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Developing Your Part-Time Employee Practices

July 31, 2001
Related Topics: Contingent Staffing, Featured Article
Today's growth in part-time work expands the demands on management, particularlyin determining policies and practices relating to job structure, education andtraining, career development, supervision, and the extent of part-time employees'involvement.

    In interviews, professionals who have made the transition from full-time topart-time work and their respective managers discussed the continual challengesfaced in "working through" several key issues related to part-timestatus. Of paramount concern to managers is how to ensure equitable treatmentfor all employees -- whatever their schedules. Of paramount concern to part-timeemployees is how to address the often-present perception that they give lessthan full-time effort in their jobs.

    On the basis of "themes of concerns" emerging from our discussions,we have identified questions that both managers and employees might find usefulas catalysts for developing and expanding their own agendas in dealing withpart-time professional employees. The four themes focus on concerns relatedto organizational culture and structure, human resource practices, individualpart-time employee behaviors, and managerial behaviors. The questions shouldserve managers across a broad spectrum of organizational settings.

Organizational culture and structure issues and concerns
    Both culture and structure play central roles in contributingto the success of different work schedules. Changing an individual's work schedulefrom full- to part-time directly affects relationships with coworkers and taskresponsibilities. Before a manager implements part-time work schedules, it isimportant to assess whether or not the culture of the organization supportssuch a move. While culture sets the tone for generating commitment and providinga source of collective identity, it also reinforces the organization's acceptablestandards of behavior.

    Working hand-in-hand with the culture of the organization is the company'sstructure, which can enhance or impede successful implementation of part-timework schedules. Technologies such as e-mail, voice mail, conference calls, andfax machines contribute significantly to facilitating workable organizationalstructures and communications processes. If communication networks are not inplace, then there is a greater likelihood that an employee moving from a full-timeto part-time schedule will feel as did the following marketing specialist andpsychiatric counselor:

    "You're not as much a part of the place as when you're full-time. UsuallyI was on top of what was happening; being part-time, it's not like that anymore.I had to adjust to that . . . I had become someone who was on the side, theperiphery.

    "I felt very disconnected from information pertaining to patient careor change in policy. This could be due to the fact that, being part-time andworking nights, I was out of the mainstream of information dispersion."

Managers can help to avoid some unnecessary pitfalls for employees by sortingthrough many cultural and structural issues that may arise from a change topart-time status. Questions that will help in deciding whether part-time statuswill work in your organization include the following:

  • To what extent does the organizational culture support part-time work schedules?Have there been any part-time professional employees in your organization?

  • What are the known beliefs of top management toward flexibility in workscheduling?

  • What specific organizational-culture issues are essential to address whencontemplating movement from full-time to part-time positions? For example,if your organization has particular employee-involvement practices thatcontribute to its unique culture, how will part-time positions be integratedinto these practices?

  • How will the current organizational structure accommodate part-time professionals?Particularly, how amenable is the organization to reconceptualizing jobs,developing new job descriptions, and "institutionalizing" flexibilityin work scheduling?

  • To what extent will/do organizational practices need to be revisited and/orrevised in order to accommodate part-time professionals? For example, howmight communication networks have to be enhanced to ensure that part-timeemployees are equitably connected to the daily activities of the departmentor organization?

Human resources issues and concerns
    The manager's challenge in successfully orchestratingthe change to part-time status for employees will always be linked to specificindividual human resource concerns. However, before an employee's work statusis changed, there are four areas in particular that a manager should assesswithin the organization and discuss with the individual. These four human resourceconcerns, which may be of direct cost to both the personal and professionallife of the employee, are benefits and compensation, education and training,performance appraisal, and career development.

    Most employees who change their work status from full- to part-time anticipatea change in benefits. The degree to which the level of benefits provided changesdepends on the number of hours worked, which varies from one organization tothe next. However, most interviewees were "mavericks" in changingto a part-time schedule and often discovered that policies were not in placefor governing a new status. One part-time financial analyst told us:

"I lost most of my benefits -- health is gone, personal days, sick days,stock option plan. Although my stated pay is cut in half, my real pay is cutby much more than that. I also have to fill in a time card, which is new forme."

    Another cost that is often unrecognized is the lack of career mobility availableto those working a part-time schedule. Part-time employees who were passed overfor promotion began to question their perceived value by supervisors in general,and the organization overall.

    Many part-time professionals we interviewed revealed that no formal guidelinesexisted in their organizations that would mitigate the potential impact on theircareer mobility, and that the realization that promotion was virtually impossiblebecame clear only after others (full-time) were promoted.

    Part-time employees also indicated that they had experienced a significantdecline in feedback from managers. In fact, in several situations, formal performanceappraisals were not conducted. Since they serve as a vehicle for promotion andsubsequent career development, as well as for salary adjustments, if performanceappraisals are not completed on employees, opportunities for advancement maybecome limited. One part-time worker at a high-tech company stated the following:

    "Everything is a bit lax as far as administration of my job. I don't havebenefits, no health or dental; job reviews and salary reviews are more lax.That's partly my fault, but I don't think I'd have to remind people if I werehere full-time."

    Preparing individuals for a change to part-time work will help not only theindividual but the organization as well. Managers who have thoroughly investigatedtheir organization's human resource practices with respect to part-time employmentcan help ease the transition for individual employees and prevent unpleasantexperiences like those mentioned above. Questioning current practices can alsolead to the necessity of making changes in human resource practices. To facilitatesuch an assessment, the following questions should be addressed:


  • How will each of the following benefits change as a result of moving topart-time status: medical, dental, paid time off, employee assistance program,life insurance, paid sick leave, short-term disability, long-term disability,savings plan, flexible spending account, stock purchase plan? Other?

  • On what basis will compensation be calculated? Will part-time status resultin pay being calculated on an hourly basis? Other changes?


  • What specific types of education and training are needed to ensure thatpart-time workers remain current in their work knowledge?

  • How can the delivery of education and training programs be designed toaccommodate the diverse schedule(s) of the part-time employee(s)?

Performance appraisal

  • How do performance appraisals for part-time employees differ, if at all,from those of full-time employees?

  • If performance appraisal is tied to bonuses or raises, does one use thesame criteria for full- and part-time employees?

  • How should performance-appraisal systems be redesigned/reconceptualizedin order to equitably account for contributions of part-time employees?

Career development

  • What actions can be taken to ensure that part-time professionals do notfall between the cracks with respect to career development?

  • How can organizational career paths be designed to include career-advancementopportunities for part-time employees?

  • How can reward systems (pay, bonus, promotion) be redesigned to ensureequitable treatment of part-time employees?

    Depending on the questions, exploration with both management and the employeebecomes crucial in developing job descriptions and setting the stage for a changein status. Of course, individual employees will have their own specific concerns.Creating opportunities for addressing these concerns can eliminate further misunderstandingsand stresses that might contribute to dissatisfaction with an employee's changein work status.

Individual employee issues and concerns
    While many professional employees may find a reductionin the number of hours worked appealing, as well as a panacea for balancinglife both in and out of the organization, a part-time work status poses demandson an individual that are not as apparent as a reduction in benefits or derailedcareer progression. For many part-time professional workers, their change instatus from full-time represents a new direction for their particular organizations,one in which there are few precedents.

    These individuals may be considered "pioneers," and their successis crucial to the future of part-time work in their companies. Some may feelthat this pressure is more than they can bear. For example, one part-time computerprogrammer interviewed felt the following:

"It was the weight of the world. Part-time was what I wanted. There wasa lot of pressure on me to set a good example. A lot of people wanted to gopart-time. If I went part-time and then quit, it would ruin things for a lotof people."

    The manager, therefore, faces the challenge of assessing the desirability ofmoving a particular individual to part-time status. In addition to determiningwhether a position can be reduced to part-time status, it is critical that boththe manager and the individual employee conduct a realistic appraisal of theperson's skills, abilities, and knowledge to be successful in this changed role.The following questions may help a manager in his/her personal assessment ofthe individual's likelihood of success in this new work status:

  • Given the job responsibilities in the part-time position, to what extentwill the individual be able to be successful in this reduced schedule? Forexample, some individuals find the interpersonal relationships at work tobe a catalyst in accomplishing work. Sharing ideas, being part of the dailycommunication networks, and experiencing team successes may all play importantroles in how they work. Without those familiar and stimulating relationships,how well will they function in their part-time jobs?

  • Reducing work schedules will affect how one feels about his/her work. Howsuccessful will this individual be at confronting those feelings and dealingwith changed perceptions of the work environment?

  • Depending on the nature of a particular position, there are times whenflexibility in hours worked becomes essential to organizational performance.For example, if an individual is working on a team project and a deadlinegets changed, how likely is it that this individual will be willing to workwith others at times other than their normal working hours?

Managerial issues and concerns
    Movement from full-time to part-time status for an employeecreates many managerial challenges. In addition to the general organizationalissues cited above regarding structure, culture, human resources, and the individual,managers must focus energies on balancing full-time and part-time employees'job-content responsibilities and managing a variety of culture-related issueswithin the specific department that surface as a result of introducing differingwork schedules.

    How well one manages the change will influence the likelihood of a successfultransition for part-time employees and, most likely, will facilitate positiveworking relationships between full- and part-time employees. As a manager, itis necessary to ensure that the goals of the organization are attained, andthat an employee's reduction in hours does not compromise the completion oftasks, duties, projects, etc.

    Limiting the involvement of any worker in the organization may result in aloss of efficiency and/or effectiveness in attaining departmental or projectgoals. It is imperative that the manager does not give the impression that thepart-time worker status is temporary, or that these workers' value to the organizationis diminished. Many part-time workers felt that they fully met their work responsibilitiesin productivity and quality, and although they gave their full-time attentionto the job, their contributions were not recognized:

"Some people perceive that I am less than a full-class citizen for theposition I'm in . . . that I'm cheating the system. I always feel so vulnerablesince I've gone part-time, not wanting to make myself too visible, not wantingto make waves. Whenever I have to tell someone that I don't work on a specificday when they are planning a meeting or doing something, it always strikes achord with me and I wonder what the ripple effect of that will be."

    Managers are confronted with organizational, departmental, individual, andpersonal issues related to facilitating a change in an employee's schedule.Essential to ensuring a successful move for all parties involved is to addressearly on the following managerial-related questions:

  • How do I effectively change a full-time job to part-time and ensure thatthe organizational needs are met? What other jobs in my department willbe affected by a change in status of one position? What departmental issuesmust be simultaneously addressed as changes in a particular position aremade?

  • What strategies can be developed to ensure that both external and internalclients perceive the part-time professional as a full organizational contributor?

  • How can I ensure that part-time status is not perceived as a temporary,experimental status by other organizational members?

  • If several employees are working part-time schedules, how will I ensurefairness in meeting their needs and the needs of full-time employees? Whatstrategies can be utilized to address the often predictable resentment thatis expressed toward part-time employees by full-time employees?

  • What strategies can be developed for keeping part-time professionals inthe departmental/organizational loop? How can part-timers be integratedinto both formal and informal information networks within the organization?Outside the organization?

  • How can I facilitate building cohesion and developing teamwork among part-timeand full-time workers? What role can technology play in accomplishing thisgoal?

  • How can I ensure that organizational rewards are perceived as fair andequitable for all employees, regardless of work schedule differences?

  • To what extent do I need to plan for the part-timer to return to full-timestatus? Are there organizational policies governing this transition? Whatare they? If not, what are the issues that ought to be addressed?

  • What actions do I need to take in order to keep upper management abreastof part-time professionals' contributions?

  • How might layoffs, downsizing, or mergers affect the status of these part-timeprofessional employees? What, if anything, can be done to address the potentialimpact of these kinds of organizational changes?

  • Can I identify additional skills needed to manage a mixed-schedule workforce?Are there particular behaviors and/or practices that I will have to changein order to continue to be effective in my managerial role?

  • To what extent and in what ways will employees in part-time work increase/limitmy flexibility as a manager? How do I address this?

  • What special concerns might arise if, as the manager, I have negotiateda change of status to part-time for myself? What issues would be importantto address? To management? To my employees? To clients?

    The increase in part-time professional schedules is imminent. The need to preparemanagers to effectively plan for and manage a variety of individual schedulesworked in a department or organization is apparent. Specific policies and practicesregarding part-time employees, particularly professional employees, have inthe past been made haphazardly by organizations.

    This has resulted in less than desirable organizational and personal outcomes.At all levels of the organization, it's time to move forward and to preparefor impending changes. Those organizations that do so will undoubtedly benefitall organizational players.

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