Part-time work refers to work performed by laborers who work less than the standard number of hours and who are often ineligible to participate in an organization’s benefit plans. Many organizations need part-time workers to be successful. Organizations use part-time workers for several reasons: to meet the demands of the labor-intensive economy and cyclical economic patterns, to provide flexible scheduling, and to lower labor costs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics there were over 24 million part-time workers in the United States in both 2004 and 2005, consisting of approximately 16% of the civilian labor force. The increasing number of part-time workers is also apparent in other parts of the world such as Europe and New Zealand. Because of their importance, organizations must retain part-time workers, a need that opens the door for acknowledging the importance of career counseling for, working with, and helping part-time workers, specifically in terms of their retention in organizations.
Uniqueness of Part-Time Workers
Characteristics of Part-time Workers
The classification of worker as full-time or part-time is determined by the standard used by the reporting government. In general, part-timers work less than 40 hours per week. Most part-time workers are paid by the hour (the median weekly earnings for part-time workers in 2005 was $201) and are not part of their organization’s benefit plans that include vacation, pension, insurance, and other benefits. Two thirds of part-time workers are female. One third of part-time workers are in sales and office occupations (e.g., sales and administrative support); another 25% are in management, professional, and other related occupations; and another 25% are in service occupations.
Not only do part-time workers differ from full-time workers, but they also differ among types of part-time workers. Part-time workers may be permanent or temporary, organization- or agency-hired, year-round or seasonal, voluntary or involuntary, or they may moonlight. Additionally, part-time positions may be classified according to cyclical businesses (e.g., construction), secondary work (e.g., fast-food services), or retention-oriented jobs.
Many part-time workers are highly skilled, career-committed, and want career development, but a variety of reasons necessitate these people work part-time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 12.5% of all part-time workers believe that economic reasons drive their need to work part-time, which includes business conditions, seasonal work, and the unavailability of full-time work. The majority of people who work part-time give noneconomic reasons for their position, such as child care problems, retirement, other family or personal obligations, or school or training obligations.
Part-time workers obviously work less than the standard number of hours that full-timers work. However, the differences between part-time and fulltime workers cover much more than just this simple classification distinction. People with certain job attitudes and behaviors may be drawn toward part-time work. The goals, attitudes, motivations, and outcomes associated with part-time workers can be very different from those associated with full-time workers. This difference can be crucial in terms of career counseling and working with part-timers, especially when the topic is their retention in organizations. In other words, practices and methods used for the retention of full-time workers may be quite different from those used for part-time workers. A definite difference exists between part-time and full-time workers. Career counselors and others who work with part-time workers such as managers and supervisors or those working in the human resources and training fields must understand that part-time workers cannot be treated the same as full-time workers. Part-time workers have a definite psychology of work that is different from that of full-time workers. Those who work with part-time workers must understand these differences and apply this information in order to effectively counsel and work with a part-time worker population, especially when considering their retention in the workplace.
Retention rates of part-time workers are far less than those of full-time workers. Thoughts of quitting, job satisfaction, expectation of finding alternatives, and intention to quit were highly related to retention rates of full-time workers; however, none of these variables were related to retention of part-timers. In effect, part-time workers do not make decisions regarding their retention in organizations the same way as full-time workers; part-time workers have a different psychology of work. Therefore, management policies and practices geared specifically for part-time workers need to be considered.
Social Exchange Theory
Several researchers believe part-time workers feel less included, less connected, and less involved in their organization, or they do not feel they are tied to or part of the organization like their full-time counterparts. Social exchange theory may give insight into retaining part-time workers. In short, social exchange theory explains that relationships are built upon a fair exchange of goods or currency. Relationships start when one person gives or does something for another person and continue when the other person reciprocates. This theory may also be used as the basis for working with part-time workers. If organizations can make part-time workers feel as if they are part of the organization through pay; through support of and care for their well-being; through valuing their work, thoughts, and opinions; and through relationship building, those same part-time workers may feel obligated to repay the organization by staying with the organization.
As one can see, part-time workers are a different entity than full-time workers. Some have said that temporary, involuntary, agency-hired, and seasonal part-time workers who are working two jobs will be less involved and committed to their work and organization than those part-time workers who are working only one job that is permanent, year-round, and organization-hired. Moreover, differences among part-time workers themselves bring the need to treat and work with part-time workers appropriately. For instance, older workers my prefer work arrangements that are organization-hired, while females may want work arrangements that are agency-hired.
Over the years, researchers have given several recommendations for dealing with part-time workers. For instance, part-time workers may not be worried so much about salary as they would be with scheduling flexibility and recognition for their work. Part-timers want work that is satisfying, challenging, and interesting and that enhances their development as employees in the organization and people. Part-time workers want autonomy and a sense that they control things. Part-time workers want to feel they contribute to the organization and that their thoughts and opinions are heard and taken into consideration in decisions. Part-time workers also enjoy social interaction with their fellow workers, including interaction with their supervisors.
From a social exchange theory perspective, to increase retention of part-time workers, organizations must care for the development and well-being of their part-time workers. Part-time workers will then feel obligated to reciprocate and pay back the organizations by staying with the organization. Compensation and benefits are obvious ways to increase retention of part-time workers. However, as previously discussed, feeling part of the organization is very important to part-time workers. Organizations must provide programs to help part-time workers feel valued and wanted by the organization. Organizations must support the career development of their part-time workers. Organizations must strive to treat their workers fairly and must consider their interests when making decisions. Organizations must also consider work-life balance policies because many part-time workers are students or have family issues.
Management is also important in the retention of part-time workers. Management must attempt to give their part-time workers a voice at work in solving problems and in decisions that affect work. Management must communicate with their part-time workers about changes and other pertinent information. Management must also believe in giving part-time workers responsibility and autonomy and must readily give recognition and praise for their work.
Organizations, management, and those working in training and human resources need to acknowledge that part-time workers are important to organizational success. Policies and practices geared toward their retention must attempt to make them feel tied to the organization or make them feel wanted. Career counselors must also be cognizant of this information. Part-timers have a variety of reasons for working the hours they do, from economic necessity, to family issues, to preference. Career counselors must understand the motivation of the part-timers they are helping. Career counselors must stress different ways to help part-timers feel connected to their organization to increase their retention. Career counselors can also work directly with organizations in implementing practices and policies that will increase the retention of part-time employees. By finding the right fit in terms of scheduling flexibility, autonomy, and support, career counselors can be helpful in making part-timers feel tied to their organization to increase their retention in organizations.
- Bennett, N., Carson, P. P., Carson, K. D., & Blum, T. C. (1994). A comparison of “traditional” and “atypical” workers: Demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal differences. Journal of Business and Psychology, 8, 467—474.
- Cook, K. S., & Rice. E. (2003). Social exchange theory. In J. Delameter (Ed.), Handbook of social psychology (pp. 53-76). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
- Feldman, D. C. (1990). Reconceptualizing the nature and consequences of part-time work. Academy of Management Review, 15, 103-112.
- Feldman, D. C., & Doerpinghaus, H. I. (1992). Missing persons no longer: Managing part-time workers in the ’90s. Organizational Dynamics, 21, 59-72.
- Hammers, M. (2003). Wanted: Part-timers with class. Workforce, 82, 18.
- Jackofsky, E. F., & Peters, L. H. (1987). Part-time versus full-time employment status differences: A replication and extension. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 8, 1-9.
- Lee, T. W., & Johnson, D. R. (1991). The effects of work schedule and employment status on the organizational commitment and job satisfaction of full versus part-time employees. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 38, 208-224.
- Martin, T. N., & Hafer, J. C. (1995). The multiplicative interaction effects of job involvement and organizational commitment on the turnover intentions of full- and part-time employees. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 46, 310-331.
- McPherson, M. (2005, April). Part-time work—The new norm? Human Resources Magazine, 10, 16-21.
- Miller, H. E., & Terborg, J. T. (1979). Job attitudes of part-time and full-time employees. Journal of Applied Psychology, 64, 380-386.
- Peters, L. H., Jackofsky, E. F., & Salter, J. R. (1981). Predicting turnover: A comparison of part-time and full-time employees. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2, 89-98.
- Rotchford, N. L., & Roberts, K. H. (1982). Part-time workers as missing persons in organizational research. Academy of Management Review, 7, 228-234.
- Sightler, K. W., & Adams, J. S. (1999). Differences between stayers and leavers among part-time workers. Journal of Managerial Issues, 11, 110-125.
- Tagliabue, J. (2006, May 11). 4 hours a day, 3 days a week. New York Times, pp. C1-C6.
- Thorsteinson, T. J. (2003). Job attitudes of part-time vs. full-time workers: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 76, 151-178.
- Tilly, C. (1991). Reasons for the continuing growth of part-time employment. Monthly Labor Review, 114, 10-18.
- Werbel, J. D. (1985). The impact of primary life involvements on turnover: A comparison of part-time and full-time employees. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 6, 251-258.
- Wetzel, K., Soloshy, D. E., & Gallagher, D. T. (1990). The work attitudes of full-time and part-time registered nurses. Health Care Management Review, 15, 79-85.