To fill gaps without adding fixed payroll costs, more companies are turning to part-time workers. Here's how to do it right.
Employee management can take on all shapes and forms in today's economy. When a company's sales slow down, managers typically seek to keep labor costs in check by limiting or reducing headcount and then relying on part-time workers and freelancers to fill gaps. But as businesses add more part-timers to their workforces, they must adapt to changing dynamics in matters ranging from productivity and customer service, to meeting deadlines. We asked business owners and human-resources experts for advice on how to manage part-time employees, and how to successfully integrate part-time employees on your staff.
1. Write a proper job description.
Just because an employee is working part-time doesn't mean they should be given a series of miscellaneous tasks. No position--not even a part-time position--should be treated ad hoc. Because the part-time employee will have a more limited presence in the office, it is even more important to set clear goals and expectations for their position, says Nancy Mobley, founder and CEO of Insight Performance, a Boston-based HR consulting firm. "When interviewing potential employees, make sure to state the requirements of the position, as well as the hours and number of days a week they will need to be in the office," says Mobley. Both the business owner and the part-time employee should be on the same page when it comes to the time commitment the job requires.
2. Assign part-timers to projects, rather than to departments or teams.
At Think Big Solutions, a Denver-based marketing firm, CEO Shawn Allison has hired part-time employees to handle some accounting and marketing projects because the work is straightforward and task-oriented. "When I brought part-time employees into my company, it was because I had a very specific issue to address," Allison recalls. "I needed a skilled controller but couldn't afford to pay a full-time salary with benefits." Other functions, such as customer service and sales, are less hospitable to part-time work, he adds, because the workflow is not as regimented and requires staff members to interact with and provide service to clients whose needs are unpredictable and impossible to schedule.
3. Avoid treating a part-timer like a second-class employee.
Even though some of your employees may not be in the office all day, they are still considered part of your staff, and business owners should make sure that part-time employees receive important company-wide communications and are kept abreast of major decisions affecting their departments. "You have to work really hard as a business owner to include everybody, and be careful not to label people only as part-time or full-time staff," says Mobley. Their value to the company "should be looked at in terms of the employee's function and not the amount of hours they are working."
And you should take steps to make sure your staff shares this attitude. At Fat Atom Internet Marketing based in Carmel, Indiana, president Todd Muffley makes sure that his part-time employees get to know the full-time staff by encouraging them to attend company social events and by organizing a number of professional events at which they are able to interact. This minimizes any division between full- and part-timers and creates an environment where part-time employees are perceived as equals.
4. Gather contact information.
Inevitably, there will be days when something urgent comes up and your part-time employee is out of the office. Most part-timers understand the need to make themselves available during off-hours, should an urgent matter arise. Make sure you know where to reach them when they are out of the office--and make certain they are clear about when they need to answer the phone. To ensure that communication on projects continues after part-timers leave for the day, Muffley issues all employees company cell phones. "This gives part-time employees a way to be accessible and they do an excellent job of answering their phones outside the office," he says.
5. Schedule regular meetings.
Insight Performance's Mobley suggests setting "core hours" for your business--perhaps they are from 10 to 2--or a bracket of time during the day when all of your staff is there, when meetings can be held, and when important decisions are made. This allows part-time staffers to feel connected to the company during the time they are in the office. "We include our part-time staff in our strategy sessions and our team meetings, and they come up with some great ideas," says Steve Durie, CEO of Secure Search, a Denver-based company that conducts background screenings for employers and educational organizations. It's also a good idea to have a weekly check-in meeting with your part-timers. At her weekly meeting, Mobley encourages employees to express any concerns they may be having about their job or just discuss how things are going.
6. Understand the relevant employment law.
Each state has its own laws when it comes to how much time off part-time employees are allotted, both for daily breaks and for vacation time. If you don't have a benefits administrator at your company, the U.S. Department of Labor's website provides the relevant compliance laws for part-time employees in your state. At Insight, Mobley offers benefits to employees who are working 28 hours or more. That's fairly uncommon: At most companies, an employee who is working between 20 and 30 hours a week is not eligible for benefits.
Another legal tip: When interviewing someone for a part-time position, it is important to be consistent with your hiring procedures. "Your interview questions should be the same for both part-time and full-time positions," says Mobley. You're entering murky waters when you start asking about personal circumstances or why an applicant might prefer to work part-time. If you then use that information as the basis of a hiring decision--for example, hiring an employee who doesn't have kids over someone who does--it could ultimately be used against you as discrimination, says Mobley. "Be clear about the qualifications for the position, but steer clear of asking about personal situations."
7. Keep in mind that managers--as well as junior employees--can work part-time.
When it comes to managerial positions at your company, you don't always have to overlook part-time employees for the job. At Insight Performance, Mobley has a senior director who works part-time and manages a team of employees below her. The arrangement has been extremely positive, according to Mobley, who worked with the woman to structure the position according to both of their needs. "As a CEO, you should have a people strategy," she says. "Look within your organization and determine which job functions you can think more creatively about."