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The Workplace: Retail Staffers See Practice of On-Call Scheduling Diminish….Slowly


You can’t get away from it or ignore it. Customer service is the backbone of any good brick-and-mortar retail environment. There has been much written about and discussed regarding employee satisfaction and how integral it is to the overall performance of retail, but there’s still some work to be done.

One of the hot-button issues has been employee scheduling practices—especially in apparel and footwear businesses.

Software advances and programs have helped retailers lower costs through more efficient staffing, letting them go during slow times of the day; or making them be “on call” in case business picked up suddenly. Not only are employees not compensated unless they’re called in, but this has allowed little if any flexibility for employees who were trying to juggle school, households, and second jobs just to get by.

While it may look efficient and profitable on the surface, retailers are learning there are many reasons to take a closer look at how their scheduling software adversely affects its staff. First, with courts in different jurisdictions taking a closer look at these business practices and ruling accordingly, retailers may be breaking the law; secondly, the bad press that occurs when these working conditions are made known hurts their brand and business.

A years-long grassroots organizing effort against on-call scheduling, and subsequent pressure from the courts, has resulted in retailers making some changes. Urban Outfitters is the most recent company to join Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Starbucks, and Bath & Body Works in ending this practice either in New York or nationwide.

WorkJam, creators of employee relationship management software platforms, found that 56% of hourly employees receive their schedule a week or less in advance and 29% rarely get a consistent schedule.

Uncertain schedules create hardships for employees, and dissatisfied employees can cost retailers a lot of money. The WorkJam study found that  “unpredictable schedules and wages give staff less incentive to stay, driving up expenditures for recruitment and training…. On average, replacing one worker costs up to $4,000 and more than 60 hours of training.”

This has a domino effect: When turnover increases, you get understaffing, which usually results in a more serious problem for retailers. WorkJam cited that 46% of companies (out of 500 surveyed) reported being frequently understaffed, which resulted in a compromised customer experience. In addition, there were greater overtime expenses, decreased morale and as a result, failure to meet sales goals.

This not only results in indifferent or negative store environments, but affects job-seeking for the labor pool. Of workers surveyed, 60% said the most difficult aspect of job-searching was finding a position that matches their availability and location preferences.

Almost 70% of mid-level store managers confessed the most challenging part of their scheduling responsibilities was assigning shifts that accommodate both their staff’s availability and the needs of the business.

It’s a real Catch-22 for retailers. The immediate benefit of on-call scheduling is the ability to appropriately staff a location based on customer traffic. If it's a really slow day, on-call employees can be told they are not needed, allowing the business to avoid overstaffing. On-call employees can also be called in because of an extremely busy day, allowing the business to operate effectively without long lines and impatient customers due to a lack of employees.

But, the technology that devised these scheduling systems may have to be overhauled yet again, since courts in New York and San Francisco, and the introduction of A Schedule That Works Act, dictate that hourly workers need more stability to be effective, useful employees. That means employers should be adjusting scheduling accordingly to avoid erratic schedules and create more balance to bring the kind of stability they need to operate successfully.

TAGS: retail, retail trends, retailers, management,
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