Is ‘Part-Time’ a Dirty Word?

With an increasingly part-time workforce and the impact of the ‘gig economy’, Julia Lessing discusses the true value of part-time workers and asks, “what can organisations be doing to benefit from this growing talent pool?”

People choose to work part time for many reasons, such as juggling caring responsibilities or study commitments. However, there are often negative perceptions relating to part-time workers. As one Senior Executive told me recently:

“It can sometimes feel hard to compete against full-time colleagues in the workplace when you’re working part-time – the perception (sometimes correctly) that you’re not available for that big interstate project, or don’t have capacity for a new opportunity, is hard to overcome.”

The 2016 Census shows that 30.4%[1] of the Australian labour force works part time. This appears to be an increasing trend, rising steadily from about 10% in the 1960s. In fact, the Aussie labour force has the third highest proportion of part time workers in the world[2], behind The Netherlands and Switzerland.

The “gig economy”[3], made up of people working in temporary or casual jobs or part-time contracts, has been growing in Australia[4], with one in five Aussie workers now employed casually. While older professionals may choose a “portfolio” type career, many Millennials are seeking greater flexibility in their working arrangements than a full time permanent job traditionally provides.

If this trend of increasing part time, casual and contract workers continues, employers will need to shift their mindset and adapt their workplace practices to accommodate and utilise these workers in order to attract and retain talent. In this article I will use the term “Part-Time” to describe all workers on casual, part-time or contract working arrangements.

How can the ‘gig economy’ help employers?

For the past three years I have managed a consulting business that has primarily utilised the skills and expertise of professionals who, for a range of reasons, are not willing to commit to a traditional full-time role. This operating model has allowed our business to access an incredible (and in my view, currently under-utilised) talent pool, while flexibly responding to meet the various needs of our clients.

Highly skilled and experienced Part-Time workers bring substantial value to any workplace, provided employers are focussed on objectives and outputs instead of the number of hours they want to see them each week. When these workers are effectively utilised, many relish the opportunity to work reduced hours, are highly effective and efficient, bringing great benefits to their employers. As Amanda Aitken, co-founder of Actuarial Edge tells me:

“I’ve worked part-time as an Actuary for the last 14 years. I feel incredibly lucky to have had such supportive, accommodating managers, many of whom have gone out of their way to provide me with that flexibility. As a result, I’ve always given back 110%! I know from several of my friends working in other industries such as law that part-time work isn’t always so readily available.”

When Part-Time arrangements are well managed, they are mutually beneficial for employers and employees. I think that there are three key considerations to be addressed to make this approach successful.

  1. Knowing the value of Part-Time workers in your organisation
  2. Effectively integrating your Part-Time workers with your full-time workforce
  3. Using flexibility of working conditions and remuneration as an advantage

These are considered in turn below.

Knowing the value of Part-Time workers in your organisation

I don’t need convincing that Part-Time workers are valuable, because I’ve experienced the benefits first hand in my business. One key benefit is the flexibility to scale up or down the size of your workforce, or tap into specific skills or capabilities, depending on the workload and needs of your current clients and/or projects.

However, depending on your business model and operations, you should regularly review the mix of full time and Part-Time workers, to make sure the arrangements continue to meet your business needs. It can be tempting to maintain the status quo and rely primarily on the permanent full-time staff on board, but as the gig economy increases in momentum, many businesses will need to adapt to remain competitive.

Effectively integrating your Part-Time workers with your full-time workforce

Good team dynamics are critical for a productive workforce. In a team where all staff members work together on a regular daily basis, these team dynamics can be easily fostered. However, when Part-Time workers are included in the mix, the team dynamics may need some more structured support to help the teams build rapport. This is particularly the case if Part-Time workers are seen by management and colleagues as less committed or valuable than full time workers, even if this perception is unjustified.

In my experience working with Part-Time colleagues, good communication is key. Allowing time for people to get to introduce themselves and getting to know each other throughout the project is critical. Permanent full-time staff members might wonder why Part-Time workers have been included in their teams. Clearly explaining the purpose and value of your Part-Time workers will help with this integration. For example, “John worked in the UK for ten years, and so brings some valuable international experience.” or “I know you guys have been working late regularly, these extra workers are here to relive the pressure a bit so you can get home on time more regularly.”. In addition, clear communication about the location and availability of your Part-Time workers is crucial for effective team management.

Using flexibility of working conditions and remuneration as an advantage

Thinking differently about employment arrangements involves consideration of working hours and location. Some work is best suited to a face-to-face office environment during business hours, while other work can occur remotely at any time. It only needs a little extra thought about logistics and organisational procedures when work is being completed in different locations at different times.

A flexible temporary workforce also lends itself to new thinking around remuneration. While some workers will prefer an hourly rate for their time, others might prefer to work towards an outcome for a fixed fee. This agility creates opportunities to manage certain risks (such as salary budgets) within your business, while also encouraging innovation and efficiency from your workers.

In my experience, different staff members have different personal situations and their remuneration and working conditions can be adapted in a way that is beneficial for both the worker and the business. For example, one staff member living interstate preferred to work from home instead of commuting, which allowed us to access their specialised experience while also enjoying a saving in office space for our business. Further, while most workers preferred the security of being paid hourly, some preferred to work to a fixed fee based on an agreed outcome, which has given us flexibility in our pricing practices.

Conclusion

While Part-Time arrangements can require some progressive thinking to structure effectively, I strongly believe that Part-Time is NOT a dirty word

In fact, Part-Time workers represent a valuable talent pool that, if effectively engaged, can help employers attract and retain experienced professionals, while creating flexible, agile project teams to deliver value for their clients.

The changing nature of the Australian workforce, including the rise of the gig economy, will provide high performing staff with the opportunity to more effectively manage their work and non-work commitments. Employers will need to accommodate Part-Time workers to remain competitive.

How is your organisation changing to respond to an increasingly Part-Time workforce?

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.

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