Managing Part-Time Employees

By Rowh, Mark

Just because they work fewer hours doesn’t mean they can’t be key contributors to your organization. To ensure they’re as committed as your fulltimers, show them you care. Most organizations depend to some degree on pan-time employees. After all, parttimers offer one of the best bargains around. They cost substantially less in wages and benefits than most rull-time staffand provide needed talent along with flexibility in dealing with business fluctuations. And in the current economic environment, they may be more important than ever.

“The demand for people to work part time is growing dramatically,” says Melanie Holmes, vice president of World of Work Solutions at Manpower Inc. “Mature workers, who are at or near retirement age, want time to pursue other interests. Younger workers are interested in work/life balance. As the skills shortage intensifies, employers need to be creative about the ways they attract talent. Providing part-time positions is a key strategy.”

At the same time, part-time employees provide special challenges to managers. Some are at least as dedicated as their fulltime counterparts. Others work at the margins, with little sense of commitment. In either case, managing part-timers requires attention to their unique situations.


By definition, part-time employees don’t put in as many hours as full-time personnel. But even when they’re not physically present, they remain a part of the organization. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting about part-timers when they’re not working or, especially, when you make plans that could affect them.

“Be careful not to overlook these people for promotion and training and other opportunities simply because they are not around as much,” says Heather Gatley, executive vice president of human resource services at AlphaStaff Group, an HR firm based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “Out of sight sometimes really does cause someone to be ‘out of mind,’ and it is on both the supervisor and employee to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

From the manager’s end, some simple measures can prove helpful. Keeping parttimers’ work schedules dose at hand where they’re visible daily can help keep their names from being overlooked. Developing individualized goal lists for each employee and consulting them frequently can also prove helpful. Other measures might range from including all staff in developing departmental goals, to copying them on memos and e-mails.

“It’s important to position part-timers as valuable members of the team,” Holmes says. “Include them in meetings, which could mean adjusting their schedules so they can attend. And, include them in all written communications.”

Depending on the practices within a given organization, opportunities for substantive feedback might also be expanded. For example, if part-timers aren’t included in a formal performance evaluation process at least once a year, making that practice more inclusive could be a worthwhile initiative. Or if this isn’t possible because of policy or time constraints, supervisors might take the time to schedule brief, but regular, one-on-one meetings with part-time staff to discuss job expectations, performance, and employee questions or concerns.

This approach might also include professional development activities. If possible, make part-timers eligible for benefits such as support for college classes or attendance at relevant workshops. If budgets or company policies preclude such measures, take a creative approach. Schedule inexpensive inhouse workshops or hold brown-bag lunch sessions on topics of professional or personal interest.

“Keep part-timers engaged,” Holmes says. “There is always a danger that they might fall off the radar, so you must make them feel like an equal part of the team. It’s also important to expect commitment and encourage initiative in your part-timers.”


In some cases, part-timers simply have a hard rime fitting in. Achieving synergy with other personnel can be a real challenge for them. “Because part-time employees are at the workplace for only part of the time, it is more difficult for them to fully understand the culture of the organization,” says Billie Blair, Ph.D., president of Leading and Learning, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm. “It can be hard [for them] to relate to it and to their fellow workers successfully and to lend themselves to the needs ofthat culture.”

Dr. Blair says that workgroups often are made up primarily of full-time employees who tend to overlook their part-time colleagues. Even if they’re not overtly rude or uncooperative, they may rely more fully on fellow full-timers and spend a disproportionate amount of their time interacting with one another at the expense of meaningful communication with part-time workers. Rectifying such situations may require managers to focus on bridging gaps between the two groups.

“Managers of part-rime employees should spend time sorting out misperceptions and misinterpretations, both of the work needs and the interactions with fellow workers,” Dr. Blair says. “Managers must also be evervigilant in forming and managing work teams because of the perceived differentiation between full-time and part-time employees.”

To supplement involvement in the workplace itself, one simple strategy is to include part-timers in social activities. Keep them informed, and consider their schedules when planning birthday celebrations, showers, or other social events. “Just because someone works pan time, a boss shouldn’t assume that he doesn’t want to attend a weekend seminar or attend an office cocktail hour or holiday party,” says Gatley “The need to be ‘a part of something’ remains just as strong as it does for full-time employees.”

The same goes for recognition programs. “Don’t ignore part- timers when it comes time to distribute bonuses, rewards, and other forms of recognition,” says Francie Dalton, president of Dalton Alliances, a consulting firm based in Columbia, Md. “Part time doesn’t mean pan mind. Indeed, you may find you net greater productivity from multiple part-timers than you do from a single fulltimer.”

Providing adequate workspace is also pan of the equation. Ruth King, CEO of and author of The Ugly Truth about Managing People, recalls an incident where a part-time employee had an office that she used regularly. She reported to work one day and found another person in her office. Management had reassigned her office to a full-time employee, and she had to scramble to find a place to work. “Don’t treat a part-time employee as a step-child,” King says. “This person should have his regular work area and be treated the same way a fulltime employee is treated.”


Although efforts to include part-time staff make sense, it’s also important to understand the different goals they bring to the workplace. “Managers need to realize that parttimers have different goals in mind,” says Nick Vaidya, a partner with the 8020Strategy Group, a management consulting firm based in Austin, Texas. He notes that most parttime employees fall into two types. One prefers pan- time status, or at least doesn’t mind it. The other wishes for full- time employment.

“To be successful, you must recognize that there is a reason that they are part time, and you must honor that reason and support it,” he says. “All else being equal, with such an attitude, you will command their respect and commitment.”

For some part-timers, outside interests are major reasons they prefer that status. If you can identify their outside interests, you may be able to link them to workplace performance. “They are part- timers for a reason, which is likely that something else is more important in their lives,” says Maryann Karinch, author of I Can Read You Like a Book. “You will not effectively manage and motivate a person like that by focusing on the work alone. Find out what is important to the person-family, budding acting career, night school- and link work performance to that important aspect of his or her life.”

As an example, she says that a worker who is also a student might benefit if you find a way for him to apply what he’s learning at work

“If he’s an accountant or an artist, there’s probably a way to make his new skills live at work,” she says, “even if it’s a matter of asking for his opinion on redecorating your office.”

Whatever their motivation, part-time employees are likely to be an important part of any workforce. As a result, efforts to work effectively with them, and to provide the right kind of leadership, are imperative.

“Part-timers are going to become increasingly more common as work/ life balance choices by younger workers take precedence over boomer workaholism,” says Dalton. “Realize that really smart, highly accomplished people are choosing to work part time. So appreciate them. And work hard to retain them!”

five tips for managing part-timers

Joyce L. Gioia-Herman, president of the Herman Group, a management consulting firm based in Greensboro, N.C. (, offers these tips for successfully managing part-time employees:

* Give people specific responsibilities.

* Make sure that part-timers are clear about their days and hours.

* Let them know where they fit in and how critical their work is to the success of the enterprise.

* Make sure that workers understand exactly what is expected of them. * Focus on results.

different strokes

Recognizing the differing priorities of part-time employees is key to motivating them, according to Cindy Ventrice, author of Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works. “Many of the needs of part-timers are exactly the same as [those of] fulltimers. They want to receive fair and equitable compensation, do meaningful work, like the people they work with, have their opinions valued, and receive recognition for what they do,” Ventrice says. “But they can also have very different needs from full-time staff. An important consideration for motivating them is to understand why they are part time.”

She advises asking questions such as these:

* Are they going to school in a related field? Project opportunities that provide relevant experience will motivate them.

* Have they retired and are looking for a way to keep busy? Give these older workers a chance to show off their expertise or make a visible difference.

* Are they part time because they have family obligations that are a priority? Honor that time, and recognize and reward them with time off that they can take when needed.

“The more managers know about individual part-timers, the more likely they are to be successful in motivating and engaging them,” adds Ventrice.

Mark Rowh is a frequent contributor to OfficeSOLUTIONS.

Copyright Quality Publishing, Inc. Apr 2008

(c) 2008 Office Solutions. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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