How Retail’s On-Call Schedule Actually Hurts Children
If you’re a retail worker with young children at home, it’s likely you’ve experienced childcare difficulties related to an unpredictable and inconsistent work schedule.
For years, retail outlets have focused on scheduling employees based primarily on the needs of the store itself. As a result, retail employees often work chaotic, non-systemized schedules. It’s not unusual for a clerk to log a store-closing shift — and then turn around and have to open the next day. Often employees will be called into work and then turned back when they’re not needed or sent home early in response to shopping trends. For workers relying on public transportation, this is incredibly challenging and frustrating. But for the employee with children at home, this “store first — workers second” attitude is increasingly causing real hardship on the most vulnerable population: their kids.
The New York Times recently reported on a study by the Economic Policy Institute showing the negative effects retail on-call schedules are having on our children — and retailers are finally starting to pay attention.
Eliminate On-Call for Happier Workers and Families
Last week, Abercrombie & Fitch said they were eliminating on-call shifts. Williams-Sonoma did the same thing a few months ago. Gap and Starbucks have both made changes that help stabilize the consistency of employee hours and scheduling.
While it’s possible that these retailers recognized the difficulties their employees were facing when trying to arrange consistent quality childcare, it’s more likely that recent media attention on the issue is forcing these changes.
In April, the New York State attorney general queried 13 retailers about their use of on-call shifts. The Wall Street Journal reported that these retailers were being called out for not allowing employees enough notice for schedule changes. As a result, family arrangements, including childcare, were suffering.
The Economic Policy Institute studied non-standardized and on-call retail work schedules and correlated them with having a negative developmental impact on children. The study suggested that the children of these workers experience:
- Poor sensory perception, worse problem solving, verbal communication, and expressive language skills
- Increased negative behaviors, including depression, withdrawal, and aggression
- Irregular family mealtimes
- Less access to parental nurturing of educational skills, including book reading and practicing writing, spelling, reading, and math
A 2010 study by Dr. Wen-Jui Han of New York University found that the negative impact of inconsistent parental work schedules extends from toddlers through to adolescents. The study went so far as to correlate teenagers smoking, drinking, and acting out with their mother’s inconsistent work schedule.
While the impact of inconsistent and on-call work schedules is just beginning to be scrutinized, it seems clear that children, especially younger children, benefit from consistent and more traditional scheduling, especially when it comes to finding one-on-one time with Mom. Professor Han issued an earlier study showing these families had difficulty accessing quality childcare at professional day care centers. Instead, they often have to hobble childcare together, calling upon friends and family, when their retail work schedule changes abruptly.
Recognizing the problem, last year, two Democrats in Congress introduced the Schedules That Work Act. The bill sough to ensure predictable, stable schedules for low-wage jobs like retail and food service.
Finding a work/life balance is important for employees and their children but also should be of great important to retail employers, as well. Employers are seeking engaged, positive employees to interact with their customers, no matter what type of business they’re in. If an employee is worried about their child, how effective do you think they’ll be on the store floor?
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