Journal Article

Shifting Hours: Unstable Work Scheduling Practices

Abstract: Stable work schedules are a key component of job quality and of supporting a thriving labor force. Stable scheduling practices are associated with improved job attachment, lower turnover, and higher revenues.i On the other hand, employer-initiated unstable scheduling practices have been shown to destabilize workers’ finances, sleep, caregiving, education, other employment, and community and leisure activities, and are associated with negative health outcomes, reduced worker satisfaction, and increased turnover.ii Though unstable scheduling practices are widespread, with about 41% of all workers experiencing such practices, hourly and part-time workers and workers in low-wage occupations are especially affected. Further, due to occupational segregation,iii workers of color are disproportionately impacted by unstable scheduling and its negative outcomes. These inequities in scheduling instability were only compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.iv As jobs have been added back into low-wage industries hit hard by the pandemic, workers’ hours in many of those jobs have remained low and unstable.v Unstable scheduling practices exacerbate the increasingly steep tradeoffs that low-income households face in navigating the costs of low-wage work, including the costs of transportation, housing within a reasonable distance of work, and caregiving. This instability in work hours and income makes it particularly difficult to qualify for employer and state benefits, access reliable care, pursue education or training, and consistently cover rising basic costs of living. As these factors play a role in household employment decisions, understanding unstable scheduling is an important consideration for the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate. This brief outlines the employer practices that comprise unstable scheduling, how underwork and overwork—and fluctuations between the two—can be understood as intertwined with unstable scheduling, and how we can measure the prevalence of unstable scheduling practices across industries. What follows is a discussion of the inequitable distribution and impacts of unstable scheduling, the negative effects of unstable scheduling practices for all workers, and the benefits of stable scheduling for both workers and employers. The final section discusses how potential solutions could address both quality and quantity of work hours, as well as the related challenges of accessing benefits and affordable care.

Keywords: employment; work; work hours; hours; time;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Part of Series: Community Development Research Brief

Publication Date: 2022-12-22

Volume: 2022

Issue: 07

Pages: 27

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