Tilling the ground for more part-time professional jobs

* A Louis Harris survey of American families, commissioned by General Mills in 1981, showed that 28 percent of all working men and 41 percent of all working women would prefer part-time work over full-time or volunteer work or work at home.

* A 1981 survey of Travelers Insurance Companies' employees 55 years and older found that 85 percent wanted part-time jobs.

''We've always known that people wanted part-time work,'' says Diane Rothberg , president of the Association of Part-Tyme Professionals (APTP), a national organization headquartered here. ''Now we're hoping to bring them out of the woodwork.''

Last year roughly 14 percent of all non-farm laborers worked part time by choice, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. ''But BLS calls 'part time' anyone working 35 hours or less,'' says Dr. Rothberg. ''That's not our definition.''

APTP, whose membership consists largely of editors, social science researchers, and other professionals, defines part-time work as a ''regularly scheduled week of 16-32 hours,'' according to their newsletter. In these slots, APTP's members face the same sort of disadvantages confronting the salesmen and clerical workers who make up the bulk of the country's part-timers, says Dr. Rothberg.

Part-time workers, who often are excluded from company benefit packages, consistently earn lower wages per hour than their full-time peers, studies show. They also sacrifice quick promotions -- or, sometimes, any promotions -- to their more visible co-workers.

APTP is out to change all that by providing strategies and support to part-timers across the country. But it's not going to be easy, Dr. Rothberg cautions. ''This is still very much a pioneer effort,'' she says. ''You have to be really good to sell part-time work.''

Selling the concept to employers, says Dr. Rothberg, involves ''going to the very heart of the social and work structure. With part-time jobs you can't keep thinking of work as requiring a certain number of bodies. You have to start thinking of it as a compilation of different tasks and see how those tasks can be accomplished most efficiently.''

She cites the Environmental Protection Agency, which uses roughly 10 percent part-timers. ''As soon as they started switching to part-time workers, they stopped counting personnel and started counting work hours needed to aCcomplish the jobload,'' says Dr. Rothberg.

But many employers still show a ''gut-level hostility'' to this approach, says the president. ''There's still something prestigious about having a large number of bodies in your department.''

The association also faces widespread ''ignorance and misunderstanding,'' says Dr. Rothberg, ''about the effects of part-time work. We send representatives out to major corporations to talk to them about these myths,'' she says.

APTP's newsletters cite the classics: ''How can you be serious about your job and want to work part-time? Won't this cost me more money? What happens when you are not here and someone needs you?''

The association cites study after study showing that part-time workers are more productive ''because we take care of our personal needs on our own time,'' says Dr. Rothberg, whose association is all run by part-time workers. ''There's a lot of slack built into any full-time job -- time spent taking breaks, socializing, whatever. Part-timers don't have that slack time.''

Indeed, one of the most common complaints of part-time workers is the need to ''cram 40 hours of work into a 20-hour job,'' as one put it. She does it by ''being extremely well organized'' and being available at home, if necessary. ''But any extra work I do is billed directly to the company, so I feel I'm compensated fairly,'' she reports.

The question of compensation is a sensitive one for employer and employee. Part-timers tend to receive lower wages per hour than full-timers, and because part-timers are often excluded from nonmandatory benefits, the companies that employ them are often accused of exploitation.

The companies, in turn, believe that part-timers exploit them by costing them more than full-time workers. Emplyers do pay more unemployment compensation for part-timers earning more than $6,000 annually; and two part-timers whotogether earn more than $29,700 cost an employer more than one full-timer in social security.

But all other benefits required by law are automatically prorated, an approach APTP advises companies to take toward their voluntary benefits. Most of these -- pension plans, discounts, bonuses, etc. -- can be easily prorated for part-timers, Dr. Rothberg feels. The only exception is insurance premiums; there , APTP recommends that part-timers split the cost with the company.

Negotiating for such arrangements is part of the long process involved in landing one of the scarce part-time jobs. The easiest way to get such a job, APTP has found, is to go from being a valued full-time employee to one doing part-time work. Dr. Rothberg finds this sort of switching occurring with workers approaching retirement age who want to ''phase down'' and with parents who want to spend more time with their children.

Coming off the street to get a part-time job is ''considerably more difficult ,'' she says, but can be done, following these steps:

* Know who you are and exactly what you want. ''Be sure your skills are marketable, and have the proper resume, job interviewing techniques, and so on, '' says Dr. Rothberg. ''And use your networks and contacts to find out what's available.''

* Once you've found a job you feel you can do, apply ''like any other candidate - don't mark 'part-time' on your resume. It's a negative word, and will never get you in the door.''

* Find out everything you can about the job. What are its components? What parts can you do? Can something be split? Pared? Or shared with someone else?

* Find out if there are other part-timers in the organization, or if company policies allow for part-time work, and use these in the negotiating process.

* Finally, if they seem interested in you but still unsure about the part-time aspect, ask them to try you for three months ''without obligation. Then prove yourself during those months.''

Dr. Rothberg warns that the negotiating process does not stop once you've landed the job. She advises that you ''volunteer to work out the schedules for meetings and deadlines, to ensure that they occur on the days that you work.''

Even these strategies will do little to dispel some of the built-in traps of part-time work. ''You will be sacrificing rapid promotion and high pay,'' Dr. Rothberg states. ''But you will be gaining greater flexibility and more personal time. You have to ask yourself if it's worth it.''

She -- and others -- believe that more people will be answering that question with a resounding 'yes' in the 1980s as a larger number of workers head into the retirement years, more women hit the job market, and more couples ''work together to figure out child-care arrangements,'' says Dr. Rothberg.

''So you see,'' she says, ''this isn't just a 'women's issue.' This is a 'people issue.' ''

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