Hourly employees often work irregular schedules that can drastically change from week to week, often with little notice. Not knowing their schedules in advance can make it harder for hourly workers to plan childcare and healthcare or obtain higher education to advance their careers. While predictability and flexibility are universal desires for hourly workers, according to the Families and Work Institute (FWI), these needs are rarely met—and research indicates that both workers and their employers lose value as a result.
Nearly 80 percent of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck. For people who depend on working a certain number of hours each week to meet expenses, an irregular schedule can mean going without basic necessities—not to mention the fact it makes it difficult to add a second job.
This study released in mid-February adds insight: WorkJam, a company specializing in employee engagement software, asked hourly workers what would happen if they missed just one shift in a week. About half said they would have to pay utilities “and other necessities” late, 27 percent said they would have to delay paying rent, and another quarter said they would have to skip buying groceries for the week.
Given the major consequences that come along with irregular scheduling, it’s no surprise that low-wage workers—of whom 86 percent are paid hourly—tend to be less satisfied with their jobs and less likely to remain with their employers compared to higher-wage workers, according to the FWI.
This dynamic leaves several impacts on employers, too: Worker frustration leads to low employee engagement, which leads to high turnover, meaning loss of profit. But the FWI found that when scheduling flexibility is increased, there is a high payoff for low-wage workers—leading to greater satisfaction, longevity with the company, and improved physical and mental health. Less time and resources spent on training new workers, in turn, can benefit the company’s bottom line.
Research shows that people under 30—who make up more than 70 percent of hourly workers, according to the Labor Department—are even more likely to respond to increased scheduling flexibility. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that 83 percent of young hourly workers “would be more likely to stay in their current job if they have more control over their work schedules.”
Though employee engagement is a continuous challenge for the world’s largest companies, hourly workers are often left out of this conversation. Given hourly workers’ expressed desire for more regular and flexible schedules, taking a second look at scheduling is an opportunity for companies to engage—and ultimately retain—more people.
So, how can companies effectively increase predictability and flexibility without creating more burden for management? The SHRM recommends increasing hourly worker engagement by involving employees in the scheduling process. It also advises companies to move away from the trend of “just-in-time” scheduling, where workers find themselves on-call to come into work when needed, to a system in which employees gain more control and consistency in their work schedule.
Furthermore, WorkJam suggests digitized scheduling systems that allow workers to cancel shifts, trade with coworkers and communicate with managers through a mobile app. While technology may not always be the answer, putting some control at the worker’s fingertips does add literal and figurative “engagement.” Delegating control to employees through technology or other means, with manager approval, also alleviates pressure on management while meeting the emotional - and in the end, even financial - needs of employees.
There are many systems out there that claim to solve all scheduling issues and single-handedly increase employee engagement. But as many studies have shown, workers are more interested in their employers making an effort to improve their day-to-day work experience—and digital, analog and paper systems are all able to accomplish this. Any system that adds predictability and flexibility to the precarious life of hourly work will very likely increase employee satisfaction and decrease turnover.
The ideal system provides flexibility—allowing workers to have a say in when they work—as well as predictability. Employees should be able to count on having a specific schedule, week after week, with minimal changes—unless they choose to change, add or miss a shift. Ensuring these basic rights will not only create a healthy and productive work environment, but it will also contribute to a more successful business.
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Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.