Many workers in today’s hourly jobs face schedules that create instability in multiple ways, from inconsistent hours and short notice to schedules decided with little employee input (Boushey & Ansel, 2016; Clawson & Gerstel, 2014; Lambert et al., 2014; McCrate, 2017; Williams & Boushey, 2010). In a 2016 representative survey of US residents, 80% of hourly workers reported fluctuations in the number of hours they work week to week, fluctuations that averaged 38% of their usual weekly hours. Most of the variation in the number of hours worked was driven by employers, not employees; only 17% of hourly workers said that they determine the number of hours they work (either independently or within employer guidelines).

Compounding the problem is that schedules are not just inconsistent but also unpredictable. Fully 40% of these hourly workers reported knowing their schedule a week or less in advance, with over a quarter (28%) reporting three days or less advance notice. This makes planning difficult for anyone, but particularly for adults with caregiving responsibilities, for students who can ill afford to miss classes or study time, and for those juggling multiple jobs.

Unstable scheduling is widespread in food service, health care, and other industries but is particularly common in retail (Lambert et al., 2014; Carré & Tilly, 2017). The vast majority (87%) of early-career retail employees (age 26–32) in a national survey reported fluctuations in weekly work hours that averaged 48% of their usual hours. In addition, 50% reported a week or less advance notice, and 44% said their employer determines the timing of their work unilaterally (Lambert et al., 2014; Golden, 2016).

Exacerbating the problems posed by these sources of instability is the inadequacy of hours. Full-time work is increasingly scarce in retail, and part-time schedules often offer few hours, resulting in small paychecks and economic hardship.

Unstable scheduling thus has multiple dimensions that intersect to undermine retail employees’ personal responsibilities, economic security, and wellbeing. The Stable Scheduling Study developed and evaluated a multiple-component intervention that uniquely targeted four aspects of work schedules for improvement – consistency, predictability, adequacy, and input.

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