Embrace generations honestly

I just received the “inclusion checklist” from the university where I work. It includes many items which I completely agree with, and have stood firmly behind during my time as head-of-department. One of the items, however, struck me as a boldfaced lie. It is “Embrace the generations that want to grow a career, working 0.8 fte. Working four days can be compatible with a strong career orientation.

The report on Dutch salaries which is published every two years by the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS) indicates that one of the biggest factors that explains the variance in hourly salaries is working full-time or part-time. That means that someone who works full-time is considered to be more valuable to a company than someone who works part-time, even if you make the calculations per hour. Why would that be?

There are probably many reasons for this phenomenon. I can offer at least four.

First, if someone works from Monday till Thursday, you cannot count on them from Friday till Sunday. In contrast, if someone works full-time, in practice you can count on them the whole week, including the weekend. Someone who works part-time is not going to work during the weekend, otherwise they would just work full-time and claim a full-time salary, while someone who works full-time tends to extend their working hours into the weekend. I know, that is not supposed to happen, but it does happen in practice.

Second, someone who works 80 percent of the time, builds up 80 percent (or less) of the job experience of someone who works 100 percent of the time. As a university teacher and researcher, that entails on average 80 percent of the papers, 80 percent of the courses, 80 percent of the grants, and 80 percent of the citations. This means at least a slow-down of one’s career.

Third, there are certain activities during a work week, such as group meetings and trainings, which contribute less to actual work done, but take a fixed amount of time for everyone. Time spent on these activities will in practice vary between 4 and 8 hours per week. Relatively speaking, they take a considerably larger chunk out of the work week of someone who works part-time than of someone who works full-time.

Fourth, for most management roles it is practically impossible to not be available every day that work is done, including weekends. You may wish to take a day off, but your phone will ring, and urgent emails will flood into your inbox. There is no escaping working full-time if you want to take on such a role.

You may not like this. You may wish that working part-time does not influence your career. Of course spending time at home is more fun than spending time at work, and it is a pity that work does not reward you for spending more time at home than your colleagues do. But just wishing that working part-time does not impact your career does not make it so.

Sure, if you want to work part-time, if I have anything to say about it, I will let you do it. I mean, I am all about freedom of choice, and if I can facilitate the choice you wish to make, then I will do so. But freedom of choice also means that you bear the consequences of your choice. And if career opportunities arise and I have to compare two people who I can offer an opportunity, where one has 80 percent of the quality of the other, I know who gets the offer.

The only way to get around this, is by saying: “Person A has only 80 percent of the merits of person B, but since person A only works 80%, that should be counted as the same. Or rather, since we are all about ’embracing the generations,’ person A gets preferential treatment exactly because they work part-time.” Which basically entails that you are saying to person B: “Indeed, everyone can see that you are more qualified than your competitor, but we do not promote people on their merits here.” That attitude only discourages people from being ambitious.

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