In Focus: Employees and Responsive Workplaces

Mar 10, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Unstable Work Schedules Hurt Economy, Communities, and Families

by Liz Ben-Ishai

Imagine if your work schedule changed from week to week or even from day to day. Imagine being scheduled to work 40 hours one week and 15 hours the next, with no warning of these fluctuations. Imagine paying for child care, only to have your manager send you home without pay, claiming there aren’t enough customers for you to work your shift. For many lower-wage workers, it doesn’t take much imagination at all to conjure up these scenarios.

A new report by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Retail Action Project (RAP), and Women Employed reveals that unstable and unpredictable work schedules have severe implications for hourly-wage workers, as well as businesses and consumer spending. The report highlights two policy approaches that would lift up the economy and give workers a boost so that they can cover the basics.

Tackling Unstable and Unpredictable Work Schedules examines the recent trend toward “just-in-time” scheduling practices, where employers schedule workers based on fluctuating consumer demand, which they monitor from day to day or even hour to hour.

These struggles aren’t unusual; a study of 17 major U.S. corporations in various industries found that only three gave more than a week’s notice of schedules. Another study focusing on one major U.S. retailer found that 59 percent of full-time hourly workers experienced fluctuations in either the days or hours of their shifts from week to week.

Two approaches that some employers are taking create jobs with better conditions while meeting business needs.  For example, Costco jobs guarantee a minimum number of hours each week. Cooperative Home Care Associates, a home care staffing agency, has a program that guarantees participating employees a set number of paid hours per week, even if they are not ultimately needed to work all of those hours. In addition to these voluntary minimum hours policies, some collective bargaining agreements and many states’ laws require employers to pay a set amount even if they send a worker home early or decide the worker is not needed for a shift (known as “reporting pay”).

Erratic schedules can cause workers to lose wages and jobs, which leaves them unable to pay for basic goods. Businesses should be concerned. In fact, Wal-Mart was recently the focus of press coverage as it weighed whether to support an increase in the federal minimum wage—a choice driven by the company’s reliance on low-wage workers not only as employees but also as customers. Just as Wal-Mart is waking up to how wages matter to the company and the larger economy, it is time for businesses to realize that unstable scheduling practices are a part of the picture, too.

With nearly 8 million hourly-wage workers in the U.S., many of whom struggle to pay the bills and cover the rent, it’s clear that change is needed. We need public policies that make it possible for working families to get by—and this includes policies that help to create good jobs. Stable and predictable schedules are a key piece of the job quality puzzle.

Read Tackling Unstable and Unpredictable Work Schedules.

Feb 12, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Costas, Wonkblog are Right: Going to Work Sick is a Bad Idea

by Liz Ben-Ishai

In today's Wonkblog piece, "Bob Costas is right: Going to work sick is a terrible idea," on the broadcaster's withdrawal from NBC's Olympics coverage, Sarah Kliff rightly points out that many U.S. workers go to work sick because they don’t have access to paid sick days, leading to high rates of costly “presenteeism.”

One of the most devastating aspects of this issue is that those who need paid sick days most—low-wage workers—are least likely to have access to them. Nearly 80 percent of the lowest-wage workers lack a single paid sick day. In fact, almost half of all workers making less than $514/week receive no paid leave of any kind (no personal leave, sick leave, family leave, or vacation). And the consequences for families’ economic security are severe: one in seven (14 percent) low-wage workers has lost a job in the past four years because they were sick or needed to care for a family member. For low-wage working moms, the number rises to almost one in five. Workers who can’t afford to lose wages or even jobs are forced to go to work sick, or send a sick child to school. To protect these workers, along with the public health and our economy, laws that guarantee employees the right to earn paid sick days are essential.

Around the country, advocates are successfully campaigning to pass such laws at the state and local level; hopefully, a federal standard will soon make it possible for all workers in the U.S. to have such protections.

Jan 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Survey Shows that Restaurants Can Reduce Costs Through Better Employment Practices

By Lauren French

The restaurant industry is an important part of our economy, employing over 10 million people and generating sales revenues of $660.5 billion in 2013 alone. But despite its success, the industry offers its employees notoriously low wages and limited access to benefits and advancement opportunities. A new study shows that these practices may be harmful not just to workers, but to businesses as well. 

The study, which was written by Rosemary Batt and Jae Eun Lee of Cornell Universtiy and Tashlin Lakhani of Ohio State University, and released by Restaurant Opportunities Center United, includes the first national survey of work and human resource management in the U.S. restaurant industry. High Road 2.0: A National Study of Human Resources Practices, Turnover, and Customer Service in the Restaurant Industry examines the impact of negative employment practices on turnover and employment stability and shows how they can hurt restaurants’ bottom lines. 

High levels of employee turnover and low rates of worker tenure are prevalent through all segments of the restaurant industry, especially moderately priced and fast food or “quick serve” establishments. The study finds that almost one in two fast food workers quits or is fired from his or her job each year. Turnover is expensive for a number of reasons: labor costs related to recruitment and training; loss of proficiency and productivity; lack of employee loyalty and commitment; and overall disruption of operations. Turnover costs range anywhere from $18,200 for an establishment with 30 employees to $1.82 million for a chain of 100 restaurants.

 Fortunately, the industry’s turnover problem is not insurmountable. The study finds that implementing better workplace practices, such as increasing wages, can reduce turnover by almost 50 percent. Indeed, while restaurants with the worst human resources practices experience annual turnover rates of 45 percent and a typical worker tenure of 3.6 years, establishments with the best practices experience just a 26 percent turnover rate and enjoy an average worker tenure of 6.3 years

 According to the survey, the most important human resource practices that restaurants can implement to decrease turnover and increase worker tenure are higher hourly wages and greater job security, as well as predicable full-time schedules, more discretion on the job, and the opportunity for internal promotion. Other helpful practices include providing job training and organizing work to allow employees to effectively use their skills. Restaurants are not the only employers who can benefit from these policies; business experts are discovering that these high-road practices make economic sense across a range of industries. 

The numbers don't lie. This survey shows that when employers make smart investments in their employees, they benefit from the returns. It's time to create workplace conditions that allow both the restaurant industry and its workers to flourish.

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