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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein

8.24.99  
Getting Part-Timers to Take Their Jobs Seriously
Hire astutely, and make them feel they're part of the team, too

Q: My business hires a lot of part-time help for weekend work. Although the hourly pay is good, there are so many other part-time jobs available that half of the employees call in sick on nice days. What can I do about this? — D.T., Columbus, Ohio

A: You are battling a perennial problem, made worse by today's tight labor market. People are working hard and making good money. But they can find another job if they don't like their current one. So workers who don't have much of a stake in a company — your weekend part-timers, for example — feel they can simply not show up with impunity.

That said, it's possible to instill loyalty and commitment in part-timers — if you hire the right people. That means screening thoroughly when you hire, says Bob Conlon, a senior consultant at Hewitt Associates, a Lincolnshire, Ill.-based management-consulting firm. "Employers need to spend more time up front with part-timers, examining these prospective employees' plans and goals," Conlon says.

Does a candidate want a part-time job to pay off short-term debt or to save for a child's college education? Someone with the latter goal would be more likely to show up consistently and stick around. Is the person really looking for full-time work? If you are strictly looking for part-timers, be honest about the job's limitations. And, press the candidate to tell you whether this job will meet his or her needs, Conlon says. If you let the point slide, the position will open up again as soon as your part-timer finds full-time work.

Integrate your part-time employees into the company so they understand what your company does and where they fit in. Ask them what matters most to them: Money? Flexible hours? Benefits? A collegial work environment? Performing a valuable service? When you meet their needs — even in a small way — they'll appreciate it.

"One employer who really cares about people becomes the employer of choice over someone who doesn't give a damn," says Maxine Fechter, president of Manhattan-based People Equities consulting firm. "You want to build an umbilical cord that connects them to the business."

If at all possible, give your part-timers holidays off, some level of medical benefits, continuity bonuses, flexible hours, and a comfortable work environment. Offer seasonal workers assurance that they'll get hiring preference in the next work cycle. "Try to leverage work relationships with company-sponsored teams or outings," Conlon says. "That way, there will be some peer pressure on the person to show up for work. And don't forget to explain how important it is to the company, and the staff, and the customers, for everyone to be on the job."


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