JUNE 27, 2018
Many of us enjoy the ability to do our work how and when it best fits into our lives. Recent studies have highlighted workplace flexibility for women as essential to employee retention and productivity. While we are delighted to see an increased focus on creating better jobs and working conditions, both these studies and the public conversation focus on white-collar, college-educated women.
Workplace flexibility means something completely different for the millions of people in low-paid, hourly jobs, who are disproportionately women and women of color. With their ever-changing work schedules and lack of control over when and how much they work, their jobs—and lives—are not flexible, but merely unpredictable. It hurts these workers' ability to budget their time and money, to secure reliable child care, and to go to school or train for better jobs. It's why we need Chicago's City Council to pass the amended Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance being introduced today.
Two recent local studies looked into the scope of these practices and how they impact both families and businesses. A survey by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign of more than 1,700 Illinois workers found that 40 percent do not get any minimum hours guarantee and are occasionally required to be on call for work, and 58 percent of workers are sent home before their shift ends. These practices interfered with child care, parenting or caregiving for 40 percent of workers. In addition, more than half of those enrolled in educational programming missed classes due to their unpredictable work schedules. Almost 17 percent paid their rent or mortgage late or lost their housing because their fluctuating schedule yielded a smaller paycheck.
While the negative impact of unstable scheduling on families is profound, the University of Chicago found that stable scheduling practices were actually good for business. They partnered with the Gap to assess the impact of various scheduling practices and found that giving workers their schedules two weeks in advance and eliminating on-call schedules led to a 5 percent increase in labor productivity—double the annual average. It also led to a 7 percent increase in sales, substantially exceeding typical desired growth.
The proposed ordinance will not prevent employers from using flexible scheduling. The proposed ordinance requires employees to give workers with variable schedules at least two weeks' notice of when they will be working so they can anticipate their income and budget for basic expenses like food, as well as meet other responsibilities like attending school or arranging childcare.
The ordinance also prevents employers from canceling or reducing shifts after the employee has reported to work by ensuring the employee receives some compensation. While businesses would incur some cost, currently workers and their families are alone bearing the burden. In addition, stable and predictable schedules are associated with reduced employee turnover, a cost savings for employers.
We encourage businesses to adopt fair scheduling practices that offer a win-win for both them and their employees.
Sharmili Majmudar is interim chief executive of Women Employed.