Erratic hours weigh heavily on workers | Forum
Stacey, a single mom, was having 30 hours a week when she started working at a big box store in the Bay Area in early 2015. But her hours had become irregular by the time we interviewed her, a few months older. late: 8 p.m. one week, 12 the next, then 12 again, then only eight. The following week was even worse: only four hours, and on a Saturday, which meant she had to pay child care expenses for her 8-year-old son.
The only bright spot in that short week was that “now the pain is going away,” she said – the discomfort she felt in her feet and legs while standing all day. But even that was not worth the chaotic schedule and the resulting financial pressure.
When we spoke with Stacey (a pseudonym, as required by the research ethics guidelines we worked under), the single mom was making a little better than the California minimum wage of $ 9, and she was counting on Payday loans at very high interest rates to get through the slack periods.
The rallying cry for millions of workers is a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour. But in addition to low wages, erratic hours are another scourge of American workers, especially in the restaurant and retail industries: They interfere heavily with family life and are associated, according to our research, with poor sleep, to psychological distress and lower levels of happiness.
There are strong arguments for increasing the minimum wage. But our research suggests that regulations that impose some semblance of order on workers ‘hours could have an even bigger impact on workers’ well-being than an increase.
This does not mean, of course, that we have to choose between these two reforms, but the result shows how modern just-in-time schedules disrupt the lives of workers – and the problem does not attract the attention of policymakers as much as low salaries. .
It makes sense that unpredictable hours cause misfortune, but so far there was no data to explore the question. Since 2016, through a study called The Shift Project, we have been exploring the contours and consequences of just-in-time programming across the country. We surveyed 84,000 people, focusing on workers at 80 of the largest restaurant companies (usually fast food restaurants) and retail chains, as these industries are notorious for their use of irregular hours. We asked workers detailed questions about their hours, economic security, health and general well-being.
Unpredictable hours make sense from the employer’s point of view, from a purely economic point of view: it is about aligning the workforce precisely with demand, and thus transferring the risk of the wage bill from the company to the balance sheets of employees’ households. But this approach has significant costs in terms of employee well-being.
Our investigation confirmed the scale of the problem. Only about one in five of those surveyed works a regular day shift. About two-thirds of workers receive their weekly work schedule with less than two weeks’ notice, and one-third receive less than a week’s notice. Sixteen percent receive less than 72 hours’ notice – a scenario that makes it nearly impossible to plan for childcare, family meals, or time spent on homework.
A particularly onerous task demanded of retail and food service workers is working a closing team, and then immediately afterwards the opening team (for example, closing the store at 11 p.m. and then returning to open for a few hours. later). This is called “cloning”, and half of our respondents said they had worked on one.
More than a quarter said they were asked to be on call, which means they have set aside a period of time for the business but may not be working or be paid.
This kind of work carries a toll. Forty-six percent of the people in our sample have at least some psychological distress. This appears to be significantly higher than for the typical low-income worker, although precise comparisons are difficult. And our analysis of the data showed that distress increased as notice periods shortened, when workers had shifts canceled with little notice, and when they carried out “shutdowns.” Sixty-four percent of workers whose shifts were canceled reported psychological distress, for example, compared to 43% of those who did not.
The image was similar with sleep. Seventy-four percent of our respondents reported “bad” or “fair” sleep – and the more irregular the hours, the poorer the reported sleep.
Due to a lack of data, we don’t have a clear picture of the changes over time, although it seems clear that companies have become much more aggressive on this front. An exception to the lack of information concerns the variation in working hours. During the Great Recession, the variation in working hours from week to week increased, especially for low-paid and less educated workers, and remains high. In our data, workers report a 32% variation in hours worked, month-to-month, even though their bills are cutthroat.
Some cities are realizing this problem. Since 2014, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Philadelphia have passed laws regulating planning practices, to varying degrees, in retail and restaurant business, as has Oregon. Seattle law requires these employers to provide at least two weeks’ notice of work schedules. If they make a change in this window, they must pay extra for overtime and give half pay for the hours subtracted. Employers must also give workers 10 hours of rest between shifts. If they ask workers to work a shorter shift than that, they pay a rate and a half for the hours worked during the rest period. New York law requires fast food workers to be given 72 hours’ notice for shifts, prohibits last-minute shift cancellations, and prohibits on-call shifts.
These provisions do not require truly stable hours, but they greatly increase the predictability of working hours. Similar laws are being considered in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington State and Connecticut. At the federal level, a “Schedules that Work Act” was last presented to Congress in 2017, but it has languished.
Based on the link we identified between scheduling uncertainty and psychological distress, we estimated what would happen if certain policies changed in a city or state that currently lacks any scheduling regulations. If companies were required to give at least 72 hours’ notice before a shift change, compared to less than that, average rates of psychological distress would drop by 4.5 percentage points for affected workers. Eliminating on-call duty would reduce distress by an impressive 15 percentage points. Meanwhile, raising the minimum wage by $ 4 would reduce distress by just 2 percentage points.
Again, this is not to diminish the importance of a minimum wage, but to paint a more complete picture of the challenges facing low-income workers.
We often hear calls to ‘make work pay’, but in order for workers’ lives to be manageable, employers must also make work predictable. A national movement to make this happen for all workers is long overdue.
Daniel Schneider is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. Kristen Harknett is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco.