Businesses are starting to catch on that shifting their workers to more stable schedules can have big impacts on sales and productivity. New research supports the argument that stable schedules are better for both businesses and workers. A study done by researchers at the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, the University of Chicago, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in which I was one of the participating researchers, clearly makes this case.
For workers, we found that unstable scheduling resulted in serious detriments to health and wellbeing. Almost half (47 percent) of workers said that their work schedule interfered with their sleep. They reported sleeping an average of 6.2 hours a night before the days they worked, lower than the amount needed for good health. The stress of unstable schedules manifested itself physically for even more workers. Sixty percent reported symptoms like stomachaches or headaches unrelated to a medical condition.
In addition to health impacts, workers reported struggling to arrange their lives around their work schedules. In the three months before the survey, 56 percent of fathers and 39 percent of mothers reported having canceled an event that was important to their child because of the parent’s work schedule. Twenty-eight percent of retail workers who were students – who made up about half of our sample – had difficulties coordinating their classes with their work schedules.
Unstable scheduling also results in unpredictable and volatile earnings, and retail workers in our survey suffered from financial insecurity. A stunning 51 percent reported at least moderate food insecurity in the month preceding the survey. In the three months before the survey, 12 percent were late on rent or mortgage payments, 26 percent were late on utility payments, and 19 percent delayed going to the doctor or getting prescriptions filled because of financial concerns.
Our research team had the opportunity to conduct a true experiment with Gap to understand the impact of more stable schedules in stores. The results are good news for businesses: Sales increased by 7 percent in stores with greater stability. We found this result by implementing interventions in certain stores and comparing outcomes to stores that didn’t make the changes. We focused on four dimensions of schedule stability:
- Consistency: Schedules were made more consistent from week to week.
- Predictability: Workers knew when they were working and how many hours they would get.
- Adequacy: Workers could work the number of hours they wanted.
- Input: Workers were given a say in when they worked.
Gap implemented two-week advance schedule notice and eliminated on-call shifts across all of its stores. Five additional components made up the rest of our intervention:
- Tech-Enabled Shift Swapping: After the schedule was finalized, workers could post shifts they didn’t want and pick up other shifts.
- Stable Shift Structure: The number of different start and end times for shifts was reduced.
- Core Scheduling: Workers’ schedules were made more consistent day to day and week to week.
- Part-Time Plus: Some workers were given a “soft guarantee” of at least 20 hours per week.
- Targeted Additional Staffing: Stores were given additional payroll hours for times they were understaffed. This flexibility allowed managers to give more consistent hours to workers.
These small shifts toward more stable schedules for workers resulted in positive outcomes for stores and workers. As noted, sales in stores with more stable scheduling increased by 7 percent, which is notable for an industry in which companies work hard to achieve increases of 1-2 percent. The shift towards more stable schedules in 19 stores over a 35-week period resulted in $2.9 million in increased revenue for Gap. And stable schedules let workers sleep better, too: the scheduling shift was responsible for a 6-8 percent average increase in sleep quality for workers.
Quality sleep is essential for workers’ wellbeing. Lack of sleep is linked to negative health outcomes like cancer and cardiovascular disease. It’s bad for business too: research shows that sleep deprivation leads to productivity losses and high costs for businesses. When we don’t get enough sleep, it’s hard to think creatively and learn new things. This can make workers less productive and is especially problematic for the many retail workers who are also students.
Increasing scheduling stability offers great potential to improve the quality of retail workers’ jobs and lives. Businesses can make small or large changes, and can choose among a variety of approaches. I’ve listed some promising practices here, and our research report offers more ideas. Given evidence that stable scheduling is linked to boosts in sales, productivity, and employee health, it is clearly a win-win for businesses and workers.
About the author
Rachel Korn is the Director of Research at the Center for WorkLife Law, a research and advocacy organization at UC Hastings College of the Law that seeks to advance gender and racial equity in the workplace and in higher education. Her research at the Center has primarily focused on studying the correlates and consequences of inequality in the workplace.
Keep in touch
Learn how the Economic Opportunities Program is helping low- and moderate-income Americans connect to and thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, and other announcements.