Fewer women are returning to work after having a baby — and not out of choice. A lack of affordable childcare means many women are having to go part-time or leave the workforce entirely because the cost of a nursery place now exceeds their salary.
Despite calls for better support for working parents, research suggests nurseries will raise fees by £1,000 this year. A survey of 1,156 providers by the Early Years Alliance found nine out of 10 expect to increase fees by an average of 8% — higher than in previous years.
The soaring cost of childcare is having a significant impact on the workforce, with the UK slipping down the international league table for women in work. According to PwC, Britain dropped five places to 14th in the ranking of the 38 rich-country members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with unaffordable childcare a key barrier to gender equity.
For many, quitting full-time work to go part-time is the only way to navigate childcare amid the cost of living crisis. But for a lot of women, going part-time can mean being paid less for the same amount of work.
Amy Wilkinson, a career coach, says there are a few reasons why employers may allow someone to reduce their hours, but keep their responsibilities the same — or even increase their workload.
“There is clearly a cost benefit to the business to allow someone to work part-time hours and reduce their pay without reducing their responsibilities,” she says.
“It could also be that the employer doesn’t have a true understanding of the workload involved in the role — particularly the hidden tasks that go on in most workplaces.”
When a role moves from full-time to part-time, an assessment of which tasks will need to be redistributed should be made but this isn’t always the case, says Wilkinson.
“The employer may believe they are acting fairly and want to be seen to be providing flexibility but without that workload being redistributed, they are doing their employee a disservice,” she adds.
Valerie O'Hanlon, a career coach at Clarence Consulting, says employers may use people going part-time to cut costs, but this is a short-sighted approach. “The initial cost-savings will be outweighed by the eventual reduction in productivity and poor physical and mental health of those employees,” she says.
Overworked, part-time employees may have a reduction in productivity, which can affect the quality of their work, the customers and the reputation of the employer.
“The overworked employee may become sick and stressed,” O’Hanlon adds. “They may not be happy with their employer and may feel as if they are being taken advantage of, resulting in them becoming disengaged.”
What are the signs you’re being exploited as a part-time employee?
Wilkinson says the obvious signs are sending and replying to emails outside of working hours and working overtime just to catch up
“A less obvious sign is always being the one in the office that has their head down all the time, who doesn’t make small talk or join in any conversations as they have to work at a faster rate than everyone else just to keep up,” she adds.
“This can start to manifest in the signs of stress such as uncharacteristic errors, being snappy with colleagues and loss of confidence in their abilities.”
What to do
If you’re a part-time worker and you’re being overworked, there are several steps you can take.
If your job was once full-time but is now part time, you need to agree which of the full-time responsibilities need to be moved away from you. This should happen before you start your part-time role.
It’s also important to set clear boundaries around your working hours.
“If you are only being paid for four hours, then work as productively as you can during that time,” says O’Hanlon. “When that time is up, close your laptop and log out.”
Wilkinson advises keeping a log of all the extra hours you’re having to do to manage your workload. You can use this evidence to prove you’re working considerably longer hours than you’re paid for.
Finally, have an honest conversation with your employer.
“Keep it factual and evidenced and be clear on what you want to get from the conversation — whether it is more money, responsibilities removed or a different work pattern,” adds Wilkinson.
“It’s important to communicate your needs as it could be that your employer is blissfully unaware of your struggles.”