what are the benefits of employing part-time workers?

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april 2006

While some employers shy away from employing part-time workers, there are in fact many benefits. For a start you will often attract more mature, well qualified people - mainly women - who have already had a variety of jobs and can handle the stress and flexibility needed for businesses. Yes it is true the majority will have dependents and as an employer you may have to be flexible at times, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, part-timers work very hard indeed and are a great asset to companies. Tap into the highly qualified market of graduate mothers who had high powered jobs before children, offer them part-time and flexible working, and you may be richly rewarded.

In fact, it is not uncommon for part-time workers to do as much in their shorter day or week than a full-time worker on the same staff. In this article Duport looks at how employing part-timers can help your business, plus the benefits of job-sharing, as well as how to stay within the law and treat your part-timers as favourably as full-time workers.

Job-sharing is just one type of part-time work, and it is worth considering. Job-sharing is when two, or sometimes more, people share the responsibility, pay and benefits of a full-time job. They share the pay and benefits in proportion to the hours each work, and may split days, split weeks or alternate weeks, or their hours may overlap.

Benefits to you, the employer, can be enormous. Flexibility to meet peaks in demand is increased and you have a wider range of skills, experience, views and ideas to call upon. If one person is off sick or on holiday there can be greater continuity.

Job-sharers and part-timers often have a greater sense of responsibility and control of working life. Part-timers are flexible so they can fit the rest of their life into the days they are not at work. They do not tend need time off for dentist/doctors/hospital appointments etc, and their sickness rates are usually far lower than full-time staff. In a nut-shell, part-timers usually appreciate their jobs greatly and give much more to their employers as a result. This increased employee commitment and loyalty is often reflected in improved productivity from happier staff. It may also mean you can retain valued employees - for instance after they have been on maternity leave - and have a wider pool from which to recruit. This last point is crucial. Many employers bemoan the fact that recruitment is a depressing round of interviews with poor quality people with little or no job experience. There is a huge army of well qualified people out there who would be prepared to work, and to work hard, if they could only work on a flexible part-time basis.

what are the disadvantages of employing people part-time?

On the downside, employers need to consider any extra induction, training and administration costs. Consider performance issues – if job-sharers do not produce the same output it can affect the workloads of others - how would you deal with this? There can also be communication problems between job-sharers if they see little of each other, which could in turn lead to problems of continuity, so try to either delegate specific responsibilities to each job sharer (unclear lines of responsibility can be a problem) or make sure they have set up strong lines of communications. But generally, depending on the job of course, the advantages of part-timers far outweigh any disadvantages.

The way you manage part-timers should not differ from the way you manage full-timers and they must not be treated less favourably than full-time workers. Any treatment that disadvantages part-time workers could end in a complaint to an employment tribunal, or lead to a claim of indirect sex discrimination as the majority of part-time workers are women.

By law part-timers have the same rights as full-timers and must enjoy pro-rata terms and conditions including pay, holidays, sick pay, maternity/paternity leave, entitlement to company pension schemes and benefits, as well as equal access to promotion or redundancy (see separate article on part-time workers). However, to qualify for statutory sick pay, maternity pay and basic state pension, part-time workers must earn more than the lower earnings limit. Those who earn less do not pay National Insurance, nor do their employers.

It is not only rights that must be available to part-timers, but benefits also. By law, unless you can make an objective justification for not doing so, benefits to staff discounts, health insurance company cars, annual public holidays and perks must also be made available.

what should I do if an employee requests to work part-time?

As outlined above, the benefits of allowing your employees to work part-time are significant. Small businesses in particular can use part timers to build flexibility into their business and respond to changes in demand more rapidly. If a full-time employee asks to work part-time you must consider the request seriously and see if it is practical. There is a set procedure to follow and it is best to download the publication from the DTI website to help you (see below). Do not rush this decision, but consider whether a job share would be appropriate, and whether there is a suitable candidate. Think about whether someone needs to be present in the post during all hours of work, whether all the necessary work can be done in the number of hours the employee wants to work, or whether there is a similar type of job the employee could do part-time. Consider also the cost of recruiting and training a replacement if an employee goes elsewhere, and weigh up the business benefits of a part-time arrangement. Think about the consequences on the business’ systems, procedures and resources and make sure you reach an agreement with employees and their representatives before making changes. And finally do not forget to consider the effects on any other staff.

At the very least you must meet and discuss the application and inform the employee in writing whether it has been accepted. If you refuse this can only be justified on a small number of business grounds and you must give the employee the right to appeal. If they do appeal you must meet and discuss it with them. Failure to follow procedure may mean an industrial tribunal and compensation to pay.

Additionally, if employees have children under six or disabled children under the age of 18, they have a legal right to request a flexible working pattern. As an employer you have a duty to consider the application and again can only reject the request if there are objective business grounds for doing so. If a female employee is not allowed to return to work part-time after maternity leave it may be considered as sex discrimination.

what other options are there?

Job-sharing is just one part-time flexible working pattern. Part-time working is any arrangement where workers are contracted to work less than normal, basic full-time hours. Flexible working can also be full-time. Consider also the following which includes full-time and part-time options for flexibility.

flexi-time

Workers choose, within set limits, when to start and finish work.

staggered hours

Workers have different start, finish and break times, allowing a business to open longer hours.

term-workers

Workers are on a permanent contract but can take paid/unpaid leave during the school holidays.

compressed working hours

Workers can cover their total number of hours in fewer working days.

zero-hours contracts

Allow employees to agree to be available for work as and when required without specifying the number of hours or times of work.

temporary workers

Whether hired on fixed-term contracts or not, are particularly useful if your business has seasonal peaks and troughs.

home working/teleworking

An arrangement where workers spend all or part of their week working from home or somewhere else away from the employer’s premises.

shift working

One worker replaces another in the same job within a 24 hour period.

shift swapping

Workers arrange shifts amongst themselves, provided all required shifts are covered.

self rostering

Workers nominate the shifts they’d prefer, and you compile shift patterns to match their individual preferences while covering all required shifts.

time off in lieu

Workers take time off to compensate for extra hours worked.

annual hours

A system where workers’ contracted hours are calculated over a year. Most are allocated but some remaining hours are kept in reserve so that workers can be called in at short notice as required.

v-time working

A voluntary arrangement where workers agree to reduce their hours for a fixed period with a guarantee of full-time work when this period ends.

sabbatical/career break

Workers are allowed to take an extended period of time off, either paid or unpaid.

While you will not want all employees to be part-time, many of the benefits you gain from them can be transferred to full-timers by making their working hours more flexible (see separate article on flexible working).

Consider the following web sites: www.dti.gov.uk , www.acas.org and www.tiger.gov.uk

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about the author

Heather Harrison is a highly regarded member of the Duport team. Her thorough knowledge of small businesses, combined with her talents developed during a career as a well respected journalist, make her articles very popular with our readers. Heather has worked on a variety of weekly and monthly magazines, both in the consumer and business press.

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