Full time or part time. Why is that the question?

Full time or part time. Why is that the question?

I remember listening to a CPD webinar many years ago where the key message was that it was inappropriate and, if I recall correctly, discriminatory, even, to use the term “part time” to describe a person’s working arrangements. I can clearly recall thinking that the world had gone mad if we weren’t even allowed to use a phrase like “part time”; but now, the “full time or part time” question is one that I can’t seem to shake. There’s nothing like becoming a parent to pull all your world views into question.

When you are a working mother, every other parent you meet wants to know if you work full time, presumably so they can judge you, after all, the “mummy wars” are well and truly real. You can almost read their minds, “why have children if you’re going to get someone else to raise them”. And don’t think you get off lightly if you work part time – “I couldn’t put my kids in day care. They grow so fast, I don’t want to miss a second.” But that’s a topic for another day.

On the flip side, if you work part time there are questions as to whether you really value your career. It is sad but true that even in this day and age, many people think that to be committed to a career means that you have to dedicate 40 plus hours per week.

The question I’m pondering: why does it matter?  Surely the outcomes we achieve, the difference we make to the lives of others and to the world, the quality of time we spend with our families and our mental and physical well-being is far more important than the simple mathematical calculation that represents the number of hours we spend here or there.

Almost every time I meet someone new I am asked the full time or part time question. I’ve taken to saying “I don’t know”. In truth, I don’t know. If I work 60 hours one week and 20 the next, do I work full time or part time? Most people are baffled when I tell them I work as many hours as I need to complete my work and no more, yet it’s the truth. (And also one of my secrets to success)

There’s another bone to pick here too. Why is it that working mothers are asked this question, but working fathers are not? Just to be sure that this wasn’t something I made up in my head, I asked my husband if he’d ever been asked if he works full time or part time. The answer? You can guess it. No. The great irony? He works fewer hours than me.

You can see why my thoughts about “less than full time” have shifted. What I once thought was political correctness gone mad, now makes sense.  In fact, I wouldn’t even distinguish between full time and less than full time. I work. Full stop.

So, by all means ask me about my career, what I do, how I change the world, how I spend time with my family. But please, until you can tell my why it matters, stop asking me whether I work part time or full time.

What do you think? Am I alone in my crusade to stop asking women if they work full time or part time? How do you describe your working arrangements?

If you’re a professional woman who works and has a family (because, shock! we can have both!), come and join our free Facebook community, The Juggle Community, and listen to our weekly podcast each Thursday.

Lucy is a mum of one and works flexibly in her role as a lawyer.  After suffering with anxiety during her pregnancy, Lucy quickly settled into career mum life and  learned that it was possible to have both a fulfilling career and to be a great mum at the same time. Lucy is passionate about helping other working mothers to take charge of their motherhood journey and manage their career and personal life in such a way that enables them to live the life they want to live.


  1. Vanessa says:

    I think work and work culture is in a bit of denial about a shift that will have to happen to recoginse that some weeks you have, like you said, 20 hours a week of work and some weeks it’s 60 hours. I’d love to work part time but financially it’s not an option. My long term goal is 3 days a week of day job and 2 days a week working for myself – so that puts me outside of the “good full time employee” and the “perfect long hour working freelancer”. But it’s a balance I think will suit me really well so that’s what I’m going for – no matter the opinions of those around me.

  2. Rowan Sims says:

    I think it’s interesting that this seems to be different in each career. As a nurse, nobody ever asks if you’re part-time or full-time, and would certainly never question your ability to do your job well based on that. In photography, on the other hand, the answer to that question is directly related to how skilled you’re perceived to be. It’s strange.

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