Create Predictable and Flexible Scheduling Systems

Unpredictable schedules and high volatility in the number of hours worked per week and per month can create serious problems for lower-wage workers and households. For workers who are paid by the hour, volatile hours present the risk of falling below a minimum income for meeting basic needs for periods of weeks or months. From a worker perspective, other serious concerns with regard to unpredictable schedules include the impact on finding affordable and reliable childcare; workers’ ability to commit to education and training outside of work that can foster upward mobility, work more than one job as needed, or meet family responsibilities; and the stress-related toll on mental and physical health. 

Conversely, some employers (both small and large) face significant market challenges to providing predictable and flexible schedules or minimum hours. Those challenges include unpredictability in customer demand, worker availability and turnover, and need for particular employee skills at a particular time. Businesses can suffer significant disadvantages from externally imposed constraints on their ability to respond to market conditions in the deployment of their workforce. 

Advances in technology and communications tools for scheduling (e.g., web and mobile scheduling apps) are making it more possible than ever before for businesses and workers to manage scheduling. It is important that scheduling technologies be accessible to workers with limited technology skills, limited English proficiency, and disabilities. From a worker perspective, there are advantages to this technology when they have choice in determining their schedules. From an employer perspective, more flexible scheduling systems can enable quicker adjustments in response to volatile customer demand. There are good practice examples of companies using technology to provide more choice to employees around scheduling and to enable employees to work with each other and employers to respond to short-term requests.

We recognize that both employers and policy makers at the federal, state and local level can take steps to address the challenge of schedule predictability and flexibility, and income volatility. We do not have agreement on the use of government requirements to ensure predictable schedules or minimum hours; we do agree that employers can and should do more to provide predictable and flexible schedules.

To expand the use of scheduling systems that provide predictability and flexibility to both employers and workers, we recommend that:
  • Employers and workers collaborate to develop best practices in scheduling systems to provide predictability and flexibility for both parties. Employees should have a substantial role in the design of the scheduling system, whether in the context of collective bargaining or through other forms of engagement.
  • Employers and workers set expectations of hours to be worked in a given time period, and employers honor those expectations.  
Among the action steps our group seeks to take coming out of this dialogue is to launch a national initiative on predictable and flexible scheduling. This initiative will engage employers who have already implemented such systems, those aspiring to do so, and employees and their representatives. It could also involve organizations with expertise in scheduling systems, and researchers who could assess and document scheduling experiments and their results. The initiative could draw on a study of scheduling programs from pilots to early testing to fully operative systems to produce information, case studies, and lessons learned about creating predictable and flexible scheduling systems. Among other information, it could assess and document net benefits (both financial and non-financial) to employers and employees from shifting to more predictable and flexible systems as well as laying out the associated costs and potential uptake of new technology and practices. 

Within our group, a commitment exists to both demonstrate the potential of flexible and predictable scheduling and present a call to action for others to join us in pilots, research and sharing of best practices. We aim to continue working together in 2018 to launch a study of new scheduling investments and practices designed with input from diverse perspectives. We will seek to generate objective evidence from both existing scheduling systems and new systems developed and rolled out recently. We will share the results broadly to inform stakeholders’ dialogue, decisions and investments on scheduling systems.
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