Unpredictable scheduling brings added stress to the holidays for hourly workers

It is that time again: the season of busy schedules. It is the season when nearly every day is assigned a holiday party, a dinner, a school play, a holiday shopping list, a cookie-baking list, or a dreaded pre-guest, whole-house cleaning list. Despite the stress, it’s an exciting, fun-filled and busy time of year..

For people working a traditional, 9-to-5 schedule, the flurry of chores and engagements is difficult to squeeze into the available nights and weekends. For those who work hourly or lower-wage jobs, it can be downright impossible.

We all know that the holidays are a crucial season for many industries, including service, retail, shipping and others, and some workers in these industries may celebrate the opportunity to work the extra shifts they’ve needed throughout the year. However, these shifts may be condensed into a month-long window, with little time for the parties or family gatherings that make the holidays special, not to mention the necessary chores that accompany them. Furthermore, many hourly workers have no ability to influence when or how much they are scheduled to work.

As businesses struggle to react to shifting market demands, this unpre-dictability can be passed onto workers. Unpredictable schedules are difficult for anyone to manage, but they are particularly difficult for those with limited resources outside of work. Many workers may not have the luxury of outsourcing non-work responsibilities such as childcare. And coordinating schedules among family and friends who help provide care becomes complicated when schedules aren’t predictable. Many daycares request or require predictability that working parents can’t provide due to their own shifting schedules.

At the Institute for Workplace Innovation (iwin), our research has shown that scheduling issues can lead to work-family conflict, stress and ultimately negative health consequences for workers. Last year, iwin published a report titled Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers that found that the most common scheduling conflicts arise from employees’ lack of input into their schedules, short notice regarding their schedules and a fluctuating number of hours. In essence, when workers can’t predict when they’ll work or how much they’ll make, they can’t effectively plan for other parts of their lives, either. No matter how organized someone is with their non-work obligations, if she can’t influence her work schedule, conflict and stress will most likely occur.

We also understand that managers may not realize the impact that scheduling practices may have on their staff and are often under extreme pressure to meet business needs while using minimal resources. So how can employers accommodate workers’ needs while meeting business objectives?

The authors of the above report, Jennifer Swanberg of iwin and Liz Watson, Legislative Council, Workplace Flexibility 2010, recommend three scheduling guidelines for managers that can help workers negotiate their work and non-work obligations: 1) solicit employee input into schedules before they are drafted, 2) try to maintain predictability in the days and number of hours when possible, and 3) guarantee a minimum or maximum number of hours for workers.

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