Study: Unstable work schedules are bad for workers' health
- Retail workers' have better health with more stable work schedules, according to a study of Gap employees by the University of California Hastings Center for WorkLife Law, University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina. The stress of unstable work schedules, which include working erratic hours, waiting to see if a call to work comes in and rearranging personal activities around work, can rob retail workers of much-needed sleep and create adverse health outcomes, the study noted.
- The study focused on the impact that unstable scheduling had on Gap workers' health, work-life conflict and financial well-being — and on the ways "interventions" such as eliminating on-call shifts or implementing stable shift structures affect both the business and employees. Among the study's key findings, 47% of workers said their work schedule interrupted their sleep, while 60% reported having stress-correlated physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches, in the past week unrelated to a prior health condition. Notably, 39% of mothers and 56% of fathers had to cancel an event or appointment in the last three months due to their schedule at the Gap.
- The interventions taken to counter the negative effects of unstable schedules included: eliminating on-call shifts, increasing part-time options, allowing tech-enabled shift swapping, adding targeted staffing, giving workers schedules two weeks in advance and stabilizing shifts. Based on the results of these interventions, Gap had a 7% increase in sales and a 5% increase in productivity. Workers experienced a 6% to 8% increase in self-rated sleep quality, 15% less stress for parents and 9% less stress for those holding two jobs, the study reported.
Employers are paying closer attention to the impacts of poor scheduling as they take a second look at their talent strategies. A WorkJam study on the economic hardships of unstable shifts on hourly hospitality and retail workers showed similar results, uncovering the financial setbacks workers face by missing a shift due to unpredictable scheduling.
Walmart recently made adjustments to their scheduling process by adopting a stabilizing shift system, which gives workers more predictability, flexibility and control over when they work. An app workers can access through their smartphones allows them to check schedules, sign up for shifts, swap shifts with coworkers and fill in when possible. By giving workers more scheduling options, they can better manage their lives and reduce some of the stress-induced health problems and financial hardships unstable scheduling creates.
A handful of cities and one state have stepped in to relieve hourly workers of the problems associated with unstable work shifts by adopting predictive scheduling laws. So far, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Philadelphia have adopted ordinances. To date, Oregon is the sole state to do so. Although the laws vary somewhat, most require employers to post workers schedules around two weeks in advance, restrict how schedules are changed or added, and limit on-call scheduling.
HR might find complying with state and city predictive scheduling laws burdensome, but the positive results for large businesses are worth noting; unplanned absences, sometimes caused by unpredictable scheduling, cost retailers one hour for every 10 budgeted. Predictive scheduling may also improve employee engagement and retention, two areas of focus for the talent-strapped retail and hospitality industries.