Part-time workers: Full time challenge

Published on: Feb 1, 2014

Gone are the days when managers looked upon part time workers as dispensable resources of little value to the enterprise. Today’s part timers have become critical gears in the profit machine, performing many vital duties formerly handled by a trimmed-down permanent staff.

“The whole business world is going in the direction of shorter term work assignments and the hiring of people for specific projects,” says Barbara Glanz, a management consultant based in Sarasota, Fla. (barbaraglanz.com).

No secret why: Business owners are feeling the heat from rising labor and benefits costs. Why add more full time workers, goes the reasoning, when part timers can do the job just as well? And then there’s the advantage of greater flexibility: Employers can add or subtract part timers in response to variable—and unpredictable—business activity levels.

Attitude check

Part timers offer distinct advantages. And maybe you’re enthused about your own. But are they returning the favor? Are they happy about being in your workplace?

If the answers are negative your profits may suffer. Bad attitudes are contagious: Customers who encounter unhappy, unmotivated part timers will take their business elsewhere. And part timers are often the first—and only—contact the public has with your organization.

“Customers don’t care whether an employee is part time or full time,” warns Glanz. “People judge your business by how well they are treated, not by how many hours the employees are putting in.” And customers will only be treated well if your part timers feel good about what they are doing.

Hire right

How can you build a staff of happy part timers? Start by hiring the right people in the first place. “The most important decision you make is who to allow in the door to help you take care of customers,” says Mel Kleiman, director of Houston-based Humetrics, an employment consulting firm (humetrics.com). “The biggest mistake business owners make is not taking part time hiring as seriously as full time hiring. You have to realize the importance of part time positions and not short circuit the hiring process. Do the same things for selecting part timers as you do for selecting regulars.”

Smart hiring means not only curating the applicant pool, but also forming a clear vision of what you need. “You don’t go grocery shopping without a list,” says Kleiman. “Before you leave home you look at a recipe to see what ingredients you need. Take the same approach when hiring part timers: What key ingredients will you need to make your hire successful?”

And don’t wait until the last minute. “It’s a mistake to go grocery shopping when you are hungry,” says Kleiman. “You end up buying the wrong food. In the same way, don’t just start looking for part timers when you need them. When you are forced to make a fast decision you end up hiring great applicants instead of great employees.” There’s a critical difference between the two categories, he explains. “Great applicants can start work today or tomorrow. Great employees are working someplace else and want to give their current employers notice.”

Day 1 duties

Attracting the best quality part timers is one thing. Making sure they don’t jump ship to a competitor is something else. It’s important to design a smooth transition into your workforce so the new arrival feels welcome, says Kleiman. “Realize the new part time worker is important and invest the time to bring the individual on board.”

Your goal is to make the new hire an evangelist for your company, says Kleiman. “Every new employee at end of the first day will be asked one question by everyone: ‘How was your day?’ We know what we want the answer to be: ‘It was terrific. It was the best decision I ever made. I would like to get a fulltime job there.’”

Creating such enthusiasm begins with the arrival of the individual to your workplace. “The first hour should not be just sitting in an office looking at videos and filling out paperwork,” says Kleiman. Instead, make the first conversation about the employee, discussing the individual’s goals. Remember that the very nature of a part time worker involves two distinct duties: one to the job and a second to a personal life. Your job is to understand the latter and make sure the two loyalties do not end up in conflict.

One way to bring the two into productive engagement is to deliberately involve families, whenever you can, in business activities. “Part time employees are probably giving up family time to put in hours that are needed,” says Glanz. “Find ways to involve the families in some way and show they are appreciated.”

Here’s an example: One employer sent a gift certificate to a worker’s family, explaining the importance of a certain project and how grateful the company was that the family member had contributed. “Here is a check,” stated the card. “Think of something to do to celebrate.”

Try to help part time workers reach their personal goals, even if they are not connected with work. Suppose someone says “I want to get my college degree.” Express admiration for the ambitious goal and offer to assist in specific ways. For example, you might say “We are going to be flexible in work scheduling so you can attend classes you need to get your degree.” The part timer will value this kind of assistance and will likely stick with your organization rather than take an alternative job that offers more money but less flexibility.

Break down walls

While getting off on the right foot is critical to success, you must also follow through. Make sure the new part time workers quickly feel like part of the team. Start by erasing the imaginary wall that divides them from the rest of your staff.

“Your organization will be much healthier if you don’t make a distinction between full and part time workers,” says Glanz. “Treat all of your employees like valuable team members. Change the mindset from ‘us versus them’ to ‘all of us together.’”

Promoting a sense of team engagement will keep your part timers from feeling isolated and ineffectual. “People need a sense of purpose, to feel that they are part of something bigger,” says Glanz.

Maybe being part of a team is essential-- But does one individual’s job really make a difference? The answer is yes. And as a manager you need to communicate how each task contributes to the valuable mission of your organization.

“Don’t just tell people what they do and how to do it but why they do it,” says Kleiman. “We don’t do things for the what and how-- we do things for the why.” The why is the value that the employee’s actions give the larger mission of your business: to improve the lives of customers.

This advice applies to employees throughout the ranks. “The lowest level jobs are often the most important ones in satisfying the customer,” says Kleiman. At these positions it is especially vital to make sure the employee knows the answers to the question “Why is what I do important?”

That sounds like a communication challenge. And it’s true that managers with great communication skills are the most successful at making a compelling case that each employee is an essential part of the larger business whole.

Keep moving

A thoroughly engaged part time worker is a critical gear in any business machine. But to keep the machine running well it has to be continually maintained: Follow through on your hiring and intake practices by continuing to take an interest in your part time workers’ personal lives.

Communicate with your part timers regularly, obtaining feedback on their attitudes and soliciting suggestions on workplace improvements. Pay special attention to feedback during annual performance reviews when individuals may bring up issues that they have kept to themselves.

Remember that competing employers are looking to snap up the best workers from your part time pool. Maintain open communications to preserve your investment in training and keep your peak performers on board. “Employee engagement is not something that can be taken care of during one day or week,” says Glanz. “Employees want to be appreciated and engaged all year long.”