Over the past five years, new research shows that we’re all much more comfortable with the concept of work+life flexibility. We no longer expect lawyers, managers or web designers to always show up to an office, 9-to-5, Monday through Friday. But what about retail sales associates, call center workers, or housekeeping staff in hotels?
Can low-wage hourly workers access the same work flexibility to manage their lives both on and off the job?
According to two recent reports, the answer is “yes, but … ” The authors of Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers: A Framework for a National Conversation, Liz Watson, Legislative Counsel, Workplace Flexibility 2010 and Jennifer E. Swanberg Ph.D. Associate Professor, University of Kentucky and Executive Director, Institute for Workplace Innovation, and of Improving Work-Life Fit in Hourly Jobs: An Underutilized Cost-Cutting Strategy in a Globalized World, Work Life Law, UC Hastings College of the Law say:
Yes, low-wage hourly workers can flexibly manage their work+life fit and businesses will realize tangible bottom line benefits. But it requires:
Understanding that the work+life fit issues and, therefore, the solutions for low-wage hourly workers are more complex. Some low wage workers need more flexibility in their jobs, some need less, and some just need more work in order to find a better fit.
Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers has a great chart that clearly lays out the too much flexibility/not enough flexibility challenge of low-wage workers:
Challenging deep, legacy beliefs in organizations about “the way” low wage workers need to work if the business is going to profit. This is huge. According to the reports, there are a number of management beliefs about the way businesses staffed by low-wage workers need to run in order to profit that are simply not true. Fortunately, the research debunks these philosophies that stand in the way of implementing innovative scheduling and flexibility solutions:
- Just-in-time (e.g. highly inconsistent) scheduling is the only way to manage margins profitably. Not true. One of the most interesting and exciting pieces of research the reports highlight was done by Lambert & Henly. It shows that “in the retail sector … nearly two-thirds of participating stores, 80% or more of the hours stayed the same, week in and week out.” In other words, in most cases, 80% of an employee’s schedule could be determined far in advance without the profitability of the business suffering. This would reduce margin crushing turnover because employees could manage their work+life fit more effectively.
- It’s better to have more people working fewer hours in your labor pool, than have fewer people working more hours, if you want to cover unexpected peaks in business. Again, not true. The research shows that if you give a smaller labor pool more hours, along with a degree of flexibility, turnover decreases and coverage is maintained.
Other ingrained, legacy management beliefs that stand in the way of creating a new work+life fit model for hourly low wage workers:
- Professional, exempt staff can have a high degree of flexibility in how, when and where they work, but support staff needs to “be there.” The Improving Work-Life Fit in Hourly Jobs report includes the compelling story of a workplace canceling a Results-Only Work Environment initiative when the group couldn’t agree that the hourly and salaried staffs could have the same level of flexibility. Even though every indication was that they could.
- “Management’s mistrust of employees, concern about the need for control over hourly workers, and a fear of increased costs associated with providing flexibility.” This is one of a number of challenges for the business discussed in Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers.
Bringing managers and low wage workers together to pilot new models of managing work and life which will primarily involve more “effective scheduling.” Both reports are full of lists of solutions, research, and implementation “how tos”; however, the key is that managers and employees are working together every step of the way. And they are all (not just managers) being trained to have ongoing conversations that create solutions that work for everyone.
Addressing the macro issues that impact work+life fit such as the lack of consistent, affordable, quality care for children and aging family members and poor transportation. While offering flexible workplace solutions to low-wage hourly workers is critical to helping them manage their work+life fit, it’s clear reading the reports that it’s only part of the equation. Even the most progressive, flexible and supportive work environment can’t offset the challenges of inconsistent, patchwork dependent care and transportation.
What do you think? How can we give low-wage, hourly workers the same opportunities to creatively and flexibly manage their work+life fit that salaried workers take for granted? Why is it important?
For more information, on Tuesday, June 28th 3 pm EST, join a webinar hosted by Dr. Jennifer Swanberg and Liz Watson authors of the, Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-wage Hourly Workers: A Framework for a National Conversation report. They will discuss scheduling solutions ranging from shift-swapping, the ability to alter start and end times, and predictable scheduling.