In my MBA studies thus far, I have heard the same question surrounding the rise of part-time work in our economy: if someone is struggling with part-time work, why don’t they just get a full-time job?
The short answer is, most people are trying.
In the field with which I am most familiar, zoology, most employees have a four-year degree, go through three unpaid internships and then at least two years of part-time work at a zoo before being eligible for full-time. Once someone jumps all the hurdles, there are very few, highly competitive positions. I have heard this story time and again in other fields as well. On many applications, candidates reach the line “required: two-years fulltime experience in…”. It is a vicious cycle of needing experience in order to get experience.
What is even scarier, is how many companies, like Uber and Lyft, are building themselves around part-time workers. There are a few groups of people who do benefit from part-time work—students and new parents are just two examples—but the majority of working adults want to have stable employment, which part-time arrangements do not afford. They want a livelihood and career, not just a job.
What makes full-time work so important? Here are just a few examples:
- Benefits. Having access to affordable healthcare is so important. While working two part-time jobs may mean someone is working 40 hours a week, they do not receive any benefits. This is a huge blow to the budget. Many underinsured people skip going to the doctor for preventative medicine and only go when things get dire, and expensive for all involved.
- Consistent Days and Hours. Of course, this is not guaranteed, however you are more likely to have a consistent schedule with full-time employment. This is so important for people to plan their lives, including the needs of daycare, medical appointments, even day to day tasks for oneself and one’s family.
- Vacation, Sick and Parental Leave. Research shows that everyone, especially employees, need recovery periods and breaks from work. Many people I know who work multiple part-time jobs work up to seven days a week and cannot even think about taking a vacation. They often come in to work sick because they cannot afford to miss a day, risking the rest of the team.
Having a more robust full-time workforce has many benefits the company too. Workers are often less stressed and more productive because they can focus on work at work and relax at home. They have more time to pursue hobbies and a family life. Full-time work reduces turn-over because people feel invested in the company and feel like they are in a stable situation. That means less money is spent on training and mistakes are less likely to occur. Even long-term part-time employees are more likely to make mistakes because they are less exposed to every situation than their full-time counterpart.
Culture of Respect
I firmly believe a robust full-time work force is better for both the company and the individual. However, I know not all organizations can afford that. Part-time workers are much cheaper and an easy solution to scheduling problems. So, if a company cannot support a large full-time work force, they should focus on creating a culture of respect for their entry level employees.
As a biologist, along with training and feeding the animals at the zoo, a large part of my day was spent cleaning. Animals eat a lot. All that food must be prepared and then transported from the kitchen to the animal’s home. Therefore, every facility has a massive number of dirty dishes. I worked at two facilities who handled the dish responsibility differently. One, created a culture of resentment, while the other created a culture of respect.
At the first, let’s call it Facility A, the dishes piled up and were left until the end of the day. 30 minutes before clock-out, unpaid interns were expected to wash everything. Part-time and full-time staff were expected to help, but “something” always came up. Clock-out would roll around and interns would still be washing. In the mad rush to get everything done, dishes would fall on the floor or food particles would be missed. Dishes were a nightmare every intern survived.
At the second, Facility B, everyone who fed an animal, Curator and Director included, washed their own dish. It was expected that buckets were cleaned right after every feed with proper disinfecting techniques. It was so engrained in the culture that sometimes people fought over who could help the others wash their dishes. Every intern experienced a superior taking a dirty dish out of their hand so that the intern would not miss a great learning opportunity. This in turn, drove the intern to help their superiors when they could. There was no question who was in charge, but it was clear that everyone received the same amount of respect.
This tiny cultural difference had a huge impact on how interns and entry level staff felt going home at the end of the day. Facility A promoted disorganization and placed undue burdens on certain employees while Facility B encouraged cooperation and respect for every team member. Why should the entry level staff matter to the CEOs of the world? Respect translates into recruitment and retention. Facility A currently faces problems in these areas, while Facility B can choose from many qualified candidates.
Ways to Increase Respect for Part-time Workers
In any department, full-time workers should never be outnumbered. Part-time work can be beneficial to both the worker and the company; however, we need to ensure these workers are valued. Here are some ways to increase respect in your organization.
- Keep a set schedule: if you cannot keep it consistent, produce it as far in advance as you can. This allows for a second job or to plan life accordingly.
- Provide meaningful benefits: Every company should want a healthy workforce that allows employees to be full citizens outside of work
- Allow employees to have a voice: Include them in “all staff” meetings and opinion polls. Often, they are doing much of the hard work in an organization and have many ideas on how to improve efficiency and safety.
- Share the workload: There are undoubtedly some things that require more experience and training to complete. These tasks should be done by full-time workers, but that does not mean all menial tasks should be left to part-timers. Entry level staff will know their job is important if full-time staff are working alongside them. This remains especially true as more and more organizations rely on part-time workers to remain nimble and competitive.
Your part-time staff will feel like a valued member of the team as long as they are treated like one. I encourage you to take a look at your organization. Which workers are happy where they are? How can you improve their lives?