NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Employing part-time workers is one of the fastest-growing trends in the U.S. economy, although many economists would argue it's a trend that's bad news for those workers and the economy. Either way, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of employees willing to work part-time has risen by 80 percent, to to 7.9 million, since 2006. On a statewide basis, part-time work is off the charts. California, for example, has seen its part-time "involuntary" employment figures swell by 126 percent over the same period, to 1.3 million. Florida and Nevada report similar figures. The trend is all about cost savings to companies. The vast majority of part-time workers don't qualify for health care benefits and retirement plans, and that saves companies from having to pay for those costs, says Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, president and CEO of internal communications agency Tribe, an Atlanta employee culture and engagement services firm. Cogswell Baskin says that recent changes in health care laws are moving many industries, including hospitality and retail, toward hiring part-time workers instead of full-time ones. Many companies are even cutting part-time workers' hours to 29 hours a week "to avoid paying health insurance required of those working 30." "Because of those reduced hours, employees may be forced to take on two or more part-time jobs," she says. What are part-time staffers getting out of the deal -- aside from 15 or 20 hours of work per week? And what do they want from their employers to keep them engaged, productive and reasonably happy?
Cogswell Baskin offers a few thoughts, especially for managers and executives at firms who insist on going the part-time worker route: Let employees form relationships with employers. "Getting to know team members is critical, so take time to learn about each worker, no matter how many hours worked, to learn about their career aspirations, strengths, development needs and work style," she advises. Offer part-timers "meaningful" work. Incorporating a meaningful vision helps employees feel they're contributing to something larger than themselves," she explains. "No matter what company, you can create an inspirations vision by linking your company's product or service to some greater human need. To ensure the vision is clear to all employees, upper management must communicate to all levels of employees and repeatedly over time." Make it a "two-way street." "Many times leaders send messaging out to employee but never receive any feedback," Cogswell Baskin says. "They never hear how their communications are interpreted or field any questions that arise from them. Platforms such as blogs (with open commenting), forums and in-person meetings allow for the creation of a two-way conversation where both sides feel as if they are being heard and understood." Explain the changes. "Employees don't like being left in the dark; especially with legal or regulation changes," she says. "2013 will prove to be the year of labor and employment changes with new rules in health care, discrimination and hours. Communicating these changes effectively will help everyone prepare in the long run." Again, it's all about the "two-way street" theory and making part-time workers feel valued and appreciated. Do that, and companies can expect more productivity and even loyalty. That might be "tricky" for employers, as Cogswell Baskin puts it, but if you don't connect with part-time staff, be prepared to reap what you sow.