The share of workers reporting on-call shifts, where they are required to be available if needed but not paid for their time, last-minute changes to shifts and “clopenings” — the same worker closing the store and then opening it the next day— resembled those experienced in the years before the pandemic.
“Alongside the health risks, uncertainty, and stress of working during a pandemic, many service-sector workers continue to contend with chronically unpredictable and unstable work schedules,” the researchers, led by sociologists Daniel Schneider and Kristen Harknett, said in a brief.
Since 2017, Shift Project researchers have conducted online surveys twice a year with 110,000 hourly workers at around 150 of the largest retail and fast food chains in the United States. The latest surveys were taken during the fall of 2020, and researchers looked at workers’ schedules before and during the pandemic. They found few improvements.
Unstable schedules can cause harm for workers and their families: Other research has found that unpredictable work schedules can impact everything from workers’ health and well-being to their children’s sleep schedules and school attendance.
The impact of inconsistent schedules
“It’s made life a whole lot easier. I’m much more confident. I’m much more comfortable. I’m better rested,” Slaughter said. “I don’t have to worry about being stuck at work and can’t go get my baby.”
Dollar General did not respond to request for comment.
Schedule uncertainty and fluctuating hours bring a host of challenges to Isabela Burrows, a PetSmart worker in Howell, Michigan and a member of workers’ advocacy group United for Respect. She has to plan her second job and online college course work around her inconsistent schedule at PetSmart.
PetSmart said it does its best to accommodate workers’ scheduling preferences and give them as much advance notice as possible. The company said its scheduling practices balance customer, store and workers’ needs.
“If I had consistent hours I could schedule more time for homework and help out family.”
Fair workweek legislation
People of color are overrepresented in the service sector, and the Shift Project research found that “racial inequality in schedule notice widened during the pandemic.”
Workers of color were likelier than White workers to report having less than two weeks advance notice of their schedule during the pandemic and likelier to work on call. These disparities may come about because managers often control scheduling, “allowing an opportunity for conscious or unconscious biases and unequal treatment,” the researchers said.
Lawmakers have started to address erratic scheduling for retail and service workers.
Comparing workers in Seattle to those at the same companies in similar cities, the researchers found that predictability and stability of schedules made a positive difference in workers’ lives.
“The law also had significant downstream benefits,” the report said, “improving workers’ sleep, economic security, and overall happiness.”