Jobs in retail, service and hospitality are a bit like the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland: they exist in a state of perpetual flux sometimes all here and sometimes broken in seemingly unconnected pieces. On the one hand, such jobs offer some great flexibility in terms of schedules and part/full-time work. On the other hand, when that flexibility is totally controlled by employers, the jobs can become disjointed and unpredictable combinations of wages and hours. Yet these jobs appear to be on the rise. According to the Department of Labor jobs report for February 2016:
“Employment gains occurred in health care and social assistance, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and private educational services.”
Increases in these areas mean that there are more jobs available for people in these fields. What remains an open question is whether people will be eager to step into these roles given that the hours and wages can be so unpredictable. Though it would be easy to suggest that the solution is for employers to simply offer more predictable jobs with steady wages, that goal is not so easily accomplished. Both these fields can have highly variable profit margins, especially when they are subject to such dynamic things as average level of disposable income and local weather. Employers may find that while they would like to have straightforward 9-5 positions with decent, predictable salaries and reasonable flexibility, they may not have the business plan or organizational structure necessary to sustain such changes.
This is part of the reason for the Workflex in Retail, Service and Hospitality Guide: Cooperative Scheduling, Beyond Bias. The Guide focuses on how employers can reasonably restructure how, when and where employees work in collaboration with those employees to make more employee-friendly work environments without disrupting business performance. The Guide offers tips, case studies and practical advice on how to use workflex to rethink schedules, improve economic security and create a more reliable and productive team. Some examples are:
- Advance Schedule Notice: For many employees dynamic schedules are very manageable if they have enough advance notice to adjust child care routines, school schedules and hours at other jobs. While a number of employers use computer software to create just-in-time schedules, it is possible to adjust the algorithms in these programs to avoid repeated shifts or lengthy no-work periods for employees to provide more predictable incomes and schedules.
- Employee-Initiated Shift Swapping: Employees are often assigned their shifts by a manager who is hard pressed to keep up with the ebbs and flows of their entire team’s schedules. An option to create more predictability is to let managers assemble a base schedule and give employees the power to set up shift swaps to smooth out the details. Managers approve the final schedule, but are not tasked with hunting down a solution to every schedule conflict.
- Allowing Leave in Small Increments. Sick leave and vacation policies may be amended, allowing employees to take their paid leave in one-hour or two-hour increments. This allows for a run to the doctor’s office or some other quick errand without losing an entire day’s leave or pay. A key aspect of incremental leaves is working with employees to identify slow times during the day when their absence will likely have little effect on work and identifying the appropriate coverage in case there’s an unexpected rush.
As more of the economy’s jobs come to be in the retail and hospitality sectors, it is vital that we reinvent how these jobs are structured to maintain profitability for employers and create supportive workplaces for employees to work and grow. Otherwise, we may find that people are unwilling to take on these jobs for fear of working at a job that feels like the Mad Hatter’s Tea party.