- Part-time work is on the rise. The total number of Americans voluntarily working part time is now more than five times the number of people who work part time but would prefer to work full-time, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Offer flexible working arrangements. Employers that are able to offer flexible-work arrangements will have a better chance to lure highly-skilled, part-time talent, thus significantly increasing their talent pool.
- Attractive rewards packages. In addition to flexibility, today’s part-timers also want a competitive salary, access to quality health and retirement benefits and career opportunities.
- Be at the forefront of talent acquisition. Forward-thinking organizations are identifying what roles within the organization lend themselves to part-time work to lure top talent.
Part-time work is on the rise, as more Americans aim to prioritize their mental health over a healthy paycheck. The upshot? With the proper infrastructure in place, employers can capitalize on the trend.
Between December 2022 and January 2023, 1.2 million more Americans said they were working part-time compared with previous months, with more than 850,000 of them saying they were working fewer hours by choice, not necessity.
The total number of Americans voluntarily working part time is now more than five times the number of people who work part time but would prefer to work full-time. (The Internal Revenue Service defines part-time workers as employees who work less than an average of 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month.)
“Part-time work for noneconomic reasons is expanding faster than one would think and it seems to have gone up to a higher level,” said Lonnie Golden, Ph.D., a professor of economics and labor-employment relations at Penn State University, Abington. “I don’t see it trending back.”
The trend’s most likely source is no surprise: According to a 2021 Gartner survey of more than 3,500 employees around the world, 65% of the respondents said the pandemic made them reevaluate their work life.
Despite wages that are about 20% less than full-time workers receive, part-time work is now “arguably more attractive” at certain points in workers' life cycle these days, including those who are nearing retirement, those with family caregiving responsibilities or school obligations, Golden said.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
Interest in part-time work has been gradually increasing over the past quarter century due to a number of factors relating to preferences in work styles, availability of more flexible work arrangements and schedules, the advent of the gig economy, and changing demographics, said John Bremen, managing director and chief strategy, innovation and acceleration officer at WTW.
“The pandemic accelerated this change in many dimensions, resulting in more flexible options for workers,” he said, adding that long-predicted changes in workforce demographics — including a large number of members of the Baby Boomer generation retiring from traditional jobs and seeking part-time arrangements — has forced employers to pay more attention to alternatives to full-time roles.
Making Part Time Work Full Time
So, how can employers leverage this trend to increase its talent pool for hiring in the tightest labor market in decades?
Experts agree it’s about more than just what’s on your organization’s compensation and rewards menu. In many ways, part-time employees are looking for the same things that full-time employees are: security, predictability and purpose. (Both full- and part-time workers also prefer a four-day workweek, according to Golden’s research.)
But the difference between the two workforce segments is a simple one, said Bremen: a desire for flexibility.
“Employers that are able to offer flexible-work arrangements will have access to a larger pool of talent than those that don’t offer them,” he said. “That makes a huge difference with today’s tight labor markets.”
In the past, those flexible-work arrangements may have been reserved for longer-tenured or targeted employees, but that's becoming more of a basic standard than a perk these days.
In addition to flexibility, today’s part-timers also want a competitive salary, access to quality health and retirement benefits and career opportunities.
“In short,” Bremen said, “they do not want to be treated like ‘second-class’ employees. Companies that are able to provide them with what they are looking for have a sizable advantage over those that don’t.”
But even when catering to these workers’ specific preferences, the part-time trend line can be a difficult one for employers to tread.
“Some employers are now frustrated that employees may not wish to dedicate as many hours or days to work or the workforce and thereby force employers to have to make an additional unwanted extra hire or two,” Golden said. “But they may also find out the benefits of more job-satisfied employees and lower turnover.”
Meet Them Where They Are
The most forward-thinking companies are already looking at ways to better integrate part-timers into their workflows, said David Kopsch, senior principal at Mercer.
“These companies are asking: What are the activities that could ‘spark it’ for people who are willing to work on a part-time basis,’” he said, adding that innovative organizations will try to identify what roles within the organization lend themselves to part-time work.
Kopsch also advised companies to adopt a part-timer’s perspective.
“If you really want to resonate with a certain workforce who can only give you two hours at a time, then you can do things like break down your work activities into two-hour blocks of time,” Kopsch said.
“Just be open to setting work in a way that works for these workers.”
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