is an awkward post to write because it means I’m blowing my cover. I wanted to write this yesterday, but I was entirely too demoralised to even put words together. The truth is, I’m feeling inadequate. Not a great way to be when you’re trying to project ‘eau de confidence’ and make your next post-kid career move.

I’ve been at home looking after my gorgeous girls for five years now, freelancing all the while, and love, love loving it (some of the time). It’s been really hard, I admit, and I never get the balance right. I always feel like half a mum, and I’m crap at being a ‘domestic goddess’, whatever the hell that is. This is half the thing that paralyses me from blogging. I see these gorgeous, decorative, creative and beautiful blogs with crafty mums making and baking … I am not her. I can only do words, be a mum, and cook, while doing daggy dancing to Yo Gabba Gabba (‘Don’t Bite Your Friends’. Best song EVER.)

BUT, working from home as I have been, it means I can drop everything for my girls, and pick up the hours late into the night, and on weekends, and always at least be a physical presence for them in the home, even if I’m in the office burrowing into my piles of paper. (They do keep me warm at night.)

Now? Now… I’m in a quiet patch.

This is me. Metaphorically, obviously. I have SOME hair.

SCARY PART A) The quiet patch. There is nothing more scary to a freelancer than a quiet patch that lasts a few months. I’ve been incredibly lucky for the last few years, and have been referred so much work I’ve been constantly flat out, which delights me. As soon as it stops, the self-doubt creeps in. I know the industry is in a state of flux, and everyone’s feeling the pinch, so I’m licking my wounds, and looking elsewhere. OUTSIDE. It is terrifying.

SCARY PART B) Finding a part-time job. Newsflash: there aren’t any. OK – there I go with the sweeping statements  I tend to make when I’m feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. There are some. A very small number in my field, being vied for by the vast number of people who, like me, need flexible working arrangements for any number of reasons, one of which is raising children. Why are the only available jobs full-time? I know it’s frustrating as an employer to juggle a job-share arrangement, and to organise hot-desks or telecommuting situations, but I also firmly believe that employees who are offered such flexible arrangements work twice as hard and are twice as loyal. I certainly work my butt off when I’m freelancing, because I’m paid by the hour. Why stop for lunch when it means an hour I’d have to otherwise work into the night? Why take a sick day when I’m not dead? I plough on through. Every working mother I know works DAMN hard because she’s there to get her work done as efficiently as she can so she can get home to her other job.

SCARY PART C) The job interview. YAY! I had one this week which is awesome. I made it to the interview stage (so I must look OK on paper), and my fingers and toes and even my eyelashes are crossed for a positive phone call in the next day or so. But wow – I hadn’t realised how out-of-date my work wardrobe has become in five years. I tried all of my clothes on the night before (nothing like planning ahead. I’m good like that) and realised my suit no longer fitted me (amazingly it had grown!?) and my pants were all really ill-fitting and badly cut. Who was the girl who bought these bad clothes? Surely not the same person who works away in her home office looking stylish, glamourous and effortless in ugh boots and leggings. I’d forgotten about the part where your hands shake when you go to drink the water they offer you, and the part where you get hot because you are nervous, and the part where your voice sounds funny because you’re speaking too quickly, and the words aren’t the ones you chose in your head. Ah. Well. Time will tell.*

So – this is where I’m at this week. In an inadequate nutshell. HELP! I’m in a nutshell!  I did, however, mow the lawn. WIN! Very badly – I may have blunted something when the sparks flew off the concrete of the gutter.

I’ve decided to just grit my teeth and hang on until I feel useful again, and less like a washed-up career lemon. Because everybody has some use for a lemon, right? Like I always say (not really, this is my first time, but I will say it a number of times after today, and then it will be  always) ‘If life hands you lemons, hang onto them, because they make your gin taste much better.’ Although they may have said it more eloquently below. Yes? Are you still with me? At least I make gin taste good.


This is the answer to life. Yoda has spoken.

* Time has told. I didn’t get the job. So now I feel worse than a lemon, which is … um… a grapefruit?