Looking at the Week Ahead


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Any manager or supervisor dreads staff turnover. Replacing a worker always generates a good deal of friction: things will get done a bit slower, colleagues will need to spend some of their time training new employees, and all kinds of procedures and tasks that were largely taken for granted have to be re-learnt. Candidate recruitment is a time-consuming and expensive process. 

Because of those challenges, most companies adopt policies geared to keep their staff in place. In industries with tighter margins (like retail and food service) it is often difficult to retain workers by only raising wages, so they look to other strategies. A strategy that consistently provides good results at little cost? Predictable scheduling. 

Turns out, having a job that provides consistent, predictable schedules matters to workers – and makes worker retention much more likely.

In a recent academic study, Joshua Chope, Daniel Schneider, and Kristen Harknett looked into turnover rates for retail and food service companies. On average, the researchers found, hourly workers in these industries have a six-month staff turnover rate of 28% – more thana quarter of workers leaving their jobs. Staff turnover, however, varies significantly between businesses depending on how they treat their employees – and especially, on how they schedule their shifts. The turnover rate for workers that received their schedules at least two weeks in advance was 24%. Workers who had fewer than 72 hours’ notice had a 39% turnover rate – that is, workers with unpredictable schedules were much more likely to leave their job.

In addition to shift changes, workers with erratic schedules often do not have a clear sense of how much they will make any given week. An unexpected reduction in hours worked might mean they cannot pay rent that week, or get hit with late fees. Unsurprisingly, staff turnover among workers that had at least one shift cancelled is even higher at 42%. Those workers that have on-call shifts (that is, are asked to “be available” but not knowing if they will be called in to work) see a 35% turnover. 

A more recent study found an even more pronounced impact on younger employees. Using panel data, the authors found out that younger workers quickly become dissatisfied with jobs with erratic schedules, and are much more likely to look for another job – and will actively look for positions that have more predictable shifts. 

Some businesses have taken notice of these facts and reacted accordingly. WalMart, a company not often high on the list of desirable employers, tested predictable scheduling in a few stores before the pandemic. They quickly realized that staff turnover decreased dramatically, while worker productivity increased, so they expanded the system to the whole company. WalMart concluded that predictable schedules not just helped their workers, but their own bottom line, as well. 

The most interesting part of this story, however, is that the worst offenders in providing terrible schedules to their workers are often the largest employers and restaurant chains, which have much higher staff turnover than small businesses. 

Small businesses with tight budgets know that every worker that leaves represents a big loss in terms of capacity, and are well aware of how hard it is to find a replacement. They know their employees personally, so they are well aware of what they need. They also write schedules by hand or on a spreadsheet, without the help of the automated software that McDonalds, Target, Dunkin’ or other corporations and franchises can rely on. As a result, they keep their schedules simple and straightforward, and work hard to retain their talent. Big chains, meanwhile, have hundreds of employees with dozens of workers per shift in many locations. They are more focused on quarterly results than on employee churn; for them employees are just costly inputs, not something to care much about. 

Predictable scheduling legislation, like H.B. 6859, the bill currently under consideration at the legislature, is the kind of policy that not only will ensure workers have a job they can rely on, but also help businesses themselves. 

Treating their employees is not a “cost”, but an investment. Let’s make this happen.