Work is takes up a great deal of our time and therefore our life. It usually takes up at least five days of our week, we work for years on end and often more than the hours advised on our contracts…

Yet, despite this, retirement age is being pushed back and we are working longer. Many jobs also have hidden hours and we often work longer in order to ensure the work gets done. Therefore, although we are assessed on our skills, knowledge, experience, our work and sometimes our output, it is the level of working time that often dictates our level of remuneration, work satisfaction and working conditions.

So, when you are considering the work you want to do, don’t just focus on the job title. You need to consider the type of work involved, the level of pay you require and the kind of working hours that fit your needs. However, you have to be realistic as some work, sectors and jobs cannot be as flexible as others by the very nature of the work involved. Certain industries such as mining, agriculture, energy and manufacturing will not be as flexible as others. The important thing to remember is that the more capital intensive the work (the more machinery etc.), the more regimented and process driven it is likely to be.

Otherwise, the more knowledge intensive the work (where you are thinking, communicating and creating ideas), the more likely that working hours will be more flexible.

So let’s take a look at some common working hours types so that you are able to consider these when looking at what you want to do.

Permanent/Full Time

This is the most common type of work we often look for and see when looking for a job. It is the full time, permanent job that means we usually have a 35-40 hour week and we also have an exclusive contract with an employer. This means we work solely for that employer and we do a certain role, work or job in exchange for a salary. Despite the prediction by Charles Handy that this kind of work would decline, it has in fact increased since 2008 as people feel less secure in the job marketplace. Even though it is perceived as more secure, it can also be more restrictive but it is something you need to balance when considering options.

Part Time/Seasonal Work

You may be in a position where you do not have to work all day, every day and you could therefore look for part time work that suits you. Part time work is not just retail related or low skilled, it can also be highly skilled, well paid and consultative in nature. The pressure on costs and current economy means that part time staff are sometimes a more attractive and affordable as an option for businesses. In the same light, a number of sectors of work can be seasonal (such as tourism, agriculture etc.), so you could vary you work or when you work depending on the season. There even exists the opportunity to change jobs to meet seasonal demands in a particular or in between sectors. This can be risky but also more rewarding in terms of life skills and experiences.

Shift Work

This is a common type of work carried out in capital heavy environments such as mining, manufacturing, oil and gas etc. where machinery is used intensively in the production process and staff are there to maintain it. As a result, work is often broken down into shifts to balance the needs of that machinery or production process, and still in some manufacturing sectors, you will find people paid against the output that they create (hence piece work). However, this kind of work is largely in the minority now and piece work is not as common as it once was. Saying that, shift patterns remain a very common working pattern across a number of sectors and with life and services becoming 24/7, unsociable shifts or hours are also on the increase. Do therefore keep this in mind when considering certain work or sectors.

Temp Work

Temp and contract work are similar but not the same by definition. Temp work is where an individual is engaged often at short notice for a period of a day and up to about three months. Temp work is a gap filler, usually low level administrative or system based work and is not always the best paid. However, some temp work can pay well if there is a specialist skill or capability requirement and may also pay more if the hours are deemed unsociable or around peak periods. Temp work continues to be a good way to develop short term experience and knowledge to help bolster a CV and there have even been cases of Reed temps working for them on different client sites for about 20 years!

The expression “Permatemp” is a term becoming more commonly used which refers to employees who are on contracts that are constantly extended. They often work closely and alongside permanent staff, but sadly do not receive any of the equivalent reward, recognition, security etc. However, changes in EU law does now protect temp and contract workers more, so make sure you read more about it if it is something that genuinely interests you.

Contract/Interim Work

Contract or interim work is usually a job or assignment that will last between three and twelve months. Sometimes this can be significantly longer or perhaps covering someone who might be unavailable for an extended period (such as maternity leave, long term absence or an overseas posting). Contract work is usually that bit more secure than temp work and receives better rates of pay in order to retain the individual for the duration.

Contractors are common in most industries, from supply chain and IT, through to defence and law enforcement, and the more specialist or niche their skills, the better the premium they can earn. Interim and contract are very similar, but you will find that interim work is usually there to fill a gap or cover a post. Often this relates to senior roles, such as exec or management where leadership is required.

However, there can be downsides with the contract or interim work. Firstly, you are locked into the contract and then if the situation changes, they can often terminate or exit you on short notice. There are no guarantees that a contract will extend and you often have to look for your next one as you try and complete the current one. This can be and is a nightmare, unless you can manage your professional network and recruitment contacts effectively.


People often confuse freelance work with either temp or contract work as they are all lumped in the short term work camp. However, the key thing to remember about freelance is the element of control. If you pick and bid for the work or projects that will be done, you are then a freelancer, providing your time, specialist skills and your knowledge to complete a piece of work.

Freelancing is more common these days in the IT space, especially in web related work and there are even online hubs where you can go to bid for work as a freelancer – such as Odesk, Guru and Elancer. The whole thing about this type of work is that you remain independent and do not have the same levels of control or exclusivity that is implied with a contractor or temp. It can be a lucrative market, but is also very competitive, so think about the implications when you look at this as an opportunity. However, it can also be the most personally rewarding.

Portfolio Work

Charles Handy predicted that we would be selling our time, our skills, knowledge etc. to large organisations and moving between employers on assignments. This would in essence create portfolio workers. Although this kind of work does exist in the contract, temp and freelance space, it has not become as popular as once hoped.

However, saying that it is becoming more common for people to hold down more than one job in the current economic climate, often working on more than one assignment or for more than one employer in order to earn a living. This is a type of portfolio work suits some people and their circumstances. It allows them to work on different things, prevents boredom and often keeps their head above water by spreading their employment risk associated with job security. As with the other types of work, it is about preference and what works for you so take time to consider whether this maybe workable or suitable for you.

Voluntary Work

Often forgotten, but equally important, is the value of voluntary work. Not only is this a great way to gain work experience, new skills and develop yourself as a person, it can also have a massive impact on your personal time if you do paid work as well. It is about a balance that works for you. Whatever the case, a lot of people provide their own time unpaid to help organisations or other people. It is a vital part of our society and although often unpaid, it can be extremely rewarding not only to the individual but to the community as a whole. Do consider voluntary work as an option, it could be an interim solution, it can also lead to full time employment, an interesting career and something very rewarding.

So, I hope these sections above have given you enough food for thought on common working hours and patterns, but next time we will be exploring the flexible side of working in our modern world.

About The Author

Giles O’Halloran is an experienced Recruitment and HR professional, with a wealth of knowledge in both sectors. He has worked for a number of large and respected organisations, including blue chip and global recruitment companies. Giles has spent over 15 years providing CV writing, interview preparation and professional networking support to clients in both the public and private sector. He also has over a decade of service in two branches of the Reserve Forces. Feel free to connect with Giles via Linkedin or follow him on Twitter via @GilesOHalloran