In such a climate, any cost-cutting is to be expected.
-Ms L.C. Tay, executive at MediaCorp in Singapore-
Look, no one can afford to lose their job. And no one rejoices about earning less. But given the choice of losing one's job in a less-than-flat job market, or working a shorter workweek - with prorated benefits - what would you choose? Yesterday's New York Times' article, "An Alternative to Layoffs: The Shorter Workweek" by Hannah Seligson caught my eye this morning. My husband & I have been living the shorter workweek for years now--and we wouldn't have it any other way. It's time to start thinking out-of-the-box!
Anyone Remember the Eighties?
1982. I was pregnant with my second child, the real estate market was at a standstill, mortgage rates were sky-high and we had just purchased a new home. At the time my husband worked two part-time jobs--by his own choice. One as a half-time professor, one as a half-time practitioner.
Soon after the house purchase, the "boss" of his "practitioner" job wanted him to either "buy in" to his business or leave. My husband decided to strike out on his own. Suddenly we were without a guaranteed weekly income, and we were strapped with a mortgage and a big business loan. I was plenty scared.
People were getting laid off left & right and the new job I had just taken had recently hired a big consulting firm to figure out how the hospital could cut expenses.
The Upside of the Downside
- Eventually, all those job uncertainties settled into an unexpected-but-perfect solution for our family-with-young-kids. I dove-tailed a three-day work week with the three-day work week of my husband's fledgling solo business. He stopped teaching to devote all his energies to his new endeavor. In his field, which demands intense concentration - working 3 days a week had tremendous mental health benefits and flexibility.
- My large hospital provided part-time employees with family medical benefits at 1/2 cost, commensurate paid-time-off, a tiny commensurate pension and an employee-funded retirement plan. I've been my family's source of health insurance since 1989.
- With 2 part-time jobs we needed much less child care, and over the years the entire family benefited from our at-home presence.
- We were available for our kids. We were around for car-pooling. We were around for the inevitable sick days. My husband was around for coaching after-school soccer and baseball and leading Indian Guides.
- We had the energy to cook family meals, stay fit & not burn-out.
- I know we were lucky to have professional jobs that afforded us both the flexibility & income to be able to knit together this "part-time work" lifestyle - but in this dour economy, it just might be the solution to even larger-scale layoffs.
- How did we make this work? We were lucky to "enjoy living on less". We've stayed in the same modest house for over 25 years. We drive our cars until we have to give them away. We don't like to shop. Lucky us! Read, "Secrets of a Sound Marriage. Marry Your Financial Soul Mate."
In the nineties and over the past decade it was the norm for both parents to hold down jobs. We were consumers of bigger fancier homes, expensive cars, and more "toys" and "clothes" than anyone needed.
If you work full-time and have children at home, how do you have the energy for them, let alone yourself? It's not easy and too much to ask of anyone.
I remember thinking, "Why don't we all decide to live on less, work part-time, have full employment, afford parents the benefits of spending more time with their kids, afford empty-nesters with more time to care for their elderly parents, more time to volunteer, more time to exercise, and more time to just enjoy life? It's a win-win solution for families, communities & the workplace.
No one gets burned-out working part-time! Less time is wasted by part-time employees who know they have a limited time to get their work done. Part-time workers are generally happier than full-time workers, provided they have enough money to make ends meet--which may mean figuring out exactly what we really need to get by.
Once the Kids Were In School and Beyond
- When I took my present job 20 years ago my boss asked if I would be interested in working full-time after my kids were in school. I said, "Probably. I'll have to think about that."
- Once the kids were in school I still wasn't interested in working full-time. There was the after-school-time to supervise, my dad had major health problems and my mom needed help, and there was a house and family to take care of.
- As for my husband, working 3 days a week left him time to devote to community service, as well as plan and organize volunteer-service trips to Mexico and Honduras. He was able to take care of the business side of his practice on his "at-home-days".
- OK I'm a complete amateur here--but...I'd rather have our government spend money on supplementing (or providing tax incentives to) businesses to provide full-time health benefits to part-time workers, and reward businesses for keeping employees working part-time rather than laying people off. I'd rather have our government work towards full employment than spending money for unemployment benefits and Medicaid for the unemployed.
- The benefits of full part-time employment can be tremendous--provided families can support themselves.
- It is possible to downscale our consumer appetite for things--it's happening already--and to enjoy the many benefits of the SHORTER WORKWEEK.
- But, first we need to do a little rethinking about, "What's really important? How much money do we really need to get by? How much value would we put on having an extra "free" day or two off of work? How much happier would we be if we weren't so stressed by working full-time and juggling a host of non-work responsibilities at the same time?"