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For Cancer Patients, Part-Time Work Has Benefits and Drawbacks.

Here, How To Decide What's Best for You and Negotiate the Optimum Arrangement

Stringing together two or more part-time jobs is a hot trend among today's young adults--as well as some creative artist-types of all ages.

It's often inspired, observers say, by economics. It could also be driven by a wish to explore a more creative side while still paying the bills. After working in an office for the afternoon, you might head out to a band gig in the evening, or an art gallery job.

Could this trend be adopted by cancer survivors?

We put that question to a panel of experts:

  • John Moran, an assistant professor of health policy and administration at Penn State University. He has researched the work habits of survivors.
  • Joanna Fawzy Morales, Director, Cancer Legal Resource Center, a program of the Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. 
  • Sara Sutton, CEO, FlexJobs, www.flexjobs.com
  • Julie Jansen, career coach and author of "I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not This," a book for those seeking gratifying work.

Their bottom line: investigate thoroughly before jumping in, watch out for being taken advantage of, and get creative with your arrangements.

Their four best tips:

1. Gauge your Energy Level--But Think Beyond It

If two part-time jobs seem like too much, maybe you should seek a single part-time job, at least until your energy increases. However, try not to evaluate what kind of part-time job or jobs work for you solely based on energy and stamina. Often, that increases over time, and you should consider factoring that into the decision. 

Instead, think of what your needs are--not just financial, but your needs for flexibility, benefits and fulfillment.

Beware: One danger of part-time work is that it can quickly ''morph'' into full-time work. You've got to be clear from the start what is expected in terms of output and hours.

Include a dose of realism when figuring how many hours you can put in. Moran's research of 674 cancer survivors, ages 28 to 54, found they do work about three to six hours a week less than a comparison group of 4,141 workers without cancer.

2. Get Creative with the Possibilities, But Stay Realistic

Part-time doesn't necessarily mean working four hours at the company location, five days a week. 

Ask about flexible hours. For instance, if you're due to go in for chemo, you might work 8 hours one day and take the next day off. Ask about working from home, at least some days. This could allow you to lay low at home and work if you're feeling depleted after a chemo treatment, then rejoin the office environment as you gain strength. You may find a part-time job or jobs that are entirely home based. Work-at-home jobs run the gamut these days. They could involve telemarketing, internet work, editing, writing or customer care, to name a few. (It's wise to check with your accountant about payment arrangements and deductible expenses before accepting a home-based job.) For more on home-based work and making sure what you find isn’t a scam, read our article, “So, You Think You Want to Work from Home?”.

If a part-time job is entirely home based, be honest: Can you resist the urge to switch on the television, catch up on reading, linger over Facebook?

Think about the isolation of an at-home job, too, and whether you can handle it. That's an especially crucial question if you live alone. And if you have young children, will you need someone to supervise them while you work? 

Contract work or freelancing:

Under these arrangements, you work as an independent contractor, providing services--usually for a specific project or time period--as needed by the company. You are considered self-employed by the Internal Revenue Service and thus subject to self-employment tax in addition to income taxes. Benefits such as health insurance are rarely included.

Contract work is a fast-growing area, as it saves employers big bucks in benefits. Be sure the terms are straightforward and in writing. Consider whether the company will pay expenses, things like transportation to meetings, postage, etc., and factor that in to your fees. 

Contract work or freelancing can be a gateway to future full-time work at a company. You might juggle two or three contract assignments for different companies. If a part-time or full-time position opens up, and you want it, you may have an advantage in that they already know your work. 

3. Add Up the Pros & Cons

As the economy has forced some employers to cut back, there may be more part-time jobs available than in the past. The number of workers choosing part-time for non-economic reasons rose in the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the obvious advantage of part-time work is the reduction in hours. That's especially valuable if you're going through chemo or other fatigue-inducing treatments, or on your way to recovery but not quite back to 100%.

However, if you plan to go after a couple part-time jobs, consider the total hours as well as total pay. Can you handle the hours? Do they equal the same as a full-time job? If your goal is to cut down on the number of hours you work, do they add up to a workable amount for you? 

Getting back to work--especially if you're picking a part-time job where you work on site and have human contact--can lift your spirits. That's hard to assign a dollar value to.

Figure the cost savings of working from home in terms of lunches out and dry cleaning.

Consider that many part-time jobs don't include health insurance and other benefits. 

Remember that if you are transitioning from a full-time job at a company to part-time at the same company, and you had a group health care plan, you may qualify for COBRA. It allows you to continue your group health benefits for a limited period of time. There are key things to do to make sure you can avail yourself of COBRA, for more information visit our info on recent insurance legislation.

Switching to a part-time job or jobs from full-time might stall your career progress. But not always. As moms and some dads wind down work time while raising young children, then return full-time, the idea is not as foreign to employers.

If you have several part-time assignments, consider your need to multitask. You will have multiple to-do lists, depending on what job you are at at the moment. Part-timers may be ''fill-in'' people, so you could be working for more than one boss. You could also be switched to different assignments as other workers go on leave or depart the company.

Think about whether you can handle that, especially if you are coping with fatigue or “chemo brain”. Some tips for managing both can be found here: http://www.cancerandcareers.org/en/at-work/Managing-Treatment-Side-Effects/Working-with-Chemo-Brain

4. Find Flexible Companies

Of course, some companies are more open to the idea of part-time, flexible work.

You can search the internet for information on companies that offer flexible arrangements--such as letting you set your hours, hiring you on a project basis, or other options.

Check websites such as the FlexJobs website (www.flexjobs.com). It lists the most flexible companies in the country. You can also search for the most flexible companies by location.

Whether you are a mom or not, check out Working Mother Magazine's annual top 100 company list: http://www.workingmother.com/best-companies/2010-working-mother-100-best-companies-0

The companies make the list based on a number of features, including flexibility of schedules. Each company on the list has a brief blurb, where you can often find out about flexible schedule options. For instance, the 2010 list says Abbott allows 89% of its workers to follow a flexible schedule. At Allstate, it is 94%. At Intel, 80% of employees could adjust their hours to fit their needs in 2009.

Another good website is www.workoptions.com/links.htm. It links to FlexJob's list and to 18 other websites and agencies that focus on flexible employment. (Among them: Flexible Executives, Part-time Pros, FlexForceProfessionals.) Click on the individual links for more information. Some companies operate in many states; others are limited to a metropolitan area.