Many businesses rely on part-time workers as a cost-effective, flexible source of labor. But some managers complain that part-timers aren’t committed enough — without the full schedule and benefits that full-time staff get, they worry there simply isn’t enough there to motivate part-time staff to put forth their best effort.

We think that’s a cop out.

The reality is that with the right management, your part-time staff can be just as effective and committed as full-timers. While they don’t have as deep of a connection or reliance on your business, they have other motivations that you can tap into to drive better performance. What are those motivations? They vary by individual, but recent survey data from the Federal Reserve’s Economic Wellbeing Report can give you a good idea of the broad categories. They asked part-time workers why they don’t work a full schedule, and here’s what respondents said:


  • 36% say they want full-time work but can’t find it
  • 22% say they have child care or family obligations
  • 22% say they’re in school
  • 16% say they’re retired
  • 12% say they have medical limitations

In this post, we’re going to give you tips on how to tailor your operations and management style to get the maximum motivation from each type of part-time worker.

Part-time employees who can’t find full-time work

According to the Federal Reserve, 36% of part-time workers say they work part-time because they can’t find a full-time job elsewhere. That makes it the number one reason employees give for working part-time.

The most important thing to recognize about these part-time workers is that if they have the chance to work full-time somewhere else, they’ll take it — there’s not much you can do to keep them in that scenario. But until they get that opportunity, their goal will be to work as many hours as possible at different part-time jobs. So, the best way for you to keep them motivated and consistently choosing you over their other part-time employers is to reward high performance with more work. Let them know up front that if they do a good job, you’re willing to give them priority on extra shifts that come up.

Another idea? See if you can help them find more work by connecting them with other nearby businesses or staffing agencies you have a relationship with. Helping them pick up extra shifts when you don’t need them is a sure way to build a connection so that when they’re working for you, they feel more compelled to give their best effort.

Part-time employees with family obligations

The second most common reason people give for working part-time is child care or other family obligations at 22%.

Above all else, these staff need predictability in scheduling so that they can make sure their family members are taken care of. For instance, if an employee has kids and is going to work hours around when school lets out, they need you to schedule their shift far enough in advance that they can arrange for someone to pick their kids up. If possible, try to lock down their schedule early or reach an agreement where they have first dibs on the same set of hours every week. Spare them from last minute changes as much as possible, since they’re the ones hurt most by them.

You also need to keep in mind the legal protections in place for employees with families. The Family and Medical Leave Act says that if you employ 50 or more people at a single business location, employees who have been with you for a year and worked at least 1250 hours in the last year (an average of 24 hours a week) are eligible for 12 weeks’ leave for childbirth or for the illness of a child or other dependent. Some states take the law further — for instance, California applies the law to businesses with 20 or more employees.

While these laws only apply to serious medical problems, we recommend employees slack for lesser emergencies whenever  possible — not only is it a nice thing to do, but it’s also sure to foster more loyalty in the employee. After all, there’s nothing people care more about than their families. All else equal, why would someone want to leave a job that accommodates such an important need?

Part-time employees in school

22% of part-time employees say they don’t work full-time because they’re in school. Managers often worry that their younger employees aren’t invested enough in their jobs, and those concerns tend to increase with students. They think that students are less motivated because to them, part-time work is a temporary necessity as they pursue their real goals in the classroom.

While it’s true that most students don’t have a long-term interest in their part-time jobs, you can still find ways to keep them more interested while they’re around. One idea is to look for opportunities for them to incorporate the skills they’re developing in school while they’re on the job. For instance, if an employee is studying finance, see if they’d like to help with accounting for your business. If they study photography or marketing, maybe they can help you with social media. By giving them a chance to get more experience in their preferred field and take on a new project they can add to their resumes, you give them another reason to appreciate you as an employer. And on top of that, you get a little extra help in whatever field they’re studying.

Keep in mind that student employees will also likely have the same class schedule throughout the semester. So if you find a good one, take advantage of that predictability and try to lock them into the hours that work with their class schedule for the rest of the semester.

Finally, recognize that while student employees are probably only going to be around for a couple of years until they graduate, the relationships you build with them can be an invaluable source of new employee referrals. If you follow these tips, students are more likely to spread the word on campus about what a great boss you are, which can lead to a steady stream of new student workers.

Part-time retired employees

16% of part-time employees say they don’t work full-time because they’re retired and only looking to earn extra money on the side. This has become more common in recent years, as more retirees are turning to part-time and gig economy work to make up for the losses of benefits like pensions and retirement health plans.

The most important thing to remember about older employees is that they’re more likely to need help with healthcare. Research shows that employees over 65 spend twice as much through employer health insurance as employees between the ages of 45 and 54. However, only 24% of part-time employees get health insurance. If you’re in the minority of employers who can give health benefits to part-time employees, you’ll probably see much higher motivation and retention amongst retirement-age employees.

Keep in mind that you or your managers will often be younger than retired employees, which can be awkward. Some managers feel uncomfortable giving orders to people decades older than them, and on the flip side, some of your retired part-timers will feel uncomfortable takin them — especially if they happen to have more experience in the industry than the manager.

How can you mitigate this? Management experts cite relevant advice from the U.S. military. They recommend younger officers treat the older soldiers under their command more like peers — asking their advice and showing deference — but only behind the scenes. They can’t outwardly treat them differently, as others in the unit may find it unfair. But still, the older soldiers rightfully want some recognition for the experience they’ve accumulated. The younger officer can reap the benefits of that experience and make their older subordinates feel more valued by treating them with more respect when appropriate. Your managers can do the same by privately asking advice from your retired part-time employees — even if their original career wasn’t in your industry, they may have other relevant experiences that help them add value for your business.

Part-time employees with medical issues

Finally, 12% of part-time employees say that they don’t work full-time due to medical issues.

Similar to retirees, employees with medical issues will jump at the chance to work somewhere that offers health insurance to part-time staff. So if you do, you’ll have a leg-up attracting and retaining these candidates.

There are also laws to keep in mind. The Family and Medical Leave Act we covered earlier also says you have to give employees up to 12 weeks’ absence for their own medical emergencies — no just those of dependts. Again, in its federal form, this law applies to companies with 50 or more employees at a single location and calls for them to cover employees who have worked 1250 hours in the last year. But individual states may impose stricter requirements for a wider range of employers. The Americans with Disabilities Act also says that if any employee has a disability that makes it difficult for them to do their job, you need to provide a reasonable accommodation where possible.

On a day-to-day basis, the most important thing you can do to inspire high performance and improve the working experience for these employees is to make it easier for them to manage their illness. For instance, try to allow for flexibility by scheduling these employees for shifts where it’ll be easier to cover for them if they have to cancel. If they need it, give them a place where they can store and administer any medication they need privately. Communication is key here — you need to talk to these employees to figure out how to help them.

Build a connection

Your part-time employees will respond to different incentives and management styles depending on their unique motivations. Now that you know how to respond to those motivations, you need to figure out what they are for your part-time workforce. The only way to do that is to ask. Build a connection with your part-time staff and learn why they work with you, so that you can give each of them what they need to give their best effort.

Team Nowsta

Nowsta is the easiest way to schedule, manage, and pay hourly staff.

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