July 8, 2013 12:19 am

Most British part-time workers feel trapped in their jobs

Three-quarters of the UK’s part-time workers feel trapped in their jobs because there are too few opportunities for promotion or to find alternative roles, research has found.

A quarter of all workers are now part-time, most of them by choice so as to fit in with family or other commitments, but they face big career barriers. Often they cannot get promoted unless they increase their hours.

The extent of the “flexibility trap” emerges from a study of 1,000 professional part-time workers, earning from a full-time equivalent of £20,000 to more than £100,000 a year, by the Timewise Foundation, a social enterprise. More than two-thirds of respondents were women.

Nearly three-quarters of those interviewed said they had not been promoted since they began working part-time, with more than a fifth saying they would not even expect to be.

Almost two-thirds believed promotion with their employer might be possible, but only by increasing their hours – not an option for the third of respondents who rated part-time hours as crucial to their lives, and not easy for a little more than half who said they were important.

“Work is undergoing a fundamental shift. More than a quarter of UK workers are now part-time or flexible, with most needing to fit their careers with something else in life,” said Karen Mattison, Timewise Foundation’s co-founder.

“Yet millions are hitting a wall at key points in their careers, when they want to progress or move to a new role. Doing so, without losing their flexibility, presents a real challenge, leaving many feeling trapped in their current jobs.”

One problem is that even if employers are prepared to fill a job on a part-time or flexible basis, such as by having someone work four days a week or from home, they often do not say so in job adverts, so applicants do not know.

Helen Reid*, 34, made swift progress at a financial services company, having been promoted three times and leading on a number of successful deals, until her first child was born. She now has a son aged four and an 18-month-old daughter.

After returning from her initial maternity leave, she requested a four-day week. She was offered a job in a new team that turned out to be a secondary role, supporting the deal leaders.

Recently, she was put in charge of part of a deal and set up a meeting with the intention to lead it. But the leader insisted it take place on a Wednesday, her day off. “When I challenged this, he said ‘we’ll just run the meeting without you’. I don’t expect the business to move mountains for me, but there was space in his diary, this was my deal and there was an easy fix.”

She is now seeking other roles but worries about finding something at the right level, four days a week. “I have been externally headhunted for a role – but with full-time hours. At what point in the process do I say that I want to work part-time?”

* name changed to protect identity

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