Full time and part time

I thought it would be helpful to start a thread where people that have established part time professional-level, non-freelance positions for themselves can share their experiences. It seems as if a lot of jobs - ours included - can easily be performed on a part-time basis, and that cultural proclivities are the only impediment to doing so.

No dog in the fight, but I think it’s a potentially interesting topic.


I think the point is that you are self-employed, not working through a design house but directly with the client.

That is how I ran my business for 6 years. And for full disclosure, currently, I am firmly entrenched in corporate middle-management.

But back to running the business. Yes, some weeks I was lucky to get 20 hours of work in. Not as often, I’d be working 80. As with any product development career, there are peaks and valleys. If I had my “ideal”, I’d be working 30 hours/week at a realistic billable rate. I’ll be perfectly honest, the all mighty buck is only worth part of my time. I don’t want the biggest house or the most toys in the garage. I don’t need to constantly jet set the globe. I can make a very comfortable living without it being “full” time.

The biggest problem for me being self-employed, half my hours were devoted to sales. I hate sales.

I’m talking about in-house, working for a company - design firm, manufacturer, etc. Not freelancing. Has anyone tried to work at the professional level, for pro-rated salary/benefits as a part timer? e.g. doing the same job you currently do, but with 3/5 the project load. In other words still doing the same job to the same standard, but working on fewer projects and for proportionally lower pay/benefits. It seems like a great idea and there would be no downside for the employer or the employee. Is this really a foreign concept?

I work with a few people that are full time but only for 3 or 4 days a a week. Not sure how it works out compensation wise for them. But they take off one day a week. Example one is off Thursday everyday. One comes in Tuesday/Wednesday after lunch) Another is off Wed/Fridays. These are all senior positions people that have been with the company for awhile. Most do it (I think) because they have a new born/young children. But work wise I don’t see anything different on my side. Just take into account that feedback gets delayed an afternoon or evening. As long as you have a good project manager, Its totally a viable thing.

It sounds like those are full time people working an alternative schedule and I would imagine they are paid full time wages. But that is a different scenario than I am envisioning. I am quite literally talking about the idea of 3 days = 24 hours of work (aka part time), and 24/40 of a fulltime paycheck. You’d still get your three weeks of vacation, it would be worth proportionally fewer days, and you might have opportunities to rearrange the schedule to have 6 days every 10 business days like a 4+2 day structure, for instance. It seems like something that should be a lot more common than it is. It’s a subject I’ve become interested in at least as an idea, and as I look around, there aren’t really many resources for matching employers and employees for professional pay, professional part time employee work. I actually think a lot of people would go for this kind of scenario and probably be better and happier at what they do. I suppose the subject is broader than just “design employment.”

I really just don’t see how this could ever work how you are proposing.

I couldn’t do my job part time as that would mean I’m doing it half assed - even if all I had was one project on my plate I need my 40 minimum hours a week to get it through the product development cycle on time. I’m just merely one cog in the machine and if I’m only working at half speed then that means everyone else is waiting on me to deliver.

The only way it work is if you didn’t have your own projects but came in as an extra set of hands. For example you assist a lead designer on making a model, doing some sketching, doing renderings etc but I’d never really take too much ownership. In reality I’d say that is what interns as they have those required skills whilst shadowing/learning from a fully employed designer.

If you assume that you are still taking on the same workload and trying to compress it into a shorter schedule, then what you are saying is true. If 3 people are sharing the work of two, I think work quality remains the same. It sounds like your office is really understaffed, by the way.

How did you come to that conclusion?

Your logic is also flawed, why would an employer pay 3 people to do the job of 2? That third person, even though working part time is an unnecessary cog when two people can complete the workload.

I got to agree with Sain and Sketchgrad.
There are only two ways I have seen this done successfully. Ether the employee was in a directoral/partner role and oversaw designers rather than designing the nitty gritty and doing the grunt work or they were indeed interns/apprentices, helping out here and there.
I have seen specialists brought on for specific tasks and projects such as surfacing work or rendering for POP material. But they were brought on as contractors or freelancers.
Maybe in CMF something like this could work? But I doubt it.

As Sketchgrad already mentioned, not being available on a fulltime schedule will make it difficult to lead a project.
If you are only working Mon-Wed, what happens if meetings with suppliers happen on a Friday? Or client presentations are scheduled Thursday?

I would just not take this risk as an employer and I would expect that my designers are working full hours, as do all the different branches and people that designers work with in the process of bringing a product to market.

How did you come to that conclusion?

You said that with only one project, you still need a full forty hours. That implies multiple projects would take you well past that point.

Your logic is also flawed, why would an employer pay 3 people to do the job of 2? That third person, even though working part time is an unnecessary cog when two people can complete the workload.

Sure, if all you are doing is adding a third person. They’d be paying three people the same wages as two people to do the same amount of work in the same number of hours as two full timers. The benefit is fresher, healthier, happier (though proportionally lower paid) employees and more collaborators or more opportunity for each team member to specialize.


With mass comms technology, and a flexible schedule, I see no reason someone working on average 25 or 30 hours couldn’t continue to lead projects. There might be more specialization in terms of one person focusing more heavily on being the POC, but overall the same number of work hours still occur, and the same total wages are paid for those hours, only with a larger staff such that each staff person earns less, but also works fewer hours.

I’m really surprised at these responses.

I’m really confused by what the goal or point of the original post is.
I’m sure part time can be done but would vary greatly on size of company and responsibilities. A part time professional is usually called a contractor. They are used when needed based on their specialties and skill set but not to lead a project part time. Professionals that want a part time job or flexibility usually go this route.

What’s the incentive for an employer to hire 4 part time professionals when 2 can do the same amount of work and be there the whole week to address any issues and deal with the rest of the world that works 5 days a week? Unless your salary is 2x the normal salary, why would you only want to work 2-3 days?

Again, I’m just confused by the post. If things get really busy at work would you (as the employer) hire another part time guy or would you rather have a full time employee? It’s like filling 2 glasses half way just to have a full glass of water…

Possible, but the reality is they are here only 4 days billable a week, with one only being here 3 days a week. Not sure how an “alternate schedule” is much different than what your proposing. Their “full salary” is all relative anyways.

Also not sure about the legality of it, but as a business can you give part time employees benefits? Does having a part time employee on a 401k or a health plan create some legal loophole I’m unaware of? Honestly asking about this. Is it just cause its more expensive to the employeer. So why offer it if they are only contributing a percentage of X to the bottom line as opposed to Full X

If you are only working Mon-Wed, what happens if meetings with suppliers happen on a Friday? Or client presentations are scheduled Thursday?

I could see getting around this easily. Lots of options. Push the meeting, have another designer or creative director present. Skype in. Or if absolutely necessary come in that day. No need to jeopardize your work situation by being inflexible. It would be the same as someone asking you to fly overseas for a week, or to the clients office for the preso. You could easily say no, but you understand it’s part of the job.

Confused here too, but I can see how OP might be thinking about it. At least this is how I see it working.

The way I see it is you could have someone on an actual contract. Like can’t work for another competitor. Also they are always on call, like if you have an Animator in a small studio, they’re may not always be work for justify a full time guy. But when you need them the office they are there. No sorry I’m not avlaible this month.

Maybe the workload of the office doesn’t justify 40 hours a week and they offer that specialized role. Like the consultancy use to get a ton of packaging projects and had a full time packaging engineer. They loose that long term full time client. Packaging engineer now can either be let go, or transition into another role. Or they stay on and do packaging “part time” on the smaller clients that the studio now gets in. So they come in 3 days a week instead.

But I mean it would have to be a very special circumstance. Something that evolves. I can’t see someone just getting hired like this off the bat.

I don’t know. The point of working say Mon-Wed is so that you can plan your Thur-Fri however you like.
Nothing wrong with being flexible but realistically you would be basically on call on your days off.
Expecting all your partners and team members to just not have you be available half the week doesn’t seem very efficient.
Going on a biz trip is a different situation. This will be planned and only from time to time.

In this thread we are asking an employee to be absent for a good portion of the week. The norm in that case should be that this person should not be approached with work as it’s their time off and they aren’t being compensated for calls and feedback during this time.
If I were to enter an arrangement like this, I’d be very irritated if I get urgent emails that require my attentions and decision making while I am river rafting with my kids on a Friday.

This reminds me of an initiative we had a few months back in the office where we wanted to have meeting free days. For example no meetings on Tuesday.
While it’s a noble effort to cut down on meetings and reserve a day for just working, it just was not feasible as we are working across 4 sites around the world and many more external partners we interact with daily (and nightly).
So shoe-horning everybody else into your schedule wasn’t possible and not fair in the long run.

Unless you treat the entire thing as flex time. You need to work 24 hours in the week, not necessarily M-W. Some weeks you may need to work Thursday because of a client meeting. Flexible goes both ways, for the employer and employee. I don’t see the difficulty.

As for other benefits, HC, 401K, vacation, etc., I don’t see a problem there either. You get proportionally less. We have these things called computers that can automatically calculate the bottom line, for the employer and employee.

The biggest hurdle is stated in the OP, cultural norms, especially in merka. One upping each others on hours/week is a national pastime here. Quite sad in reality. Seems the measure of a person is the amount of crap they have.

I’ve heard of this working more as a retainer type situation. IE a bucket of hours that can be used in different ways. This type of thing can work well with a start up or company with a smaller product portfolio that doesn’t need 40 hrs per week of a designer. Usually this is a pretty limited arrangement. For example it runs for a year or two and either the company needs more design time or they don’t make it so they don’t need any design time.

Separately I had a similar arrangement with a small engineering firm that had a single designer and they hired me to mentor him. Basically spent time once a week together. I did it for a little over a year and then felt he didn’t need me anymore so I stopped it. Fast forward 3 years I ended up hiring him at Sound United, he applied, I didn’t solicit, and the entire situation ended up being amicable including me helping the firm backfill with some recommendations.

What we are seeing in the developed world now is a hyper sensitivity to measuring productivity within an organization. Technology and specifically spreadsheets and algorithms now allow the precise measuring of assets against a desired level of productivity relative to benefits offered to the employee. The OP’s question points directly at pushing this model in favor of more satisfied well being on the part of the employee.

I have experienced a variety of situations over the years as a staff designer, manager, freelancer, contractor and educator. Where I have seen the most HR efficiency applied recently to the organization is in the education sector. Here in Korea (which borrows many HR and corporate policies from the USA and Europe), the number of hours you teach is specifically controlled to define your status as either part time or full time. The number of full time positions are tightly controlled (i.e. minimized) to keep the benefits offered by the organization to a minimum. The term that is used is called ‘casual labor’ on the adjunct/part time side. This allows for schools to increase their class sizes (i.e. more revenue) but keep a minimum of full time staff that ding the bottom line on expensive pensions and benefits. Most of the classes are taught now by part time adjuncts who usually have 2-3 teaching/contract gigs a different schools and is very low on the well being scale. Here in Korea this issue was brought to the highest levels of government and changes were made to hire more full time professors in all areas of education in order to alleviate the deteriorating lifestyle of the adjunct professor.

The idea of hiring more full time employees at a reduced number of hours indeed benefits the lifestyle of the employee, but it must be balanced with policy and heed the laws set out for full time benefits collecting employees. Whether it is a design or manufacturing firm, university or multi-national conglomerate, this is why freelance and contracting is a reality in the marketplace. When there is a need for a specific task or service, the firm hires the resources to fill the scheduling/resource gap. What the OP is suggesting challenges many policy laws that determine how a ‘full time’ employee is defined by the government and its income tax and benefits laws. I surmise you will need to roll up your sleeves and dig into your state’s HR tax and benefit laws to understand how much latitude there is to change the rules.

Someone asked why I started this thread/what the point is. I was on a business trip a few weeks ago, and one of the clients was talking about their 2 hour commute, plus long hours culture (In a product category that is, by the way, ENTIRELY discretionary), and it got me thinking about how idiotic a lot of work culture is. I’ve been fortunate in having a pretty flexible situation, and working in smaller, laid back settings in my career, but many have not. I have a hard time believing that person’s life - their kids’ lives - and many other professionals’ lives would not be improved by working less and earning less. Throw in a little mustachian/strongtowns logic and a longstanding skepticism of consumer culture, and it’s a natural question for me to ask.

I didn’t expect the idea to be as dismissed as it was, and I have difficulty wrapping my head around a few ideas in this thread:

  1. The idea that there is a meaningful difference in the work a part time employee might do versus the work a full time employee might do. I assume most full time employees are responsible for multiple projects. We’ll say five projects on average, to make the math easy. A part timer, by comparison, could be equally as reponsible for three projects, and run them at the same pace on a part time schedule, as a full timer runs their five projects on a full time schedule. Since project scheduling is always built around the time tradeoffs associated with multiple projects, there is literally no difference in how projects would be run or how it would likely impact clients - and project schedules are always negotiable anyway, unless managed badly. Both employees are proportionally, equally valuable.

  2. The idea that a part timer is only useful on a limited contract or other such arrangement. It is entirely possible and likely that a company consistently has 100ish hours (or some other non-multiple of 40) of design work on a weekly basis. Throw in a few hours of non-design admin, and that’s too much work (endless 50+hr weeks = burnout) for two full timers alone, unless of course the manager is an incompetent or sadistic tool, but it is perfect for two 40 hr fulltimers and a 25/30 hr part timer.

  3. The idea that part timers doing the same work should not be paid proportionally and receive benefits proportional to their share of fulltime. Why?

I think the discussion has been really good so far, please continue.

Yes, a 2 hour commute is insane in my opinion.
I also believe the work life balance should be balanced and I include the commute in this balance. With wife and kids I don’t want to and can’t be gone from 7am to 7pm or whatever it is.

I think the main problem is the work week based on Mon-Friday 40 hrs a week. If everybody else in the country/world is following this schedule then the part timer will be absent 2 days leading to delays or a full timer picking up where the part timer left off (in case of an urgent matter…there’s always those). If the economy goes down then the part timer may be the first to go, if work picks up the part timer may be asked to work more hours…

The price of homes, health insurance, kids education and so on would prohibit most of working only 3 days a week, at least in the major metropolitan areas.

Maybe a 5-6 hour day may be a better solution. Or working 3 days at the office and 2 days remotely. Flexibility is very important, specially when you have kids.