Consistent Work Schedules Help Both Employees and Profits

March 30, 2018

As anyone who’s ever worked in retail knows, dealing with unpredictable work hours can be a frustrating experience. At the Gap, for instance, schedules must be posted 10 days in advance but can change quickly if the staff must prepare for big events like sales promotions or visits from executives. Even during standard operating times this system is far from perfect, with employees uncertain if they’ll work the same shifts from one week to the next. “I don’t count on the hours in my schedule,” said Sam Stephenson, a Gap staffer in North Carolina. “I don’t count on the money I’m supposed to be getting.”

Statements like this are the reason why a team of scholars recently conducted a scheduling experiment with more than two dozen Gap stores. While a third of these locations operated normally, the researchers encouraged managers at the remaining stores to provide workers with more consistent schedules. This included establishing predictable start and end times to work days as well as more stable scheduling from week to week. By the end of the study, sales at stores that participated in the experiment were 7 percent higher than the locations that stuck with the company’s normal procedures. That number becomes even more impressive when one considers that most retailers shoot for just a 1 to 3 percent improvement in sales every year.

Nevertheless, the stores that followed the researchers’ directions still struggled to provide stable schedules for every employee. For instance, an average worker with 16 shifts a month would have 10 of those shifts scheduled for a consistent time of day at a store that participated in the experiment. For a staffer working at a standard Gap location, however, they would receive 9 consistently scheduled shifts. So how did sales improve so significantly if many workers had to deal with the same unpredictable schedules? The researchers think that store managers disproportionately focused on scheduling experienced employees with more consistency, leading to lower turnover and better performance.

“It looks like managers did the rational thing — they had to improve stability, and so they picked the more experienced people,” said Saravanan Kesavan, a business professor at University of North Carolina and one of the authors of the study. “Now you have more experienced people in the store, and the productivity you’re seeing increased, leading to higher sales.”

Questions:

  1. How can inconsistent scheduling frustrate employees?
  2. Do think this study proves that retailers should provide their employees with more predictable work schedules? Why or why not?

Source: Noam Scheiber, “A Find at Gap: Steady Hours Can Help Workers, and Profits,” The New York Times, March 28, 2018. Photo by photosteve101.

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