Part-time employment relationships are on the rise. Many congregations are converting full-time positions into part-time roles due to declining budgets and the rising cost of benefits. Part-timers offer many advantages to a staff team, but they also pose unique supervisory challenges.
Part-time staff allow us to add specialized skills in key program areas—you can hire a part-time children’s director and a part-time youth director instead of a full-time generalist educator. A part-time relationship can enable you to work with someone who would not be available full time. A superb organist studying at the neighboring university, for instance, might have only a few hours available each week.
On the other hand, part-time staff may struggle with divided loyalties and bring less energy and focus to their church role than to their primary vocation. Communication with part-time staff can be difficult. They are often out of the information loop because of their limited presence. Supervisors are hesitant to use the few valuable hours a week that the employee works to include them in staff meetings, supervisory conversations, or team-building activity.
What’s a supervisor to do? Consider the following best practices for strengthening your part-time employment relationships and creating a more cohesive staff team.
1. Pay Fairly
Part-time employees are easier on the budget than full-time employees, but you should not pay less than a fair wage. Part-time employees should receive the same hourly rate that a full-time employee in a similar role would receive. One might argue that the part-time employee deserves a higher hourly rate, because they provide their own benefits.
Studies show that people do not work harder because you pay them more. But unfair pay practices cause dissatisfaction, driving down morale and causing people to decrease effort. If an employee perceives that they are being taken advantage of because of their part-time status, they are less happy in their work and less apt to bring their best effort.
2. Provide a Picture of Advancement
We often assume that part-time employees are temporary employees. We expect they will inevitably find better employment elsewhere. We don’t talk with them about their future with us, or about how their present role might evolve into something even more satisfying in the future.
When we paint a picture of advancement, we help the employee see their value to the organization. By listening to their hopes and dreams, we let them know that we are interested in developing with them over time.
3. Set Clear and Realistic Expectations
Often a congregation really needs a full-time employee, but only can afford part-time. In this case, it is especially important to set realistic expectations for the hours you pay for. Nothing is more discouraging to an employee than to lay out expectations that would challenge a full-time employee, and then say, “Just do the best you can in the available hours.”
Every employee, regardless of number of hours worked, needs a job description that sets realistic expectations for performance, outlines tasks and duties, and sets expectations for behavior and expected outcomes.
Part-time employees also need regularly scheduled meetings with their supervisors to clarify job expectations and to receive ongoing feedback. These meetings might happen with less frequency than for full-time staff (perhaps monthly instead of weekly) but ongoing supervisory conversations are critical.
4. Cultivate Inclusion
The part-time employee’s limited availability curtails their involvement in important community-building experiences like Sunday morning worship, staff meetings, and social outings. You may have to alter the employee’s schedule from time to time to encourage inclusion.
Ensure that every employee participates in some kind of team meeting at least once a month. You may need to add a monthly meal or social outing your part-timer can attend. If you have employees who don’t normally worship at your church, pay them to be present on an occasional Sunday morning. Likewise, the employee who only experiences the church on Sunday mornings should be included in mid-week activities of the staff team, as appropriate.
5. Be Flexible but Consistent
Our flexibility allows us to work with people who might not otherwise be available to us. However, there must be predictable and consistent boundaries in an employment relationship. Clarify which aspects of the job can be done outside the church building and which must be performed on site. When and how often does the employee need to be available for real-time interaction with other members of the staff? How will the employee account for hours worked? To whom is the employee accountable? What type of check-ins are required?
6. Give Them Their Own Workspace
The lack of permanent workspace relegates a part-time employee to second-class citizenship. Every employee on your team deserves dedicated work space, even if they must share it with another employee who works at different times. An employee shouldn’t have to wander the building looking for a free work spot. Every employee needs space to settle in, and a place where they can leave their work belongings.
7. Expect Commitment to the Mission
It is tempting to minimize the part-time employee’s commitment to the congregation’s mission. But congregations have important work to do in the world and should expect each member of the staff to understand and help achieve the mission. Members of the custodial team should understand how a hospitable building serves the community. A bookkeeper should be taught to embrace your commitment to “meeting every person where they are on their journey.” All employees—full- or part-time—must embody missional values in their interactions with members of the congregation and community.
8. Create Part-Time Employment Policy
Part-time employees bring unique challenges into the workspace, and their employers need to adopt policies tailored to their situation. Helpful policies include:
- Restrictions on moonlighting. Are there other types of employment relationships that your employees may not entertain while they work for you? (For instance: working in a gambling casino or a topless bar.)
- Conflicts of interest. May an employee who works for you work for another congregation at the same time? What boundaries must be honored in such a situation? May the employee tend to the other employer’s work on your congregation’s time or premises?
- Sharing of church information. What may an employee discuss with others, including another employer, about their relationship with your congregation? What is off limits?
A part-time workforce in the church is here to stay. Effective supervision helps to honor your part-timers and build a culture of inclusivity and respect for your whole staff team.