How do Zero Hour Contracts Affect Motivation in the Workplace?

Posted in Positive Workplace Culture, Employee Engagement, Incentive and Recognition

by Iain Thomson on May 29, 2015 12:00:00 AM

Is zero hours good or bad for business?

For a long time zero hour contracts have been the subject of a fairly contentious debate. Regardless of this, it is important to ensure that employee’s who are on these contracts feel as valued and willing to work as those who are not.

In this weeks guest post, Jenny Ho, on behalf of Law on the Web, examines the overall impact of these zero hour contracts on employee motivation.

Zero hour contracts have caused controversy since they became prominent after the global financial crisis between 2007 and 2009. Employees on a zero hour contract have no guaranteed hours; they could have four hours one week and 35 the next. It’s unpredictable, yet while it doesn’t work for everyone, some employees do support the contract.

We’ve taken a look at both sides of the story and discovered what motivational impacts zero hour contracts can have on employees.

First of all, it’s important to note that according to the Office for National Statistics, 2.3% of the workforce in the UK are working on a zero hour contract, with big name brands such as Tesco, Sports Direct and Burger King issuing this type of employment contract. A number of the workforce in the UK will stay on a zero hour contract because they need to support themselves and struggle to find and secure another job, while others choose to be on a zero hour contract because it’s better suited to their lifestyle.

Why do we still have zero hour contracts?

Companies like the flexibility of having employees on zero hour contracts as it can often be cheaper than paying agency fees. It’s also ideal for workplaces which often experience busy periods and need cover immediately and temporarily such as restaurants and venues; it allows them to use staff when needed and they don’t have to hire temps.

Some zero hour contracts allow employees to work for other companies when they have no hours, however, some have clauses in them which state that the employee must only work for the company providing them the contract, which could largely affect the motivation of the employee and could open the door to the abuse.

Why do some people like being on a zero hour contract?

Many people like being on a zero hour contract because there is no full commitment to working a set amount of hours each week. Employees are committed to their role but it’s not full time and the hours allow them to be free to take up other hobbies, tasks and roles.

A zero hour contract can be good for students or retired people who need a little extra money or want to work to keep busy, but have no need for commitment or a stable income.It allows them to work when they can and decline when they are busy and avoids the stress of juggling their lifestyle and a full time job.

It’s ideal for freelancers who enjoy the flexibility of freelancing but need some extra income, and also convenient for people trying to pursue a career and require time off to attend auditions and travel.

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How can zero hour contracts affect the motivation of employees?

Having a job where the hours aren’t solid and reliable can be tough on individuals who need to pay the bills and provide for their family. It’s not convenient for them to have an uncertain amount of money coming in each month, and often they feel anxious that they cannot plan their finances.

It could also prevent them from achieving the following:

  • Getting a mortgage
  • Being granted credit or a loan
  • Holidays
  • Direct debits

Workers on a zero hour contract can often feel under pressure to accept work, even when the timings are not ideal. They feel if they don’t accept the shift that they are given they will not be offered work in the future, and in some workplaces this is the case, but also because they need the money and may not get offered hours again soon.

In addition to the financial worry that employees may experience, they may also feel undervalued as an employee too. Having little or no hours can cause employees to feel vulnerable and unable to speak up to managers about any concerns that they may have regarding their role or the company, for fear of not being given hours. It can also lead them to feel as though they have no clear progression route in place, and not enough skills and training experience to gain better roles in other companies – causing them to stay on the zero hour contract because the confidence in their ability has been damaged.

How to motivate employees on a zero hour contract

To help encourage motivation it’s important to treat them as though they are employees, and not casual workers or temps. Make them feel as though they are a part of the team when they work and provide them sufficient training so they feel they can do the best job they can.

It’s also essential that you inform them of their entitlements:

  • Statutory annual leave
  • National minimum wage
  • A written statement of the terms and conditions of their contract.

This type of contract can cause both positive and negative motivation. On one hand, it may motivate an employee to work as hard as they can with the hope that they will be promoted, given more hours or put on a full time contract. However, on the other hand employees can feel demotivated because they feel they are not valued and appreciated by the company and may feel as though they don’t need to work as hard because they don’t know when their next shift will be.

By ensuring that employees on any contract at a company are treated fairly and equally, workplace motivation can increase – encouraging a happy and safe workplace for all employees.

Written by Jenny Ho on behalf of Law On The Web.

For more information please visit:

 Square Pegs and Round Holes


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