I attended the Oakleaf Partnership part-time working event at Linklaters’ lovely London HQ this morning, and really enjoyed meeting some great people and listening to some fascinating perspectives.

But what struck me most about the event was how we still appear to be focussing on “part-time” working as much as we talk about “flexible working”. The two for me are very different, and the discussion raised a real concern for me about the phrase “part-time” and its suitability in today’s professional world.

If you run a restaurant or shop, or a call centre, then part-time fits. You have to plan hours perfectly and you need to know exactly what each team member can commit. If you work in these environments, you should expect to work for 15 hours per week if that is what you have agreed with your employer.

But in the professional world, it doesn’t work like that, and the problem is that when a recruiter introduces a “part-time” candidate into the process, or someone returning from maternity leave, asks to work “part-time”, then businesses often associate the term with the kind of expectation that works starts at a prescribed time, ends at a prescribed time, and that outside of those hours the employee becomes invisible and unavailable. In short, quite the opposite of “flexible”.

So if managers have this in their mind when presented with a “part-time” candidate, chances are they won’t progress that candidate.

Let’s imagine a different conversation. The recruiter has three candidates for the role. Two are well-qualified for the role, and have no constraints on their lives (childcare etc) that mean that they require flexibility. One is perfectly qualified for the role, but has expressed a desire to work in a fixed location for around 30 hours per week, in order to accommodate their preferences in bringing up their children. Two candidates with no specific needs for flexibility, one with some requirements.

How as a recruiter would you manage that conversation? Well, try not mentioning the words part and time, for a start. And then – if indeed the perfectly qualified candidate becomes the preferred candidate – work with the candidate to understand what flexibility really means to them. Do they have to be in the office every day? Could they accommodate further hours on an ad-hoc basis (as we all have to sometimes) if the company gave them the right tools to do some work from home?

Everyone in today’s professional workplace has times when they are flexible to accommodate the needs of their employer or their clients. In return, there are very few roles in which some degree of flexibility for the employees couldn’t be accommodated. There are very, very few roles in which response times to issues have to be within the 60 minutes in which a school run, a gym session, lunch with a friend or a doctor’s appointment could happen. So why are we still banging on about “part-time”? Everyone wants some degree of flexibility, irrespective of the hours that their contract states they work.

As recruitment professionals, we should elevate the conversation with both our hiring managers and our candidates, and help to build the flexible working practices that will enable the best talent, irrespective of gender, family status, location (etc.), to flourish within our organisations. So let’s abandon “part-time” and embrace flexibility once and for all.