What You Can Do About Erratic Work Schedules

So maybe you have a full-time job with a side gig. Or maybe your entire income is based on a cobbled-together patchwork of gigs and part-time work. Billshark sympathizes, because despite the record-low unemployment rate, that figure does not accurately reflect the economic reality of many in this country, who are at the mercy of “just-in-time” scheduling.

The stories are legion:

  • the retail workers who are forced to work split shifts, say 6 a.m. to 10, then again from 4 to closing
  • the waitresses who are sent home when business is slow, followed by their babysitters, who are also sent home with less money than they’d counted on
  • such undependable hours that workers are forced to take on another job to pay the rent or buy food
  • the temps told to stay home, dressed for work, sitting by the phone in case a client comes in—but then the client left in frustration before the employee could arrive, so the waiting and the trip in were fruitless
  • the practice of “clopenings,” in which employees are required to close the store, then be there a few hours later to reopen in the morning.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI):

  • Six percent of hourly workers, eight percent of salaried workers, and 30 percent of those paid on some other basis work irregular or on-call shifts. Adding in split or rotating shifts, the shares working unstable work schedules are 16 percent (hourly), 12 percent (salaried) and 36 percent (other).
  • By occupation type, about 15 percent of sales and related occupations have irregular or on-call schedules.
  • By industry, irregular scheduling is most prevalent in personal services, business/repair services, entertainment/recreation, finance/insurance/real estate, retail trade, agriculture, and transportation/communications.

Consequences of variable schedules

Employers claim that employees appreciate the flexibility. It’s true, some do. But for the rest, studies have found otherwise.

Such schedules have been found to stress employees, exacerbate work-family conflict, and cause psychological stress, poor sleep, depression, and feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and being overwhelmed.

One study even found that erratic work schedules were more stressful to workers than low wages.

They also make it impossible to create or stick with a budget, schedule child care, and in some cases to pay bills on time, leading to a poor credit rating or worse.

Things can change

Of course, the default retort is a snarky version of “it’s you’re own fault”:

“The key to avoiding these low-end jobs is to acquire some skills” (actual comment, including the italics).

Unfortunately, many people who do have these “skills” are forced to take on such jobs, because of low wages in their full-time job, age discrimination, lack of other opportunities in their area, health issues, and many other factors.

A few decades ago, if you had a job as a waitress, clerk, or cashier, you would show up for eight hours and get paid for eight hours. This was normal practice before the advent of computers allowed for traffic pattern analysis and scheduling down to the minute. And before employees began being treated as just another piece of office equipment.

But it’s become accepted that this is the way things are, and if you don’t like it or can’t leave or adapt, there must be something wrong with you. It’s the blame-the-victim mentality we see so often from a certain percentage of Americans.

Fortunately, some people are fighting back. Several states and localities have passed what are known as “fair workweek” or “predictive scheduling” laws, and a number of corporations—including Starbucks, Gap, Pier 1 Imports, and J.Crew—have instituted predictive schedules to one degree or another.

What can you do?

1. If you’re in one of these jobs and have school, child-care, or other conflicts with your variable schedule, try talking with your employer. They may or may not be willing to accommodate you, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

2. If possible, switch to a side gig that offers more control over your schedule. Such companies as Uber and Lift, Fivver.com, and Rover.com allow you to accept or reject jobs, depending on your schedule.

3. Try to keep as much control as possible over other areas of your life so you don’t have to feel powerless or overwhelmed 24/7/365. Keep a written schedule of work- and non-work-related tasks to help you stay organized. Try to eat well and exercise regularly, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk around to block to clear your head once a day.

4. Don’t assume that, because this is how things are, this is the way they have to be. Although millennials and younger generations have become increasingly involved politically, many others are discouraged by the discord they see daily on the news and tune out politics altogether.

The fact is, politics aren’t just theories, or games played by the elite. They affect every area of your life. Become informed. Contact your local, state, and federal officials and demand change. And when you have the opportunity, learn which candidates support employees rights and vote.

And to find extra cash to work with, let Billshark review your bills for free. You don’t pay unless we can save you money.

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