The Nowsta Blog

Management tips and labor market insights to help you run your business

How to Manage Part-time Staff with Family Obligations

By Josh Burnett on December 7, 2018

Every employee needs something a little different to do their best work. That was our thesis when we broke part-time employees down into five categories and provided management tips for each, based on Federal Reserve survey data on why people say they work part-time as opposed to full-time. Over a series of posts, we’re going to take a deeper dive into each category and explore how managers can better manage, motivate, and accommodate each type of part-time employee. You can see our previous entry on managing underemployed part-time staff who want more hours here.

In this post, we’re going to cover staff who work part-time due to child care and other family obligations.

Family obligations present unique challenges for staff

The Federal Reserve’s Economic Well-being Survey found that 22% of part-time employees say they can’t work full-time due to childcare or other family obligations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the number at 26%, with 5% citing “child care problems” specifically and 21% citing “other family and/or personal obligations.” Interestingly, the BLS numbers reveal a huge gender disparity: Only 7% of men working part-time cite family obligations as the reasons why, compared to 28% of women.

Finances aren’t easy for hourly workers trying to care for a family. The Economic Policy Institute has found that child care costs between 10% and 20% of median family income in most states. It stands to reason that percentage would be higher for part-time employees, who are making less than the median. Same for single parents, who don’t have the benefit of a second income to bolster their own. It’s not just child care either -- people caring for elderly or disabled family members have increased expenses as well. In fact, research suggests that it’s more expensive to care for an older family member than a child (though in many cases, the older family member has some money of their own to contribute).

Unpredictable work schedules create more even more difficulty for part-time staff with family obligations. For one thing, they compound the financial issues, as large fluctuations in hours -- and therefore pay -- make it difficult to budget or save for the future. Plus, it’s hard to schedule child care, teachers’ meetings, medical appointments, or any of the other crucial services that come with caring for a family member when staff only get their schedules a few days in advance or have to be on call.

It’s difficult for staff to perform at their best with so much added stress, but that’s the unfortunate situation many caring for family find themselves in. Beyond the fact that it’s a nice thing to do, it’s in your best interest as a manager to try and relieve some of that stress if any of your part-time staff have family obligations -- and the numbers would indicate you probably do. So, what actions can you take?

Accommodate and motivate

The simplest, most doable way to help staff with family care obligations is to adopt more employee-friendly scheduling practices. And in fact, you may not have a choice soon. Lawmakers at the city, state, and even federal level are passing or debating legislation to make businesses stabilize schedules for hourly employees. By adopting some of these policies now, you can get ahead of the curve and implement new scheduling practices on your own timeline, rather than frantically try to adapt if your area mandates them. Plus, by providing these outsized accommodations, you can boost retention and motivation amongst your hourly staff -- what seems scary today could help you win the labor market tomorrow. Scheduling ideas to consider include:

  • Provide a good faith estimate of hours. A good faith estimate means giving employees a minimum number of hours they can count on each week. They’re not contractual guarantees, but in places like Oregon that have made good faith estimates mandatory, employers have to notify staff of any deviations. Good faith estimates make it easier for employees to budget, which is of particular importance to those caring for family.

  • Post schedules further in advance. If staff are only getting a few days’ notice on their upcoming schedules, it’s nearly impossible for them to arrange for child care, make medical appointments, or plan anything else for their families. That’s why places like San Francisco are now requiring businesses to give employees’ two weeks’ notice on their schedules -- you should consider a similar policy for your business.

  • Implement a shift swap policy. Letting employees swap shifts is a great way to accommodate last-minute emergencies without disrupting the scheduling process or taking up managers’ time. You just need to add rules that fit your business and ensure you’re always fielding a team that can get the job done.

Every business is different, and you may not be able to implement all of these scheduling policies. But they all serve the goal of helping employees plan their lives and finances more effectively, which is especially valuable to part-time employees caring for family members. Anything you can do to drive toward that goal is sure to help them, and thereby engender more loyalty toward your business.

Beyond scheduling, another way to help out employees with families is to avoid sending them home early. Decreasing an employee’s number of hours unexpectedly lowers their wages, which means they may find themselves short on their budget. States like California have already implemented reporting time pay laws to mitigate this practice.

The bottom line

Part-time staff with family care obligations face unique, expensive, stress-inducing challenges. But there are steps you can take to help them meet those challenges. While many of the solutions we’ve proposed are logistically difficult and can increase labor costs, they’re becoming legal requirements in more and more areas, so you soon may not have a choice. Not to mention, the increases you’ll get in employee recruiting, retention, and engagement can become their own competitive advantage.

Josh Burnett


Josh Burnett

Josh is a freelance writer based out of Corvallis, Oregon. If he isn't writing his own words, he's reading someone else's, spending time outdoors, or playing with his kids.

Helping you become a better manager.