I might be making an assumption based on my own limited experience, but I'm trying to figure out why part-time work seems to be actively discouraged in the workplace.

I've been thinking about switching from my current full-time programming job because I apparently hate being constrained to a traditional 40-hour week (M-F 8-5), and I don't need as much money as I'm making.

I'm not sure yet if I would rather stay in my current position or find another, but I've already been warned of a huge drawback to switching to part-time: I would lose all of my benefits. I wouldn't have the option to use my employer's health or life insurance, or to keep paying into retirement, and I wouldn't accrue vacation or sick days. I get sick a lot, ride motorcycles, and fly planes, so this is a serious issue to me.

In trying to find a different job, it seems as though it's basically impossible to find part-time work that offers any benefits, hence my question, is there any reason that employers don't offer benefits to part-time employees? Is it just some 50's-era corporate mentality that says "if you're not working X hours, you're not being productive"? What's the difference to the company if I'm working 40 hours or 30?

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    It sounds like you should be an independent contractor and set your hourly rate to include the benefits you need.
    – enderland
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 18:27
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 22:14
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    Maybe the question should be why employers do offer benefits to full-time employees. Where I work, a big reason is that the full-time employees are unionized.
    – user14026
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 18:09

8 Answers 8


Because it costs them more

Your benefits are a FIXED COST. The less hours you work, the more expensive you become.

Let's use healthcare as an example.

Let's say your company contributes $15,000 per year for your healthcare.

Let's say you work full time for $30,000 per year.

Your total cost is $45,000 for 2000 hours of work or $22.50 per hour.

Now you go part-time.

Your total cost is now $30,000 for 1000 hours of work, or $30.00 per hour.

You just increased your hourly cost to the company.

Why would they do that?

There are far more fixed costs than just benefits. Consider desks - why hold a single desk for a p/t person? Most business units have to pay some type of rent per square foot. Now, your desk just cost me double, because I'm not able to use it when you are not there. Other similar things - cost of equipment, tools, uniforms, etc - all are now essentially doubled compared a f/t person. Etc. Consider soft costs - scheduling of meetings around p/t person, ensuring uniform communication, teamwork is harder with p/t person. Etc

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – enderland
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 0:02

I apparently hate working 40-hour weeks, and I don't need as much money as I'm making.

I'm not sure yet if I would rather stay in my current position or find another, but I've already been warned of a huge drawback to switching to part-time: I would lose all of my benefits. I wouldn't have the option to use my employer's health or life insurance, or to keep paying into retirement, and I wouldn't accrue vacation or sick days.

All of these things equate to money, and they can all be purchased outside of an employer.

Life insurance, health insurance, Retirement accounts, time off (obviously), etc. can all be purchased. You don't need to depend on your employer for any of these.

You already indicated that you "don't need as much money" as you are currently making. For the next step, simply factor in the cost for the "benefits" you wish to purchase in your decision regarding how many hours you wish to work and compare that to the hate you have for 40.

There's nothing special about "benefits". If you want to be able to purchase more of anything, you must earn more. If you are willing to purchase less, you can earn less (and presumably work less).

is there any reason that employers don't offer benefits to part-time employees?

I know that is as much a rant as it is an actionable question, but I'll try to answer anyway.

There's no real "reason" other than lack of laws, lack of unions, and lack of competitive practice.

It's incorrect to say that "no one offers benefits for part-time employees". A few employers do offer some (usually reduced) benefits to part-time workers. And a few locales do require that some "benefits" be extended to some part-time workers.

Consider specifically seeking employers who provide a range of benefits for part-time workers. A quick Google search will find them. For example: http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5752-part-time-jobs-with-benefits.html

Also consider that some companies still consider less than 40 hours to be "full-time". I know some companies that require only 32 hours to be considered full-time.

Benefits change with the economy, with the locale, with the domain, and with the times. In the not too distant past, many employers offered pensions. Now, outside of the public sector and academia, few do. On the other hand, employers might be getting more creative with their benefits these days - pet insurance, eye care, group legal, group purchasing power, etc. are being offered by more employers. Some are even offering education assistance and English language lessons.

It's all in the name of attracting and retaining a desirable workforce. When an industry must compete harder for a smaller pool of workers, they may choose to offer more benefits and/or better pay. If the desired workforce is plentiful, or the competition is offering less, than an employer may offer less as well.

If you are looking for full-time benefits in a part-time job, I suspect you'll have a hard time finding that. Maybe this will change in the "gig economy", maybe not.

What's the difference to the company if I'm working 40 hours or 30?

About 25% of your work output, apparently.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – enderland
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 20:58
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    " they can all be purchased outside of an employer." - this is true, but it may cost an individual employee significantly more than an employer. I know that in the UK private healthcare for example costs a lot more when purchased separately (because the provider is concerned you would only do that if you are particularly sick - that may be less of an issue in the US where there is no equivalent of the NHS.) Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 9:08
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    @JoeStrazzere no, in the US, it may be possible that an individual can simply not get any health insurance coverage for any price: Companies are not obligated to cover you, and so if e.g. local laws prevent companies from charging e.g. above $1mil. per month and people born with ultraexpensiveterminalitis cost millions, insurers may simply not cover ultraexpensiveterminalitis sufferers. If said person joined a company group policy, however, they would be forced to do so. Yes, people are allowed to die in the US because of things they can't control. Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 11:46
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    Just a tiny nit: Working 30 hours instead of 40 doesn't necessarily mean lower work output. That's why companies mostly stopped paying for 16 hour workdays in the first place - they found that shift-work is more efficient. Fewer injuries and accidents, more work-per-dollar, happier employees. Who says 8 hours is the perfect workday? And who says one-size-fits-all workday is perfect for everyone or every job role? I suspect that it's still just tied to the tradition that first made sense (three 8-hour work shifts or two 12-hour work shifts fit a 24/7 production rather well).
    – Luaan
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 14:17
  • Another potential possibility would be to join a spouse/family plan from someone else. Not sure if it would be any cheaper, since adding a single person to your benefits usually dramatically increases the costs. Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 14:50

I'm surprised no one has mentioned it, but the question you should ask is: Why do any employers offer health insurance, retirement packages, etc.? Why not just offer bigger salaries?

(What does health insurance really have to do with paying someone to answer the phone, or to fix clogged pipes, or to program computers?)

Googling "history of employer provided health insurance" will give MANY resources. I'll let you choose your favorite source.

In essence, there were wage controls imposed by the government during World War II and employers could not offer whatever wages they wanted. So, unable to compete for the best workers by offering higher salaries, they started saying, "Okay, we'll pay you the maximum wage we legally can, and we'll pay for your health insurance also."

This became so "normal" (through labor unions, vested interests, lobbying, etc., etc.) that in most cases it's now illegal for employers not to provide health insurance coverage for full-time employees.

While on the other hand, in most cases, there are no such rules regarding coverage for part-time employees.

Personally, I would rather just get paid more than receive such benefits. The cost of mandatory health insurance for ALL full time employees is that the actual wages themselves are not as high as they could otherwise be.

(If you ever have the opportunity to do cost analysis on a business's finance lines, you will be startled how much more money is spent per employee beyond the amount of the actual paycheck itself.)

As noted in the current top answer, given money, you can purchase whatever health care suits your preferences and aren't limited by what the "company plan" includes. Or you can choose not to purchase insurance at all and to invest the money instead. Or go on a cruise. Or anything else you want. It's your money, so you can choose.

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    If you are paid more, that salary is taxable. Many benefits can be given to employees tax free -- health insurance is an example. You would likely be worse off if your employer gave you what they were paying for your health insurance as additional salary, especially if you're a highly-paid worker living in a high-tax State. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:54
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    @DavidSchwartz, fair enough; that's true in the current scene. However, income tax itself has a history and is highly questionable as an effective and positive way of financing a government. It penalizes every productive person in the country.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:56
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    This answer is, of course, 100000% correct. It's just another scam created by lobbyists.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 22:19
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    Since you say sources are plentiful, it would be nice if you could cite at least some for your second section. ;)
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 23:06
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    @JoeStrazzere, to quote Original Post: "I'm trying to figure out why part-time work seems to be actively discouraged in the workplace." Part-time work is not discouraged; it's just not subject to the same long laundry list of arbitrary requirements and restrictions as full-time employment. She's going on an incorrect assumption that businesses offer benefits to encourage full-time employees. In fact the opposite is often the case: when ACA was passed, many businesses increased their part-time hiring to avoid the heavy new costs of full-time employees. (Also: noted re current laws. :)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 0:53

Just to add a different (non-US) perspective:

In Germany, working part-time is quite normal (though not every company supports it to the same degree). In particular, I know several software developers who work part time (between 20 and 30 hours, when the regular work week is 40h).

Benefits are usually not a problem:

  • health insurance and retirement insurance for (most) employees are compulsory in Germany, and premiums are a percentage of your income, so the cost changes with your salary
  • the number of vacation days is simply reduced proportionally (or stays the same if you work fewer hours per day, instead of fewer days)

It's true that a part-time employee will be present for fewer hours, which can cause problems with meetings and customer service, but in my opinion that is mostly a question of good organization. There is also a benefit: A part-time employee will often be able to ramp up to full time for a short while in an emergency, so part-timers can be an "emergency reserve" if there are problems. This is better than making full-time staff work (even more) overtime, because productivity drops once you go beyond 50h or so.

So to answer your question: There are part-time jobs with benefits, at least outside the USA :-).

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    I will piggyback on your answer to add a specific French perspective. Up to two years ago, children had Wednesdays off (it has changed now - school on Wendesday is only in the morning - and may chnage again as cities are now free to choose whether they want to reinstate the Wednesday off (this is the case for my city for instance)). A sizable amount of women (sometimes men, but usually women) were part time off, 4 days out of 5, to handle the children on Wednesdays. This was sort of an semi-institutionalized part time.The benefits part is the same as in Germany, roughly speaking.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 16:12
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    In the UK health insurance is obviously much less of a common benefit. However, vacation is given proportionally to time worked: 5.6 weeks per year, or 28 days for full time. If you work irregular hours you can have the time included in your hourly rate (I.e. + 10.7% ish)
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 0:49

Part-time is discouraged in all but customer service industries because most companies find it difficult/risky to manage.

If I have a part-time software developer, are his hours going to coincide with when I need him available to work on a particular issue? What about when I need production support, do I have to wait until the next day when he comes in? How do I work out the hours when there is a need to work overtime? Will the person be willing to work overtime during the final days before a major launch, etc.

If I have a need for someone to work full time as an accountant, then I have to recruit two part-timers instead of one full time person which is harder. Then I have the problem of information sharing so that the guy who works afternoons can pick up where the woman who works mornings leaves off. If I can't divide the work so that no person needs to be aware of exactly how far the other person got that day, then it becomes much more a of a risk.

Further, in this situation, it is often likely one person will carry the other person so that one does the majority of the work. This causes resentment and it makes it hard for managers to often even know who is doing more to reward that person since they are sharing tasks.

There is also an element of if I let one person do it, then everyone will ask which make for a problem if you have some jobs that are more difficult to split up than others.

A psychological problem with co-workers shows up if the part time person ends up doing as much as the full-time people. Then they look as if they are slacking which leads to peer pressure. Sometimes the part-time person does this in order to make sure he or she will be allowed to continue to work part time. Also it is easier to concentrate longer when working a 4 hour day than an 8 hour day.

So you see there are many challenges from the corporate level concerning managing part-time work and very few benefits. So one way they discourage it is by making sure the benefits are poor or non-existent.

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    "Also it is easier to concentrate longer when working a 4 hour day than an 8 hour day." Which is kind of exactly my point; why are we even stuck in this rut that says we have to sit at our desks for 8 hours when we could do the same work in 4? Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 19:16
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    Because it is not just the work, but the availability. Unless everyone worked the same four hours, work becomes much more difficult to manage. And some people will do even less working part-time because they are mentally committed to something else (like writing their novel or creating their own start-up) the rest of the time and they find that more intriguing, so harder to to turn off their ideas during their paying work. I have seen it go either way for part-timers.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 19:19
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    I don't really buy the availability argument as business today is 24/7 and nobody is sitting at a desk those hours. That's what on-call (and/or appropriate staffing levels) are fo. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 19:32
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    @HLGEM: I thought of similar arguments as in your answer but then it hit me that those are arguments for not hiring part-time employees, rather than arguments for reducing their benefits... it seems like there's no reason why the risk of hiring someone part-time should translate into no healthcare premium coverage.
    – user541686
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:01
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    becasue they want to discourage current emplyees from asking
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:24

I have seen some companies that provided partial benefits for less than full time. For some benefits that is easy to do: work half the hours get 1/2 the vacation days. For others it is more complex.

For health insurance I have run into companies that have set the health insurance as a $ limit. For a full time employee with a single policy they cover $500 per month for premiums. For a family it is $1000. If you work less than full time they scale it. If the family policy is $1500 a month, then a full time worker will see a deduction of $1500-$1000 or $500 from their monthly pay. A person working 30 hours a week would see a deduction of $1500-$750 or $750 from their monthly pay. Note this was pre-ACA so the rules may have changed.

I have also run into some companies that gave you extra days if you didn't need all the benefits.

  • Are these companies based or have a presence in the US?
    – Neo
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 18:58
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    @MisterPositive he said "pre-ACA" so I'm assuming so... Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 19:00
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    Yes they are US companies. The split cost model was for I company I stopped working with in 2010, the extra days was for a company I worked with until 2015. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 19:27
  • Surely "get half the vacation hours"? If I work 4 hours a day, I would still expect 25 days holidays. (OTOH, if I work 3 days a week, I would still expect 5 weeks holiday == 15 days.) Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 9:13

If your employer doesn't offer any benefits to part-time workers, I don't see why you can't renegotiate your hourly rate when you switch to part time*. When you get hired, HR usually love to explain how much money you will actually make if you count all the benefits in. Just redo the same mental exercise again to find a salary estimate for a full-time employee without any benefits, then scale that number by the percentage of time you're willing to work.

(*) unless there's a law which gives you the opportunity to go back to the full-time while keeping your part-time hourly rate and getting all the benefits back, in which case the answer is "because your country has poor legislation regarding part-time workers".

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    That sounds like good advice for someone who works at a company with negotiable salaries. Unfortunately I work for a government organization with clearly-defined salary classes. I can't get a different classification (to get a different hourly rate) without changing jobs. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 14:34
  • @KristenHammack Yep, that's another exception I didn't think of. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 14:35

I think the answer is actually backward from what you're thinking. Since the Affordable Care Act law requires that companies give benefits for full-time workers, many [retail, food service] companies stopped offering full-time jobs in order to keep from having that huge overhead. It was estimated that up to a million people in those industries were pushed to part-time. In other words, part-time (under 30 hours) is now the way to keep from having to pay for benefits. Your case is obviously different since they already have you on-hand and with benefits, but perhaps they don't want to cross that threshold of giving benefits to someone part-time (for the reasons explained in posts above).


EDIT: Part-time employees rarely received benefits even before the ACA took effect in 2010 and there's nothing in the ACA that prevents an employer from switching someone to part-time.

2005: www.referenceforbusiness.com/small/Op-Qu/Part-Time-Employees.html 2006: allbusiness.com/should-part-timers-get-benefits-431-1.html 2008: twc.state.tx.us/news/efte/part_time_full_time.html


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