UC Berkeley study examines effects of unstable work schedules on worker well-being

The Shift Project/Courtesy

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A study by the Shift Project at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment examined the effects of unstable work schedules on workers in the retail and food service industries.

The two authors of the study, UC Berkeley assistant professor of sociology Daniel Schneider and UCSF associate professor of sociology Kristen Harknett, found that unstable work schedules had detrimental effects on workers’ health and emotional states, according to a press release released by the Shift Project on Feb. 1.

“From the 1970s through the 2010s … U.S. workers experienced increasingly precarious employment and higher levels of economic insecurity,” Schneider and Harknett wrote in their study, which was published in the American Sociological Review. “Against this backdrop, the rise in precarious employment could have major implications for workers’ health and well-being.”

According to data in the study, only about 1 in 5 workers reported working on a regular schedule during the day. In addition, 26 percent of the workers experienced working shifts on call, 14 percent experienced getting their scheduled shifts canceled and half experienced working a closing shift at night followed by an opening shift the next morning in what are called “clopening” shifts.

This irregular work schedule is harmful to workers physically and mentally, according to the study. According to the study’s research, workers are far more distressed, experience lower sleep quality and are more prone to depression or unhappiness when exposed to unpredictable scheduling practices.

The study also researched the effect of unstable work scheduling in relation to hourly wages in terms of worker health.

“For hourly workers in retail, higher wages would improve wellbeing,” Schneider said in the press release. “But, one striking finding from our study is that schedule stability and predictability is an even more important determinant of wellbeing.”

Schneider and Harknett have pinpointed unstable work scheduling in service-sector jobs as a cause of psychological distress, poor sleep quality and unhappiness in workers. The two have also evaluated methods to reduce negative health impacts on workers and provide solutions to these issues.

“To put these associations into a broader context, we can compare the relationship between work schedules and worker health with that of hourly wages and health,” the study’s research brief states. “Increasing advance notice from 0-2 days to 3-6 days, one week, or two weeks … banning on-call shifts … or eliminating clopening shifts … We find that such changes to scheduling have a substantial impact on worker wellbeing.”

Contact Selena Liu at [email protected].