What Should You Do When Your Hours Are Cut at Work?

Morgan writes in:

For the past four months I have worked at a small store here in town. I had plenty of hours over the summer and I worked about thirty a week. But in the last few weeks my hours have dropped to about ten a week. I need more hours than this. Should I quit?

First of all, it is extremely difficult to find financial success when your hours are drastically cut. A cut in hours can take a stable life and put it straight into crisis mode, and it can often necessitate some kind of professional change, whether it means finding a new job or making demands at work.

So, to answer Morgan’s question, it’s clear that Morgan should do something, but quitting shouldn’t be the immediate first response. Let’s walk through some of the issues.

In this article

    The First Question Is “Why?”

    Why are your hours getting cut? An employer doesn’t just cut hours for no reason – there is some reason behind the change.

    One big reason is that the job may be a seasonal one. The business you work for may be attractive to tourists, and as tourist season winds down, the business owner simply can’t justify the hours that he/she was previously giving to employees. The customers can’t support it.

    Another reason may be that the business is struggling. This doesn’t reflect negatively on you as an employee, but may simply be the economic reality of the business. If a business isn’t doing so well, particularly a retail business, one solution is to cut hours to keep the business afloat.

    There are many other reasons, too. Perhaps there are performance issues. Are you not doing everything that you should be doing? There may simply be short term scheduling problems that aren’t being well communicated. There are countless personal issues that could be interfering here as well, from relationships between the employer and other employees to things like the relationship between the employer and you.

    The reason behind your cut in hours has a great deal of impact on what you should be doing. However, the first thing you should do is be proactive on your own behalf by standing up for yourself.

    Strategy #1: Ask for More Hours

    Whenever your hours are cut unexpectedly or cut below what you need to make ends meet, your first step should be to simply ask for more hours. Sometimes, that’s all that needs to be done.

    I’ll give you a specific example. I have a friend that worked at a local hourly job that needed her hours adjusted a little so she could be home when her child got home from school. Due to a lack of clarity in the conversation, the employer thought that the employee wanted fewer hours total rather than a shift change, so she simply cut her hours by two hours a day and gave those hours to another employee.

    After a more nuanced conversation, they came up with a solution that made everyone happy. She started training on how to open the store and the other morning and early afternoon employee shifted away from opening and agreed to work two hours later, as that employee wasn’t much of a morning person to begin with.

    Simple conversation can sometimes fix difficult situations, and you can launch that conversation by simply being direct and asking for more hours. If there’s nothing else going on, your supervisor will likely work with you to get things right.

    Strategy #2: Find Out Why Your Hours Have Been Cut

    What if your supervisor isn’t forthcoming with your request for more hours? What if you’re met with a “no” or a “not right now”?

    The next step should be to figure out why. There has to be a reason why your hours are getting cut, so you need to dig into the reasons for that.

    Again, candor is in your favor, as long as it’s calm and collected and rational. Simply ask why. Why were your hours cut?

    Generally, answers to that question will fall into one of two categories. Either they have to do directly with your performance or they have little or nothing to do with you. Your response to each should be very different.

    Strategy #3: If the Answer Is About Your Performance, Address That Problem

    If you find out that there is a performance-related issue of some kind, you must take action to fix that performance issue. There’s no way around it. If you are not doing your job up to reasonable expectations, then it’s not reasonable to expect to get paid for that job.

    If the reason for your hours getting cut is related to performance, figure out what the performance issue is and address it. Use the remaining hours that you have to fix that performance issue.

    If it’s related to how you interact with others, learn how to control your emotions and bite your tongue. If it’s related to how you perform some tasks, ask for instruction on how to perform those tasks well and assemble checklists if needed to help you remember all of the steps. If you have no idea how to address it, ask for help and accept that help when it is given.

    The thing is, if a performance issue is causing you to lose hours at this job, then that same performance issue is going to crop up again and again at similar jobs. If you struggle with professional relationships, changing jobs isn’t going to fix that. If you struggle with doing some tasks, changing jobs isn’t going to fix that. The best thing you can do is figure out how to break through those problems now.

    What’s the benefit of trying to deal with those problems in your current job? The biggest reason is that you can demonstrate to your boss that you can take feedback and improve your performance. Honestly, that’s the most valuable trait that many employers look for in entry level people – they can handle negative feedback and respond by improving their performance.

    The next biggest reason is that you can work out kinks in your performance at this job and then later move to another job and be prepared to be a top performer there from the start.

    If you get feedback related to yourself, take that feedback to heart and use it to improve. If you don’t know how, ask for help with sincerity and without negative responses – when you ask someone for help, they’re taking their time and energy to help you, so even if you don’t like it, recognize that for the gift that it is.

    Fix the problem, make sure your boss is satisfied, and then seek out more hours. You’re much more likely to get them if you’ve fixed your performance issues.

    Strategy #4: If the Answer Has Nothing to Do With You, Seek a New Job

    If the answer you get is unclear or it has nothing whatsoever to do with you, it’s time to seek a new job. Those types of things are outside of your control – there’s no action you can take to restore your hours.

    The solution in those situations is to seek out more hours elsewhere. Find a different job that gives you the hours you need to make ends meet.

    Depending on your situation, this may or may not involve quitting the first job. You may want to stick around with the previous job if it’s easy and enjoyable or if the shift is seasonal or the issues outside of your control are predictable. If they’re not predictable – such as if there are questions about the long term health of the business or if there are severe personality issues involved – you may be better off simply finding entirely different employment.

    If you do choose this route, find new work before you leave your old job. Don’t leave ten hours or twenty hours a week on the table because they won’t give you thirty. Keep working your limited hours, then use your other hours to find new work. If that new work takes precedence over your old job or if you’re going above the number of hours you can work, then quit your old job. Don’t throw it away until it has outlived its usefulness.

    Also, never, ever “burn bridges” as you leave a job. It provides no benefit whatsoever to you other than a short term “this feels good” that quickly fades and usually turns into regret. It also ensures that you’ll likely never be able to be employed there again, even if things change, and many of the people there will have a very negative opinion of you going forward. It is not worth it.

    If you do have legitimate issues that the business needs to be aware of, request an exit interview with your manager or someone else in the management structure and lay out your grievances calmly and clearly in a closed meeting. A public emotional outburst will not help you in any way, nor will it resolve any of the concerns you may want to be bringing to the table.

    Strategy #5: Find Out About Local Unemployment Laws

    Another thing to consider is whether or not your reduction in hours can trigger local unemployment laws. The laws regarding unemployment are different in different states, so it can be worthwhile to check with your local unemployment office if your hours are radically cut to see how they can help. A quick Google search for unemployment offices in your town can point you in the right direction.

    Trent Hamm

    Founder & Columnist

    Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.