Keeping Part-Time Employees Happy

Between 2000 and 2010 the number of U.S workers employed part-time but wanting to work full-time increased by about 300 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With so many people in this category — about 9 million in 2010 — it’s important to keep part-time workers motivated and excited about their responsibilities. This can sometimes be a challenge, because part-timers are often not paid as well as full-timers, sometimes do lower-level work, and may have a limited career track. Here are some keys to success:

Do comprehensive training

Orientation is very important, as the Walt Disney organization has illustrated so effectively. Even employees who work as little as six weeks a year in Disney theme parks get three full days of training. A person working 15 or 20 hours a week should be seen as contributing to the bottom line, and thus as important to a business’s success as a full-timer. Be sure to let part-timers participate in as many training opportunities as possible. Most employees value opportunities to grow and learn, and it’s a very effective way to compete against another employer who may offer 20 cents more an hour.

Offer guidance

Provide an effective means of answering the questions that he or she will inevitably have. Have a mentor or a guide — perhaps another part-timer who has been there longer — assist newcomers and make them feel welcome. Mentors should be available to anyone in an organization, but are particularly useful in accelerating the pace at which a part-timer feels involved.

Be flexible

Part-timers work that schedule for many reasons: They may have child-care or elder-care needs; they may be students, retirees, or have disabilities. As much as possible, accommodate the need for flexible work hours. By meeting their special requirements, you may retain part-time workers longer. And the longer you can hold onto workers, the less time you have to spend on the recruitment, hiring, and training process.

Extend benefits

There are many kinds of benefits, and not all are financial. In addition to flex time, be creative about offering incentives. If it’s not possible to create a bonus plan, be sure that part-timers can participate in contests, go on company retreats, and otherwise feel included in company activities. Educational opportunities, GED programs, and college tuition reimbursement programs are particularly attractive to younger workers. If you have a fitness center, career counseling services, a credit union or child care facilities, make these available to part-timers as well. Including them in optional after-hours social events will build ties and help workers view the organization as their own.

Offer incentives

Set up incentive programs that make the work environment more exciting. Be sure to include part-time employees in your employee-of-the-month awards, which can include merchandise or cash. When part-timers — who often see work practices and procedures through fresh eyes — come up with great energy- or labor-saving suggestions, be sure to acknowledge them in the form of prizes, gift certificates, recognition, or awards ceremonies. When the idea saves the company money, passing some along to the employee is always well received. It also sends a message that the organization is serious about making changes and listening to all its employees.

Be inclusive

To combat full-time employees’ tendency to treat part-timers as outsiders, involve part-timers on planning teams and committee assignments. This helps to foster commitment to the organization. Be sure that all are knowledgeable about the key role each group plays. The part-timers have a different level of responsibility, perhaps, but their services support and often make it possible for full-timers to do their work. In fast-food, for example, there would be no business without the hourly employee.

Although motivating part-time or low-wage workers involves different challenges than the traditional 8-to-5, full-time, tenure-track employees, the creativity required to motivate them has broad positive effects. The Human Resources department, for example, gets an opportunity to review policies, procedures, and practices to make them more inclusive. By balancing the organization’s needs to save money by keeping skilled workers, you can make the workplace a better environment for all employees.


“Labor Force Statistics From the Current Population Survey,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009.

Mobley, Nancy, “Part-time, But Fully Committed,”, October 11, 2010

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