Study: Discouraging Trends in Retail Employee Scheduling


The retail world has been abuzz this week with a report from Retail Action Project that speaks to the pains of being a shift worker in the industry. The report, “Discounted Jobs: How Retailers Sell Workers Short” looked at 436 frontline, non-managerial retail workers in New York City, the retail capital of the United States. The industry-wide issues reflected in the study go far beyond just low wages and non-existent benefits (but, in case you’re interested, more than half earn less than $10/hour, and over 70% don’t receive health insurance), but arguably the most shocking finding is the growth of “just in time” scheduling, aka “structured instability.”

If you’re thinking that even the name sounds chaotic, that’s because it is. This “structured instability” speaks to the new trend of managers scheduling fewer employees, yet asking their staff to stay on call in case of last-minute needs. As the Business Insider explains, “This practice maximizes staffing flexibility at the cost of worker stability and also keeps some workers from claiming full-time benefits.”

Fewer hours not only lead to fewer benefits, but also an unpredictable paycheck. Constantly being on call instead of scheduled ahead-of-time annihilates the opportunity to budget and plan for the future. In fact, only 17% of study participants have a regular schedule, which leads one to question how the other 83% manage their schedules.

The answer? They don’t manage their schedules, but instead are forced into a wait-and-see pattern. In case changes show up mere hours before the next shift, retail workers are expected to check their schedules 24/7. This would be difficult enough if all schedules were accessible online, but many businesses have yet to merge the digital world with  their employee scheduling processes. Not only is this frustrating for employees, but it’s also not practical with the multiple responsibilities most shift workers balance in their day-to-day lives. Without a consistent schedule maker, companies can’t expect to see a reversal in this trend anytime soon.

Most of us here at When I Work have been retail employees, and have felt the pain of these very issues. Even 10 years ago these concerns were on the tips of our tongues. For these reasons, we created When I Work to make it easy for managers to be respectful of their employees’ time, while still being prepared for whatever comes their way on any given day.

Study: Discouraging Trends in Retail Employee Scheduling