Research Indicates Steady Work Hours Are Just as Important as Higher Wages

Inside Subprime: July 26, 2019

By Grace Austin

New research suggests that regular working hours could be just as beneficial for certain workers as a higher minimum wage.

That conclusion, recently published in the Washington Post, according to university researchers “demonstrates just how disruptive modern just-in-time schedules are to workers’ lives” and how the issue doesn’t have the proper attention of lawmakers.

Since 2016, through a study called The Shift Project, academics looked at thousands of workers and the implications of last-minute scheduling, particularly in large American cities like Seattle, New York, and Philadelphia.

The Shift Project focused on employees at food-service companies, mainly fast food, and the retail sector, asking them questions about economic security, food and overall well-being. Millions of people across the country work in such jobs.

About 80 percent of people reported they work an irregular shift, and about two-thirds of workers receive their schedule with less than two weeks of notice. A little less than 20 percent receive that notice just three days before their shift. The researchers found this made it difficult to schedule things like child care. Some workers also report having to work late-night closing shifts and then turn around and work an opening shift. Participants studied said these quick turnarounds were particularly brutal. And about a quarter say that they’ve been on call—setting aside free time when they might not even be called in.

Workers in the study overwhelmingly reported negative effects on their well-being. About three-quarters of respondents said they had poor or average rest—and the more irregular hours, the worse the reported sleep. Nearly half of the people surveyed said there was some psychological anguish, like feeling nervous, hopeless or being overwhelmed, because of erratic schedules. That distress increased as the given notice that an employee was working decreased before a shift

And great differences in scheduling can have financial implications, too. While low pay is a main issue for food service and retail workers, erratic schedules could be just as harmful. Research showed that some people even resorted to payday loans to make ends meet because of drastic shifts in working hours from week to week.

Researchers suggest that these issues have maintained a steady high within the past decade, since the Great Recession.

Many national and state lawmakers do not have this issue on their radar—but some cities have taken note. Over the past five years, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Philadelphia have passed laws regulating scheduling practices, to varying degrees, in retail and food service—as has Oregon, one of the few states to do so.

The issue has historically taken a backseat to higher pay, but as new data is added to the current body of research, erratic scheduling could move to the forefront of workers’ issues nationwide.

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