Workplaces looking to hire part timers

Part-time work is on the rise in Canada — the numbers prove it.

Earlier this year, Statistics Canada reported that while total employment in Canada rose by 76,000 in January, the first major increase in more than a year, part-time employment accounted for most of the gains. And while the numbers may fluctuate slightly from month to month, at 18.5 per cent, the proportion of employed people working part-time is the highest since mid-1999.

Even after a slight dip in February, part-time employment remained at historically high levels. Saskatchewan actually saw employment increase by 6,000 jobs. And most of the gain was in part-time employment.

There are many reasons organizations are hiring more part-time workers. It makes sense in industries such as hospitality, where customer demand rises and falls and shift work is common. Another reason is the rise of flexible working. Some businesses want a flexible workforce to meet flexible demand and to reduce costs associated with full-time employment.

Taking a look at the bigger picture however, it is clear the desirability and growth of part-time employment is a by-product of a fundamental shift in the organization of work. Today, an increasing number of organizations are offering work as opposed to jobs and an increasing number of individuals are actually seeking work, not jobs.

The employment contract has changed. It used to be that organizations provided employment and job security in return for loyalty and skill. Today this emotional contract or bond is based on the employer offering work in return for the worker’s skill. Nothing more, nothing less.

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear to us now that the responsibility for career management has shifted from the employer to the employee, especially in the case of part-time workers.

Issues for the HR professional

The trend to part-time employment creates opportunities for employers and employees alike. But for the HR professional it raises questions and new issues that must be dealt with to ensure the potential benefits for both parties are realized.

Use full-time diligence and processes to hire part-time workers. The selection process for part-time workers has often tended to be more casual in many organizations. But the drawbacks of part-time employees — loss of loyalty, disconnection from business goals and strategies, expertise residing with the part-timer and not the company — actually require an equally diligent selection and new hire orientation approach.

Be specific. Ensure all stakeholders in the organization — including the part-time employee — are very clear about duties, goals and specific hours or days to be worked each week. Clear job analysis is critical to avoid misunderstanding. In the case of a job share arrangement, be sure that the expectations and details of the hand-off from one part-time person to another are clearly understood.

Manage expectations up front. Sometimes workers will accept part-time employment with the belief or hope that it will turn into a full-time job. Be careful to be clear and specific in order to manage the individual’s expectations. False promises can lead to unhappy workers and unwanted turnover of part-time employees.

Absorb part-timers into your culture. Full-time employees can sometimes inadvertently subvert the efforts and performance of part-time employees by simply treating them as such. Be sure full-time staff understand the reasons for part-time employees, their importance in, and benefits for, the organization. Be sure to include part-timers in social activities and employee communication activities. Treat part-time employees as valued colleagues.

Consider emergencies. How will you handle unexpected or emergency needs for part-time employees outside their normal work schedules? Be sure to spell out to part-time employees that there could be emergencies and how the organization will call upon their services and compensate them for extra hours. Have contingencies in place for emergencies in case the part-time person is not available. Training part-time employees in more than one task or skill can add valuable flexibility.

A recent study, by Drake Beam Morin, revealed managers who are hiring are increasingly tending to rely on their own contacts, corporate Web sites and personal networks to find new employees rather than recruitment agencies, advertising and the Internet.

They are looking for people they know and skill sets and behaviours they are confident will fit into the organization’s culture. As a result, organizations are trying to bring back former employees who might have lost their jobs as a result of a merger, acquisition or earlier downsizing. Often, these repatriated employees fill part-time or contract roles.

The benefits of bringing back former employees are many. For any organization, the key to successfully bringing back employees on a part-time basis is actually found in the separation process, not the selection process. It underscores the need for sound, professional separation practices.

If an employee leaves an organization and is treated in a dignified and respectful manner with proper financial and career transition support in place, it is more likely he will return in a part-time capacity down the road.

Managing the return of former employees, especially in a part-time capacity, can be mutually worthwhile, but tricky. Frequently, such part-time offers are only made once severance awarded to the former employee has expired. This avoids legal questions and possible tax implications. But once returned to the fold, issues remain. How will HR manage the perceived change of status for the repatriated part-time worker? Will full-time employees resent the fact that the repatriated employee has received the perceived double benefit of severance and part-time employment? These are emotional issues the HR professional must be aware of and be prepared to deal with to ensure potential benefits to the organization are realized.

Older workers — those over the age of 55 — are another segment of the workforce where part-time employment is increasingly common. These people might need to work, but their lifestyles and desires for work-life balance is such that one or a series of part-time jobs suits them best.

Perhaps this is a reason why workers in this age group are experiencing a resurgence. In fact, the proportion of people age 55 and over who are working in Canada continued to rise last year. It began to trend upward in 1997 after declining for a number of years. At the end of 2001, about 25 per cent of older people were employed, a large increase from 1996 when closer to 20 per cent worked. While older men and older women shared equally in these gains, older women were finding part-time work more than full-time employment. Clearly, HR professionals could benefit from looking at older workers in a new light. Part-time employment is often a perfect fit where the organization gains skills, experience and insight, while the older worker strikes the desired work-life balance.

Whether a person is young and tasting her first employment experience at a fast food restaurant or whether they are 55 years or older, an increasing number of Canadians are finding part-time employment is a route well-traveled. Is part-time employment a fact of working life in Canada? It sure is and many Canadian workers and organizations are taking full advantage of it.

Terry Lende is vice-president/managing consultant, DBM Calgary. DBM is a global leader in providing strategic human resource solutions that help organizations align their workforces to meet changing business needs. She can be contacted at (403) 269-7828 or [email protected]

Part time pros and cons

Part-time work holds both benefits and drawbacks for employees and employers alike.

Benefits to workers

•flexibility and more control over personal time;

•separation from organizational policies…and politics;

•tax deductions if an individual is self-employed; and

•variety and more opportunities to learn.

Drawbacks for workers

•erratic income;

•no benefits;

•lack of support systems; and

•weaker pension position.

Benefits to organizations

•flexibility;

•reduced labour, benefits costs;

•ability to develop and implement programs quickly; and

•ability to reduce programs quickly.

Drawbacks to organizations

•loss of loyalty to the business;

•disconnection from business goals and strategies;

•potential high cost of replacing workers; and

•expertise can reside with the part-time worker, not the organization.

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