Traditional full-time schedules may prevent your company from hiring strong tech talent in the midst of a skills shortage, Amazon data engineer Sarah Henrikson said at a 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration session in Houston. Hiring part-time IT workers or allowing current full-time employees to move to that schedule can fill tech talent gaps, increase employee loyalty and morale, and reduce turnover and absenteeism, Henrikson said.

The number of people who say that they’ve quit a job due to a lack of flexibility has nearly doubled in recent years, from 17% in 2014 to 32% in 2017, according to a FlexJobs survey.

“The traditional full-time schedule may not be a one-size-fits-all model,” Henrikson said. “There is increased need for flexibility in the workplace, and part-time is one of the more flexible arrangements that’s in demand.”

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It’s not just working moms looking for part-time work, Henrikson added: Potential retirees, people with elder care needs, those with health issues, and those who want time to pursue other passions are also part-time candidates.

“As flexible opportunities grow in other companies, these will be the companies that attract a larger percentage of the workforce as we go forward,” Henrikson said.

Henrikson worked 30 hours a week as a data engineer at Amazon, and was also a part-time database administrator for a year. In both cases, the part-time option helped keep her both at the company and in the IT field, all while raising a family. “This is a really important thing for people–sometimes they are okay making the choice to leave the company or IT altogether, so it’s something more companies should support,” she said.

Part-time benefits and challenges

Potential benefits of part-time work for employees, besides gaining more flexibility to manage personal and professional life, include reduced stress and burnout, reduced commuter costs and stress, a potential decrease in child or elder care costs, and improved health and happiness, Henrikson said. Importantly, part-time work allows IT employees to retain their skillset, she added–if an employee drops out of the job market for any reason, they would have a harder time getting back in later.

Allowing an employee to go part-time can also benefit employers, Henrikson said. These include increased diversity and inclusivity by getting to a wider workforce, she added.

Helping a full-time employee drop down to a part-time schedule often lowers a company’s costs more than their productivity losses, Henrikson said. She cited Parkinson’s law, the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Often employees who drop to part-time schedules cut out less important tasks like meetings and get a majority of the same work done, she added.

Full-time employees who move to part-time schedules do face several challenges, besides a lower paycheck. One is a struggle with full-time expectations: Your team will be doing more work, because they are working longer hours. The manager needs to help with how they treat you on the team, and show their appreciation. Part-time workers may also feel more detached from the team, or face a negative stigma related to working fewer hours. It’s easy to fall into a trap of working more hours, but when taking a pay cut to work less, part-time workers need to be strict about their schedule, Henrikson said.

SEE: IT jobs 2018: Hiring priorities, growth areas, and strategies to fill open roles (Tech Pro Research)

If managed poorly, part-time workers may face impacts on their career growth, Henrikson said. So much of the success of flexible schedules is related to how it is managed, she added.

Being the first employee to move to a schedule like this can be difficult, Henrikson said. She was the only person in her organization of 10,000 people who was part-time. HR didn’t know how to do the paperwork, but her manager supported her and pushed for it, she said. “It was a learning experience for us all,” Henrikson said. “You need to set some guidelines for the people who come after you.”

Employers may also face challenges when allowing part-time workers onto the team, including the need to change meeting times, Henrikson said. Managers also need to manage perceptions and expectations on the team, and dealing with any negative stigma surrounding flexible work. “It requires a different approach to management,” Henrikson said. “They need to help shepard that employee through the process.”

Here are 10 tips for companies and employees to successfully manage a part-time work arrangement.

  1. Offer the employee full support all the way up the ladder
  2. Implement agile work methods, and allocate work to each team member in accordance with their part-time or full-time schedule
  3. Be transparent with the whole team about what is happening, so everyone can schedule accordingly
  4. Be strict with your hours most of the time, and talk to your manager about how you will handle things when you need to occasionally work longer hours
  5. Prioritize tasks and choose meetings with care
  6. Set core team hours when all meetings and important events will be scheduled, so all employees can attend
  7. Schedule regular 1-to-1 meetings between managers and employees
  8. Schedule an annual retrospective with leadership
  9. For the employee, keep track of your accomplishments, to keep your career on a growth track
  10. For the manager, ensure career track options are the same for full-time and part-time workers

“Managers need to treat their part-time employees like full-time employees,” Henrikson said. “Just because someone’s full time doesn’t mean they’re productive or doing the right work. A part-time worker shouldn’t be treated as less of an employee.”