New figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the number of “underemployed”, that is, people in part-time work through necessity rather than choice, increased by almost 90,000 between December and January of this year, to reach 1.4 million. However, it is also reported that 5.1 million people are in part-time work by preference.
The continued “popularity” of part-time working is in spite of the squeeze on the income of the middle classes. And it isn’t just mothers of young children who are swelling the part-time ranks; dads, carers of elderly parents and high-earners who can afford to live on a lower salary are all opting to work part-time. Equally, if a company does not actually need a professional role on a full-time basis, it is a cost-efficient way of securing a talented individual for a lower overall cost. This can be particularly useful for small or growing businesses who wish to benefit from the skills of someone at a senior level at an affordable price.
During this era of recession, some companies have opted for reducing hours rather than overall headcount as one method of achieving costs savings. This may lead to greater flexibility within companies which had not previously viewed part-time working as a viable option.
However, part-time working is not a positive for everyone. The recent downturn has seen an increase in people who wish (or need for financial reasons) to work full-time, but are unable to find a full-time position, and are forced to take part-time work in the meantime, with the obvious impact on pay. Equally, for many wishing to work part-time in order to balance childcare responsibilities, it can often mean taking a step down in terms of seniority and skills of the role.
It will be interesting to see how this trend develops when the green shoots of recovery begin to grow back...