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How to choose between full-time and part-time work

By Rosa Ritchie

Tailoring Your Working Week

Struggling to decide how you want to earn your money, and on what terms? Since the Industrial Revolution, members of Western society have been expected to work 40-hour work weeks as a bare minimum, with some people working 60 hours or more. However, there is now a growing belief that working freelance or part-time is conducive to a better quality of life.  Employers are becoming increasingly flexible with working arrangements, permitting people to job share or complete their workload over a 3 or 4 day week. Additionally, digital nomads make the world their office, working remotely from wherever takes their fancy, on their own schedule so long as they meet their objectives. The decision to work full-time or part-time hours is a very personal one, yet it is also dependent on your employer’s flexibility. You need to consider how much money you need to earn a week, what kind of lifestyle you envision for yourself, whether you’re studying or busy with family life, and what your goals are.  And of course, your desired hours need to meet your employers needs as well. 

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, in Australia the definition of full-time work is working on average 38 hours. Part-time work is defined as working less than 38 hours a week. Unlike casual employees who may work any number of hours per week and are not entitled to benefits, part-time workers are entitled to holiday and sick leave just like full-time employees. However, the amount of leave allotted to each part-time employee is calculated pro rata, depending on the number of hours they work in a year. Full and part-time employees are permanent employees, or on a fixed term contract.

 planning work calendar

Weigh up your options

When considering flexible or full-time working arrangements, one significant factor is the type of jobs most readily available. In 2016, 90% of the jobs created in Australia were part-time or casual. This trend has continued and is called the ‘casualisation’ of the workforce. Some caution that this is something to be wary about as some employers prefer to have their employees working full-time hours as a casual employee so that they don’t have to provide them with securities like sick leave. Casual employees can have their employment terminated at any time. The upshot of working as a casual employee is a higher hourly rate, but any holidays or sick days are taken unpaid. For financial security, permanent employment on a part or full-time basis is preferable.

Transitioning to part-time work

So, you’ve decided that part-time work sounds amazing. If you can manage to retain permanent employment, you get more down time and other entitlements such as sick leave and holiday leave. But as you will be earning a smaller income, you will need to do the maths. Add up all your monthly expenses (rent, petrol, groceries, car registration, utilities, phone bills etc) and compare that number to what your monthly salary will be as a part-time employee. Bear in mind you still need some breathing room - money for unexpected expenses as well as having fun! If switching to part-time hours wasn’t your idea, don’t despair. You can use the extra free time on your hands to diversify your income or undertake a course of study to improve your employability into better paying jobs.


someone holding alarm clock with 'part-time' written on post it note


Wanting full-time work

If you’re currently in a part-time role and finding that reduced earnings and possibly less entitlements is not going to continue working for you, the first thing to do is talk to your boss. Have an honest conversation to find out whether there are any full-time positions on the horizon or if you’d be better off directing your energy elsewhere. More often than not, once your foot is in the door and you are making waves in the company by being an exemplary employee; working hard, showing initiative, being a team player, and showing long term interest, your chances of them wanting to hang onto you will be pretty high. 

Sometimes no matter how much they like you they just won’t have a full-time role for your current position. One way you can work around this is by letting them know you’re open to upskilling by getting a qualification for a role that they would otherwise have hired someone else for. For example, Rebecca works part-time as a marketing admin for 20 hours a week, and knows they need a dedicated person running their social media presence. She approaches her boss about studying a Diploma of Social Media (10118NAT). The course qualifies for NSW Smart and Skilled Funding* which she is eligible for, and her employer is happy to help pay the remaining cost while she transitions from part-time to full-time position. By gradually adding 20 hours of social media management to her week, both the employer and Rebecca are happy with this arrangement. Rebecca is now gaining experience in the new role and building her career potential.

If you’re interested in upskilling for a role, you may be eligible for some financial assistance from government funding. Read more about funding opportunities here.

Considering freelance

Freelance work is either the best or worst type of employment, depending on who you ask. It requires a lot of preparation, ascertaining where and when your cash will be coming in is tricky when you may have multiple employers who process invoices on different schedules. But it also allows you the freedom to set your own hours.  Some people take baby steps towards fully-fledged freelance life by keeping a casual job on the weekends or working in the gig economy with jobs like Uber. It’s certainly easier than ever to become a freelance employee, but it’ll always be a juggling act. 

young male adult freelancer smiling

What to do in the meantime

Reflect on what kind of employment would suit you best. If you’ve got a big job that you love but you want to work fewer hours, consider the tips above and approach your employer about job sharing. If you’d like to transition to full-time hours, consider how you’re going to make yourself highly valuable, and what strengths and skills you can bring to your workplace.

*This training is subsidised by the NSW Government.

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*By providing your information, you agree to our Privacy Policy and to receiving email and other forms of communication from Upskilled. You are able to opt-out at any time.