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Prepping for Obamacare? Why Not Every Business Should Shift to Part-Timers.

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Next year, all companies with 50 full-time workers or full-time equivalents will have to offer health insurance under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. So if you're the manager of a growing company, you might be tempted to hire only part-timers—or to switch some of your full-timers to part-time positions—so you can stay under that threshold.


Before you embrace the part-time workforce, though, you need to do some serious analysis. Figuring out if a part-time staff is a good idea depends on a variety of factors, including your industry, the types of positions you offer, and the corporate culture you want to create. "If you're going to go part time, the biggest concern is what caliber of people you're going to have," says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a staffing firm in Chicago. "You need to determine if the job can work around the hours."

As you research your options, keep these questions in mind.

What types of people or training do these roles really require?
Some job functions are a great fit for part-timers, Gimbel says, including retail salespeople and customer-service phone representatives. Those positions work well for people who aren't looking to climb a career ladder so much as they wish to supplement their incomes, such as college students and working moms.

Should some functions be outsourced entirely?
Gimbel suggests also looking at high-level staffers, such as accountants, and considering whether you can turn those full-timers into part-timers—or perhaps even outsource the function all together. "You need to look at your business from 30,000 feet," he says. "If you're paying your accountant or bookkeeper full-time but you only need them part-time, maybe you should eliminate that position and hire a small CPA firm to do the bookkeeping."

Does your business require long-term relationships with key clients?
Some positions need to be full-time no matter what, particularly if you're in a service-related business where clients expect to be able to form long-term working relationships with particular people. Flynn Zaiger, chief executive officer of New Orleans-based marketing agency Online Optimism recognized that fact when he started the company in late 2012. Of his five employees, he says, three are part-timers who create online content.

But it's Online Optimism's two full-timers who deal directly with clients—and who are always abreast on the latest happenings with those clients, so they can speak knowledgeably about each project. "There's nothing worse than a client calling and none of us knowing what they're talking about. You need to have employees who deal solely with certain clients," he says.

What can you do to ensure your part-timers don't quit?
Know that if you shift to part-timers, you need to keep them engaged or they'll jump ship to a competing company. Consider inviting everyone to a pizza lunch or a happy hour once a week, for example, and find a place to post everyone's photo, so employees who never cross paths can at least see who their colleagues are.

Christopher Weir, founder and principal of Spartan Junk Removal in Laurel, Md., says he fosters camaraderie by keeping everyone informed about how the company is doing financially. Spartan employs four part-timers, most of whom are college students. "I do a lot of education with my employees," Weir says. "I try to teach business skills. I show them that even though they see a lot of money coming in, there's a lot more going out than they expect. They get really excited about experiencing the business as a whole."

Of course, most small-business experts agree that even if you're not planning to provide health benefits, you should do what you can to help your employees—full-time and part-time alike—to navigate their choices. Create an online library of health-related websites such as your state's online insurance exchange, Gimbel suggests, or bring in an insurance broker to personally guide each employee through the process of finding a health plan.

Will providing healthcare keep you competitive?
This is perhaps the most important question of all, since at some point you will need to compete for top talent? Zaigler says he's already thinking about that, even though his company is still so small he doesn't have to worry about complying with Obamacare. "I truly believe that having happier employees is worth the cost of healthcare," Zaigler says. "If they understand you care about them, they'll work harder.

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