Stable scheduling is the first step to work-life balance. Imagine life without it. You wouldn’t know what your work schedule will be next week — or even tomorrow. You couldn’t plan doctor’s appointments, childcare, or social activities because you never know when you’ll be called in to work.
There are plenty of high-prestige jobs where this on-call scheduling is the norm — doctors, executives and other power players. In these cases, though, the high pay, stature, and satisfaction of the work help to compensate for a chaotic life style. Most people in jobs without predictable scheduling aren’t so fortunate. Many on-call employees are in low-paying jobs in the retail and service sectors, where there is precious little compensation for the stress and complexity of the lifestyle.
Business owners have argued that they need on-call scheduling in order to meet fluctuating and unpredictable demand. But new research pokes holes in the business case for this management practice. A recent study from the University of Chicago, reported in Crain’s Chicago Business, found that stable scheduling increases productivity and sales, benefiting both the workers and the businesses that employ them.
The researchers partnered with Gap for a schedule study assessing the impact of various practices. The study found that giving workers stable schedules two weeks in advance and eliminating on-call schedules led to a highly significant 5 percent increase in labor productivity — double the annual average. It also led to a 7 percent increase in sales, substantially exceeding typical desired growth.
Workers at all levels of business struggle to organize their lives amid the competing demands of their jobs, their families, and their own needs. People are drawn to jobs with companies like Uber because they give them control over their schedules. Business leaders would be wise to heed the results of the UChicago study. Enabling your employees to predict and control their work lives will generate better business outcomes. And while this study only measured the near-term effects, it’s not hard to imagine that more satisfied employees will lead to even bigger benefits over time.