The Case for Part-time

I've made a huge mistake (in my professional life)

Eighteen months ago I quit my full-time job to follow my dreams and launch a startup. At the time, my boss offered my same job but part-time (2 days per week, or 40%). With the benefit of hindsight, the single biggest mistake in my career was to decline that offer. But at the time, I privately wanted something else: less time in the office, and more free-time both with and without the kids. Since then, the startup has gone stagnant. My bank account has emptied. I'm drowning in free-time. The time to get a job was months ago.

the job market

The unemployment rate in Switzerland is one of the lowest in Europe. I've marked the Swiss unemployment compared to all worldwide countries in the dataviz below.

Unemployment rates worldwide source: Wikipedia

And for data-sciency people like me, with a PhD in computational physics, years of experience in business intelligence and data science, and programming and databases and data visualization reporting and business development, with strong references from every previous position, the job market is strong and the effective unemployment rate is 0.0%.

No problem, right?

choosing part-time

Full-time employment in Switzerland is 8.5 hours per day, for a total of 42.5 hours per week. We call it here "100%". It's pretty common for jobs to be offered at 80%-100%. Because salaries for tech jobs are relatively high, even those without kids should enjoy a weekday free.

I've decided to work part time - no more than 60%.

family

I have two healthy kids who still like to spend time with me, and who are rapidly growing up. Part-time affords me the flexibility to cover for the many school holidays, events, meetings. (The city of Zürich has 13 calendar weeks of school vacation and all sorts of other holidays scattered throughout the year.) We live in affordable housing in the city of Zürich, a Wohnungsbaugenossenschaft (EN, DE). I have a partner who likes to work, and earns well too. What a great place to be.

free-time

Some free-time should be without the kids around.

  • Trips to the (non-kids) library.

  • Reading books and magazines, doing crossword puzzles.

  • Browsing the second-hand stores.

  • Gardening in the backyard.

  • Projects around the house.

  • Rediscover old hobbies, and discover new ones.

health

  • To work on my #dadbod.

  • To swim laps in a 50m pool.

  • To take my slow time on long forest walks.

  • To take a nap.

  • Avoid rushing around.

  • To prevent a burnout.

current status: bored

I have it good: family and free-time.

What's missing: a paying job. And teamwork and office comradery. And a reason to put on pants.

I've applied to around 50 jobs over the past few months and have had a good rate of interest and interviews.

But the lurking secret? None of these jobs was advertised in my sweet spot: 40% - 60%.

productivity doesn't scale!

I'm an abstract and creative thinker. Employers like me because I think out of the box, because I challenge the status quo, and because I deliver. Productivity for this kind of non-operational work doesn't scale to 42.5 office hours per week. Somewhere between 60% and 100% is my productivity drop-off.

Here's a dataviz that shows a theoretical productivity drop with increasing hours per work week. The "email zone" is where the operational tasks take up the entire working time. The "search for vacation zone" is where I don't want to be. And what I offer my future employer is to pay me less, and then get me only when I'm maximally efficient.

Productivity doesn't scale!

But... hiring is a long-term exercise in risk avoidance. If any one candidate brings a complication, the hiring team will usually go with the safe bet to avoid any future criticism. It's the same unspoken selling-point of the Big Four consulting companies: Choose us, because even when we fail, no one will second guess you.

the challenge moving forward

It turns out that there are literally zero open jobs that fit my description. There are a handful of part-time developer jobs, and although I like writing code, my strength is prototyping and analysis, and not shipping apps and websites. There is a handful of part-time jobs for interns or students (I've even applied for some of those). I've tried remote jobs and Upwork, and although neither is panning out, and it would be hard to match a Swiss salary. In the meantime, I'm working on some small freelance projects, but for personal reasons, I don't actively pursue freelance projects. (Note: I offer my services to NGOs at either heavily discounted rates or even free, in the case that I support in their mission.)

I still interview for full-time jobs, and I don't forewarn interviewers of my part-time job requirement. In general, until I have an offer, I try my hardest to not give any reason to not hire me. I do mention that my previous jobs were at 80%, because I have one regular weekday at home with the kids. In one recent interview, they asked Are you flexible? I answered Yes, I'd also be open to 60%. Their reply: No. We meant, are you flexible to work at 100%? 😩

I would think my proposition would be interesting for a startup or small company, who normally couldn't hire a dedicated, full-time data scientist, either because of the high salary or uncertain need. Or a big company who wants to explore job sharing. As a compromise, I am open to fixed-term, non-permanent contracts. If things go bad, cut me loose and end the experiment. No hard feelings. So far, no takers.


As of .now() I'm still searching for a position. Want quality work for a part-time salary? Get in touch!

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