Retail ClerkThose who are re-entering the workforce after mental health breaks often find themselves able to obtain only part-time work. That doesn’t make them unusual: according to Gallup, 65% of the US workforce does not receive a single paycheck that represents as much as 30 hours per week of work.

So let’s say this slightly fragile (at the moment) person gets a generous $10 per hour for 29 hours per week, all 52 weeks a year. That adds up to $15,080. Even if they’re sharing housing, eating beans and peanut butter, and driving an 8-year-old car, they’re still financially challenged. They need another job, right?

And since they’re only working 29 hours — four 7.25-hour days or something like that — they probably have bandwidth to fit in some additional work. But is it possible to arrange a work schedule to accommodate a second job?

Unpredictable Schedules Make 2nd Jobs Hard to Arrange

When I was working in retail recently, my schedule varied week by week, even though I only worked three shifts and consistently took the single most undesirable shift in our team, the one that starts at 4:30 a.m. on Monday. I found out my weekly schedule just 3 days before the week began. I couldn’t tell another employer that I’d be available at any given time.

I had colleagues who were juggling successfully. Don’t ask me how. Two of them had two other jobs. One of them was always on the edge of a meltdown because it had been so many months since she’d had a full day off.

Odd Hours Take a Toll on Friendships

My 22.5-hour part-time schedule not only limited my ability to improve my income; it almost completely prevented me from cultivating friendships and engaging in my community. My best friend and I both worked at the same shop, and we found ourselves communicating by IM, just as we had when she lived seven time zones away on another continent.

With just a 22.5-hour schedule, I couldn’t commit to a choir rehearsal or a Bible study. If I was free for the choir rehearsal, I was scheduled to work during church. If I could get to this week’s Bible study, I couldn’t attend the next two. Imagine how difficult it would be to get to a child’s school for a teacher meeting or ball game or performance. I would tell my doctor, “We can schedule the appointment and I’ll ask my job to schedule around it.” Usually that worked. But not always.

Employer: Predictable Schedules ‘Not Fair’

Here’s the HR policy I learned that drove these many challenges:

“We are not allowed to give fixed schedules. That would not be fair to everyone.”

I have to ask: What’s “not fair” about giving everyone a schedule predictable enough that they can have a life and find enough jobs to support themselves?

I do understand the need to staff up and down seasonally. But surely there’s some way to create core schedules with fluctuations built on top of them. And, for that matter, why wouldn’t a company place the burden of schedule fluctuations on the people who are paid for enough hours that they don’t need to work multiple positions?

Can’t Part-Time Work be Better Scheduled?

Those of you who are Christians with part-time employees, please help me understand why:

  • Why are schedules too inconsistent for employees to also schedule financially essential time at other jobs?
  • Why our “full employment” economy provides about $15,000 per year for nearly two-thirds of our “employed”?

And take this from me as a plea:

  • Your part-time staff — most of the workforce — deserves to be able to participate in church, community, and friendships.
  • Where the structure of work prevents nearly 2/3 of Americans from participating in community, the structure of work is adding to the mental health burden. Isolation is a sure driver of mental illness, and community engagement is one of the most important ways to maintain mental health.

By the way, I haven’t even mentioned the “CLOPEN,” a schedule where the same employee “CLOses” one night and “oPENs” the next morning, usually on five or fewer hours of sleep. This staggers even healthy employees; it can entirely unbalance an employee with a mood or psychotic disorder. Again, when any part-time employee works less than 30 of the 84 or more hours a business is open in a week, I can’t understand the need to schedule this way.

Christians who own or manage businesses: can you find ways to limit employment challenges to the actual demands of the job?

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