Spring 2000
Turning Part-Timers into Profit-Makers

For retail business owners who count on part-time employees, motivating them can be a big challenge. Part-time jobs attract a range of workers—from students to retirees to people who just want to earn extra cash and may not view their positions as “careers.” How do you get the most out of this diverse group of people who work a limited number of hours each week?

No matter how many hours an employee clocks in at the end of the week, the key to successful motivation is zeroing in on the needs and wants of the employee. Part-timers should not be lumped into the same category as full-timers. Retailers often believe that if they offered different incentive or motivation programs for different types of employees, the company will look like it’s discriminating. As a result, many businesses favor one-size-fits-all incentives that ignore the needs of part-timers. The fact is, part-time employees should be treated differently from full-timers. By recognizing the needs of your part-time employees and formulating appropriate policies and rewards for them, you let them know that they are an important, valued part of your company.

Step 1: Applause, applause

Show part-time employees your appreciation for the job they do. Their need to be recognized is as great as any other employees’. And just a little show of appreciation can go a long way. For some employees, having their manager use their names and take the time to talk with them is special. Others feel valued when management gives fun or thoughtful gifts—coffee mugs, T-shirts, flowers, movie tickets—especially when you give those gifts to acknowledge good performance.

Be creative in coming up with appropriate rewards for your part-time employees. Take into account what the individual employee values, his or her own goals or needs; and then choose or structure the reward accordingly. Of course, this means you must take the time get to know your part-timers and learn what may motivate them. Then deliver these incentives when you get the desired performance. The “personalized” reward will mean more, and be much more effective than a generic “one-size” prize.

Step 2: Set the stage

Treat part-time employees the way you want them to act. If you want them to take a long-term perspective of your business, treat them from a long-term perspective—you get more loyalty and productivity from a person you treat as part of a team. Start with basic, consistent consideration and courtesy, treating everyone professionally—even those who work only a few hours a week. Courtesy and professionalism help establish you as a good employer, which will help you attract additional talent when you need to.

Step 3: Throw new challenges

No one wants to do the same boring job over and over, day after day. While every job has its share of mundane, repetitive tasks, every job should also include responsibilities or tasks the employee doing them finds interesting—maybe even fun. As management theorist Frederick Herzberg once said: “If you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.”

Offer part-timers new challenges by exposing them to new responsibilities. Even better, let part-time workers identify which tasks they would like to tackle. Most people are highly motivated when they take part in the decisions that affect their jobs or their paychecks.

Step 4: Start a mentoring program

Although you’ve given all of your employees training, part-timers may still feel a bit confused and out of the loop when it comes to “the big picture.” Bring them into the loop by assigning a full-time co-worker as their mentor—someone they can go to for help, advice and information. Mentoring goes a long way toward helping your part-timers feel part of the team.

Step 5: Encourage initiative

Nothing motivates employees more than being encouraged to take the initiative—to think for themselves. Giving part-times this kind of “freedom” is often a new and exhilarating experience for them. At the Parisian department store in Alcoa, TN, all of the sales associates—full-time and part-time—are encouraged to make independent decisions when they try to solve customer complaints, rather than to run to the manager. These employees have the leeway to solve problems on their own: at this store, the only person allowed to say no to a customer is the store manager; the other employees must use their skill and creativity to turn a customer’s complaint into satisfaction. This sense of professional independence motivates salespeople to think for themselves, and ultimately means better service and, of course, sales.

Step 6: Keep them informed

It’s important to give all employees the information they need to be productive. Information is power, and your employees want to be empowered with the information they need to do their jobs well. Give them in-depth orientation and training—especially about your products and services, internal procedures, and administrative requirements. Employees also want feedback: information about how they’re doing their how the company is doing. To gain the most from part-time employees, make it a point to show them how their jobs relate to the company’s overall goals and strategies, and specifically how their performance contributes to its success and growth.

Step 7: Keep talking!

The importance of communication is almost a cliché, but its value can’t be underestimated. For example, don’t assume that part-time employees will tell you if they’re having problems or don’t understand an assignment or procedure.

Instead, see if they have questions or need any help. Use a variety of communications to keep the lines open—pay stuffers, newsletter, one-on-one chats, informal staff meetings, and so forth.

Step 8: Make it fun!

Make your workplace a fun place to work. Fun can be a critical competitive advantage in attracting and keeping the best employees—especially part-timers.

Motivating your part-time employees to do their best is achievable if you do it right. Take the time, make the effort, and reap the benefits in happy customers and bigger sales.

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