Flexible Schedules Are No Better Than No Schedule At All

That incendiary headline is not totally off, it turns out. In certain environments—like retail stores and hotel chains—so-called “just-in-time scheduling” wreaks havoc on hourly employees’ lives and also increases absenteeism and turnover.

Kimberly Weisul at Bnet found a recent study that analyzed such unpredictable schedules and their effects on work-life balance and productivity in the office.

The study found:

  • Almost half of workers said they had three different end times in the previous week
  • 60 percent of workers said their schedule changed “a lot” or “a fair amount” week to week
  • And one store said 80 percent of its employees were on probation for attendance problems. Since it seems unlikely that 80 percent of staff would really be that unreliable, the store’s problems could be of its own making.

The conclusions: A changing schedule is as good as none. But some places really don’t know how many people they’ll need consistently.

In those cases, managers that allow workers to swap shifts without consulting the boss are highly regarded, Weisul says. Other suggestions: training “floaters” who can fill in where needed, letting workers take vacation “days” in hourly or partial day increments, or scheduling more people than needed so employees know they have a safety net.

Lest you think unpredictable schedules are just found within the realm of low-wage retail jobs, think again: this type of schedule is fairly common amongst entry-level journalism positions, and we wouldn’t be surprised to hear it is common in PR or marketing firms as well. Have you worked one of these gigs?