The Nowsta Blog

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

Underemployed: How to Manage Part-time Staff Who Need More Hours

By Josh Burnett on November 23, 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.

First up: Part-time-staff who need more hours, also known as the visibly underemployed.

Different types of underemployment

In general, underemployment is when somebody’s job doesn’t make full use of their availability, experience, or skills. But the focus of this article is visible underemployment, which refers only to the first point of availability. To put it simply, we’re talking about employees who want to work full-time but can only find part-time jobs. 36% of part-time workers who responded to the Federal Reserve’s Economic Well-being Survey fell into this category.

While the unemployment rate as of November, 2018 is a stellar 3.7%, it’s difficult to quantify the exact underemployment rate or visible unemployment rate, as both descriptors are somewhat subjective and fluid -- the number of hours someone wants to work, or the alignment of the skills they possess and those their job calls for, isn’t a fixed quantity. At the very least, it’s not as cut and dry as having a job versus not having a job.

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) can shed some light on the situation. While it doesn’t calculate the underemployment rate per se, it does count people “employed part-time for economic reasons” in one measure of labor underutilization. That group makes up 2.8% of the labor force as of November 2018, which gives us a rough approximation of the visibly underemployed.

The struggles of the underemployed

Visibly underemployed workers face unique hardships. If they’re not getting enough hours, it almost doesn’t matter how high their wages are -- raises will make little difference to their total income if they’re only getting a few shifts a week. They often have to work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, which means balancing the demands of different schedules, work routines, pay frequencies -- anything that complicates one job is multiplied for them.

It’s also harder for visibly underemployed staff to advance in the workplace. If they’re not getting a significant number of hours at any one job, it’s difficult to build up their skills or make enough of an impact to get a promotion. They don’t get the same access to training and development as full-time workers, which limits the roles available to them in the future.

Underemployment can also take a toll on staff’s mental health, as it can lead to a sense of disillusionment and shame. It’s unlikely staff will come right out and tell you if they’re struggling with such issues, which is why it’s so important managers reach out and talk to their employees, especially if something seems off. It’s not just a matter of kindness. Employees perform better the more connected they feel to the business, so as a manager, it’s in your best interest to help them feel positive about their job.

Connecting with your underemployed workers

The underemployed are probably the most difficult type of part-time employee to manage effectively. After all, there’s only so much you can do if there aren’t enough hours to go around. But there are steps you can take to improve their work experience and provide a sense of fairness.

For instance, your scheduling practices can make a huge difference to the underemployed. If possible, try to let employees know their hours at least a few days in advance. That way, they can coordinate with their other part-time employers and push for more or fewer hours as needed. Shift swap policies are also extremely helpful, as they give employees who are hungry for more hours the opportunity to get them from coworkers looking to give up some of theirs.

Think about how you hire as well. If an employee isn’t getting enough hours, it’s extremely disheartening for them to see you hire new staff and start scheduling them. It may also not be efficient for your business. Interviewing and hiring new employees costs time and money, so why not get more mileage out of your current ones?

Communication is also key. For example, are you scheduling an employee less often due to their performance? That’s reasonable, but you should tell them why they’re getting fewer hours and give them a chance to improve. Explain what they’re doing wrong, and tell them what changes they need to make to get more shifts. It may feel easier and less awkward to not bring it up, but it’s unfair to leave them in the dark -- not to mention, you could be depriving yourself of an employee who’s eager to improve but doesn’t know how.

Finally, you should also be willing to reach out and talk to employees about their goals and challenges in your workplace. You may be able to work with underemployed staff and find creative ways to get them more hours. For instance, maybe an employee will express willingness to train for a second role or willingness or work in another branch or department of your business. You may even be able to connect them with other companies or staffing agencies in your area. Even if you can’t find a way to get them more hours right away, the fact that you’re trying will show the employee that you value them and help keep them engaged despite their difficult situation.

Effort matters

Working with underemployed staff is one of the most difficult parts of being a manager. If the hours just aren’t there, you’re probably going to lose the employee once they’re able to find a full-time role. But what you can do is make their time with you as pleasant and productive as possible. Go the extra mile and show these employees that you empathize and are willing to try and help them. That’s the best way to keep them engaged.

Josh Burnett

About

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.

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