One of the first decisions you must make when you’re conducting a job search is whether you want to work part-time or full-time. You might think that part-time jobs are more typical for students or retirees, but the truth is there can be several benefits to part-time work at every stage of your career.
So, how do you decide if part-time employment will suit your current goals and lifestyle? How many hours should you expect to work? Read on, because we’ve created this handy guide to help answer these questions and more.
What is a part-time job?
A part-time job is when an employee works fewer hours than their full-time colleagues. The US Department of Labor doesn’t provide a legal definition of part-time work, so it is generally up to each individual employer to decide their own parameters.
Part-time jobs typically require less responsibility and reduced stress, but potential downsides include lower pay and fewer employee benefits. Part-time work schedules can occur during typical office hours, but can vary greatly according to the company’s needs, and they’ll usually discuss these during a job interview. Split shifts, night and weekend hours, freelance and on-call work are common types of part-time arrangements.
How many hours is part-time work?
Historically, the 40-hour workweek has been standard for full-time work, and anything less has been considered part-time. Many companies have reduced those hours in recent years, however. For their statistical research, The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) uses 35 (or more) hours a week for full-time workers and part-time employees are expected to work fewer than 35 hours employees.
The hours that you may expect to work depend on the role and the type of business you work for. Students working their first retail job may only work 10 to 15 hours per week. Part-time office workers often take morning or afternoon shifts for 20 hours a week. Accountants working part-time during a busy tax season might approach full-time hours with 30 to 39 hours per week.
Why take a part-time job?
There are a lot of amazing part-time jobs in every industry, but wherever your interest lies, there are five great reasons to consider part-time employment.
1. Greater flexibility
Part-time work is one of the ways to keep income flowing in while maintaining the optimal work-life balance. Some jobs come with a set schedule, which can be perfect for workers who always need afternoons off for childcare or other responsibilities. Many part-time jobs have flexible scheduling, allowing you to choose the days and times that suit your needs best.
2. Gaining experience
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to change careers, a part-time job can be a great way to gain experience in your chosen field. Employers often have less stringent requirements for part-time positions and they’re more willing to take a chance on someone new to the industry. You’ll gain valuable skills, gauge your interest in this career path and add experience to your résumé.
3. Supplemental income
Perhaps that entry-level job isn’t paying all your bills, you have a sudden expense you need to settle, or your fledgling business hasn’t quite got off the ground. A part-time job can be a great way to bring in some extra cash on nights and weekends.
4. Lower costs
If you work fewer days, you can reduce the money spent on gas, parking at the train station, subway tokens and other related transportation fees. Part-timers working half days can save money by eating meals at home instead of pricier restaurants near the office. Part-time work may also have a more relaxed dress code, lowering your wardrobe costs.
5. Preserving career path
Whether you’ve chosen to step away from full-time employment or circumstances demand it, no one wants employment gaps on their résumé. A part-time gig lets you take a breather from full-time work commitments without sacrificing your ultimate career goals. You’ll maintain your skills, keep up with changes in your industry, and solidify your résumé timeline.
Part-time employee perks and benefits
It’s important to educate yourself about the federal and state laws designed to protect worker’s rights, and the benefits you may be entitled to even as a part-time employee.
1. Social security
Working part-time contributes to your eligibility for the US government’s social security retirement, disability and survivor benefits. In 2022, a mere $1,510 in income earns you one credit towards the 40 credits you need to qualify. Check the SSA website every year to see how much you need to earn for your maximum four credits per year.
2. Unemployment insurance
The rules for every state can vary, but most offer some form of unemployment pay if part-time workers meet certain income and job type criteria. If you suddenly lose work through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to supplementary income. Check your state’s labour department or the federal benefits index for more information.
3. Federal-mandated health insurance
The US government’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees to offer health insurance to those who may be considered part-time employees. You must work at least 30 hours per week, or 130 hours per month to qualify. If you work fewer hours, you can still apply to get discounted coverage through the federal marketplace.
4. Overtime pay
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires most employers to pay workers at least one and one-half times their usual hourly rate if they work more than 40 hours in a week. This includes part-time workers who may be putting in extra hours during a busy season or covering for an absent full-time employee. If your state has a more generous overtime mandate, that is the standard your employer must meet.
5. Retirement plans
Working part-time doesn’t mean you have to forget about saving for retirement. Federal laws mandate that anyone who has worked 1000 hours or more in a 12-month period is eligible to participate in any retirement program offered to full-time employees. If you’re over 21 and have worked at least 500 hours a year for three years, you can also make contributions to the company’s 401k plan.
6. Family medical leave
Do you typically work 25–30 hours a week? That should get you to the threshold of 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months to benefit from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Mid- to large-size companies must provide 12 total weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy, adoption, a serious illness or for time as a caregiver.
7. Employer-mandated benefits
Many companies offer expanded benefits to part-time employees to attract the best candidates. Depending on the type of employment contract you sign, including collective bargaining agreements, you may be eligible for health insurance, retirement benefits, paid time off, salary bonuses and more.
As you contemplate your career path and whether part-time work is right for you, remember these important points:
- Positive aspects of part-time work include flexible hours, lower costs and valuable work experience.
- There are federal and state laws that mandate healthcare and other benefits for many part-time workers.
- Part-time work with longer hours at a larger firm can net you more skills, experience and employee benefits.
There are part-time jobs available in a variety of industries at multiple skill levels, so you have lots of options. Consider all the pros and cons of each position, and the number of hours required, as you conduct your job search.
What type of skills, experience and benefits have you received from working part-time? Join the discussion in the comments below and share your story!