One of the first things I learned in Industrial Psychology was the breakdown and distribution of labor. I learned what it meant to have a full-time equivalent (FTE), part-time, temporary and per-diem/on-call staff. Each of these components serves a different and essential purpose to your workforce planning. In fact, you cannot actually get any work done without first deciding what work needs to be done, how much time it takes to get the work done and how many people you will need to do it.
There has been a shift
Over ten years since my first Industrial Psychology class, I see labor distribution and allocation looking very different and even nonsensical.
Let’s take per diem staff for an example. Traditionally, per diems were used as workforce fillers. They were a subset of the workforce that you kept handy to cover peak times, special projects, surplus or leaves. Per-Diem staff did not have regular schedules and were often paid a higher hourly rate for their ability to be flexible and/or be called in at the last minute. They were just-in-time labor and we never treated them as anything but.
Fast forward to now, there is something very different going on with per-diems. Not only are they expected to be flexible as they have always been – they are also working the equivalent of full-time hours on a consistent basis.
I worked in Healthcare for 8 years. Many of my friends and colleagues are still in that field. One friend in particular has repeatedly worked as a per-diem nurse for various facilities. As a per-diem nurse, she has been expected to be flexible with her scheduling. She has also worked upwards of 40-50 hours per week in these roles.
Here’s the breakdown of labor:
- 32 hours of actual on-the-job labor
- An additional 8-10 hours off the clock answering phone calls, emails, and charting because of the insurmountable workload.
This schedule is consistent and is also considered what they call fee-for-service which means she gets paid for individual services provided to a patient. The issue is she has worked all of the hours above and is paid infrequently due to minor errors like an incorrect year being listed on the final chart. She uses her own car for this mobile position and although she was offered cases in close proximity to her home they consistently assign her an hour or more from her designated area. Even the expenses like her gas and the like have not been paid.
Why do I share this?
This company is pushing the limits on her labor. It is not reasonable for anyone to be classified as per-diem and be working as much or more than a full-time equivalent on a consistent basis. You can cite any rule you can find to support this from DOL – it makes no sense.
Secondly, if you are going to implement a point-of-service model for paying a subset of your workforce, you need to pay when the service is rendered – not when you choose or even when you get paid. There is absolutely no ROI on her working, because every time she thinks she is getting paid there is an issue pushing her payment further and further into the realm of unreasonableness. To date she is still waiting to be paid for three weeks worth of work. She’s basically working for free. The bills wait for no one.
Last but not least (and this applies to FTE’s, part-time, temp and per diem), there are reasonable and unreasonable limits for off-the-clock labor. One call for clarification on something is reasonable. An expectation of your employees being on email at all times and/or requiring after-hours calls is unreasonable. She receives calls and emails all times of the day and night and when she returns the phone calls there is no one there to receive it. This turns into hours of calls and returned calls and emails on a day when she isn’t officially on-the-clock.
I have witnessed the abuse of labor both as a practitioner and now as a consultant. Businesses have gotten really good at utilizing the loopholes in what DOL provides and they are using it against the workers. If you are a new business owner, established business owner or work in HR, here are some suggestions:
1) Work needs to start and end. Just because you have penchant for working excessive hours and wear that as a badge of honor- doesn’t mean others should do the same. Establish reasonable start times for work and encourage your employees to end at a designated time. The only purpose for extra hours of work is when there are tight deadlines and surplus. You should be training your people to be efficient. not over-worked zombies.
2) Respect your employees time off-the-clock. You many think your question or issue is pressing, but did you really take a moment to decide if it is more important than what your employee may be doing on their day off. No one wants to be disturbed at dinner, in the middle of family time or while out running errands. Be sure that your concerns are worth the interruption of their life.
3) Be careful how you are classifying your people. As I illustrated above, there are many abuses of per-diem staff going on. If you have that much of a need for additional assistance with getting work done, these workers need to be re-classified and offered all of the benefits, compensation and perks that come with part-time and full-time status. You will decrease your risk as the employer and appease the employee who will understand that you value their time and efforts.
Our job in HR is to be the moral compass for the organization among other things. Over-extending your workforce not only leads to turnover, but to absenteeism and wellness issues. It’s time we stop trying to cut corners and be good to the people that keep the business humming.