Contrary to the widely held assumption that schedule instability for employees is an inevitable outcome of the volatile retail business, a new study demonstrates that giving employees more stability is not only possible, but it actually increased both sales and labor productivity, and had a high return on investment.
The “Stable Scheduling Study” reflects a partnership between an interdisciplinary team that includes Joan C. Williams of the University of California Hastings College of the Law; Susan Lambert of the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration; and Saravanan Kesavan of the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School; and the Gap, Inc. “What happens in brick-and-mortar retail matters,” the report notes, “both to families and to the economy. Even with increasing e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retail remains a cornerstone of America’s labor market, employing 15 percent of the American workforce.”
First Randomized Controlled Experiment
This report describes the first randomized controlled experiment of an Intervention designed to shift low-wage, hourly jobs towards more stable schedules. The study began with a pretest conducted from March 2015 to October 2015 in three stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The full pilot, which included 28 stores in the San Francisco and Chicago metropolitan areas, ran from November 2015 to August 2016.
- Consistency, predictability and worker input increased.
- Stable scheduling sharply increased median sales by 7 percent.
- Stable scheduling also significantly increased labor productivity by 5 percent.
- Fluctuating customer demand is not the primary source of instability.
“In recent years, these scheduling practices have come under increasing scrutiny in state attorney general offices, state and local legislatures, and the media,” say the researchers. They conclude with advice for employers. “Particularly in view of the business benefits, employers should be encouraged to take the leap to more stable scheduling in ways that work for their business, given that several cities (San Francisco, Seattle, New York City and Emeryville, California) and one state (Oregon) have already passed scheduling legislation and comparable legislation is pending in at least 13 additional municipalities. Continued pressure from legislatures and lawsuits mean that the time is right for employers to take the initiative to improve schedule stability in ways that work for them.”
Support for the Study
The Stable Scheduling Study was supported by generous grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Institute of International Education in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, Center for Popular Democracy, the Suzanne M. Nora Johnson and David G. Johnson Foundation, and the Gap.
In the report the researchers recognizes Gap for a level of commitment that none of the researchers have experienced in their cumulative 80-odd years of academic research: “Gap has shown true leadership in participating in a randomized controlled experiment of a shift to more stable schedules in sales associate jobs. Gap faces challenges that are common among retailers. What sets Gap apart is its unflinching willingness to respond to these common challenges with data.”
- A Find at Gap: Steady Hours Can Help Workers, and Profits (New York Times, March 28, 2018. By NOAM SCHEIBER)
- The “Stable Scheduling Study” Report (Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law)
Alex A.G. Shapiro
Director of External Relations
UC Hastings College of the Law
Director of Marketing and Communications
The University of Chicago
School of Social Service Administration
University of North Carolina
Kenan-Flagler Business School