What Is a Zero Hour Contract? (Advantages and Disadvantages)

Updated December 11, 2022

Companies can offer new hires various types of contracts to outline the parameters of an employment relationship depending on their credentials, company requirements, and other circumstances. An example of this is zero hours, where a company temporarily hires additional employees to compensate for workforce shortages. Learning about this type of contract can help you decide whether it's ideal for your qualification or career. In this article, we define a zero hour contract, list types of jobs that may require the use of this, outline the advantages and disadvantages, and provide alternative agreements.

What is a zero hour contract?

A zero hour contract refers to an employment agreement offered to employees with inconsistent work schedules or who only work when jobs are available. In these cases, the employer agrees to provide work to the staff member when it's presented. The specifics of each contract may vary, but in some cases, personnel may have the freedom to choose if they want to accept the tasks.

Zero hour contracts typically state that an individual may work a minimal quantity of hours or shifts monthly, usually specified by the employer, and the employee has the option to decline any inconvenient period. This type of agreement is applicable when hiring seasonal or temporary employees, such as labourers or caregivers. It may not include information regarding the standard payment rate, regular schedules, or benefits, as it rarely provides such protections compared to full- or part-time contracts.

Related: What Are Contract Jobs? With Tips, Challenges, and Benefits

Types of jobs that may require zero hour agreements

Companies seeking to adapt to fluctuations in labour put a greater emphasis on workforce flexibility. This is where a zero hour arrangement provides a mechanism to handle workload variations brought about by seasonal changes, personnel absences, and special occasions. These contracts are beneficial to employers where outside factors cause an unpredictable workload, making it challenging to guarantee full-time work. These industries include entertainment, hospitality, social and health services, academia, retail, and tourism. Here are some situations when the zero hour arrangement is necessary:

  • New business: This agreement can be beneficial for new companies, especially when the demand for its products is not yet known.

  • Flexibility requirement: These types of contracts give individuals the freedom to study, take a semi-retirement, or pursue additional interests.

  • Unexpected events: For instance, a caterer may acquire a new deal, necessitating hiring more employees to help with that specific function.

  • An agency offering specialized services: For example, a company offering translation or interpretation services may only hire an expert when a client for a specific language requires one.

Related: How to Calculate Hours Worked: Tools and Strategies

Advantages of zero hours contracts

Here are some benefits of this type of agreement:


Contract employees can work whenever it is convenient for them due to the flexible work schedule. While many permanent employees adhere to a schedule set by their employers, zero hour contracts allow the employee to specify their availability. Additionally, an employee may be aware of the work start and end dates, giving them the opportunity to engage in other activities.

These agreements also give companies the flexibility to respond quickly to fluctuations in demand during peak seasons or certain occurrences. Also, various employee groups, such as students who may not want permanent employment, may benefit from the versatility.

Better work–life balance

A flexible work schedule allows you to manage your lifestyle and advance professionally without personal sacrifices. It lets you devote time to activities, such as spending time with your loved ones or participating in hobbies. It can improve your emotional well-being by eradicating the overburdened feeling that may result from work obligations.

Maintaining a good work–life balance may also be crucial if you wish to achieve other goals while developing professionally. For instance, you might enroll in a course that demands more time to attend classes and study the course material. A zero hour contract job lets you manage how much time you devote to your obligations.

Read more: Why Work–Life Balance Is Important (With Benefits and Steps)

Better compensations

Employers typically deduct money from salaries to pay for benefits associated with traditional employment, such as healthcare insurance and pension plans. With a zero hour agreement, you may not qualify for such benefits, which allows you to acquire maximum payments. Also, full-time employees receive a predetermined salary no matter the number of working hours, excluding overtime. In comparison, zero hour contract employees get paid on the amount of work or hours. This means the more they work, the more they earn. They are free to work for other employers, maximizing the overall amount they receive.

Related: 9 Ways to Make Employees Feel Valued at Work (With Benefits)

Easy to get a full-time job

Contract work can provide opportunities for full-time employment in your field. An employer can evaluate the quality of your work and determine how your abilities benefit the company. Your knowledge of the business's preferences can also give you an advantage over other candidates when seeking a permanent position. Additionally, if you impress the employer with your performance, they may be more confident to take you on as a full-time staff member. These agreements might also allow inexperienced employees to enter a new field of work. Such a partnership can eventually result in long-term employment when the business expands.

Growth opportunities

Contract employees typically have more possibilities to develop new skills because of the higher mobility of their work and the opportunity to work with several employers. Each project might necessitate a particular approach or talent, like the ability to operate new technologies. This could result in an employer inviting you to participate in training programs to help create a career technique. You may eventually try several approaches to find the ones that fit your interests.

Start-up companies might not know where to concentrate expertise to get effective results. The zero hour agreements reduce the risk of hiring too many individuals whose talents may ultimately be redundant.


The simplicity of these agreements makes them appealing to employers, as they offer flexibility without dealing with much paperwork or compliance issues. This relationship streamlines the recruitment process without engaging in lengthy negotiations or facing legal challenges when terminating contracts. At the same time, employees can get a job opportunity without paperwork obligations or commitment to any particular shift schedule. This arrangement might be beneficial to students and individuals working in multiple jobs.

Related: A Guide to Negotiating a Contract Effectively (With Tips)

Disadvantages of zero hour contracts

Here are some disadvantages of this type of contract:


As these contracts don't guarantee work, you could find yourself without a shift for days or weeks at a time. You may also be unable to verify the next job's availability. The lack of predictability can make it hard to plan your life around working hours, which is especially important if you have other responsibilities.

Inability to plan finances

Being unable to plan finances is one of the most significant problems arising from such arrangements. For example, it may be difficult for an individual to predict their income and expenses if there are no set working hours. It may also be challenging to save for retirement, go on vacation, or manage other financial obligations without a steady income.

Decreases employee engagement and retention

Zero-hour employees might perceive that they aren't getting the same treatment as full-time employees, lowering their morale and engagement. This can be a result of unstable employment and benefits received. They can lead to them searching for jobs elsewhere, which reduces the employee-retention rate.

Read more: Retaining Talented Employees (With Benefits and Strategies)

Affects production

As there's no obligation for the employee to accept tasks, employers who depend on these contractors may not complete projects on time. This may affect production, customer satisfaction, and revenue. Such organizations may require incentives to encourage quick turnaround work and ensure they inform staff members of future initiatives.

Alternative contract agreements

Contracts with zero hours function well in circumstances where workloads change suddenly. Alternative hiring approaches may be appropriate where workloads are consistent or predictable, for example, in the retail sector, where the workload increases during holiday seasons. It might be more suitable to hire employees on either part- or full-time fixed-term contracts during such a period. Organizations offering zero hour contracts to employees who work regular hours may risk legal action. Below are some alternatives companies can use:

  • Temporary, permanent, or part-time employment

  • Fixed-term agreements

  • Annual hour contracts that consider changes in workload throughout the year

  • Overtime pay for current employees

  • Hire multi-skilled employees to fill several employment positions

  • Hire extra employees to cover both scheduled and unexpected absences

  • Hire agency employees

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