"Workplace flexibility" is the buzz phrase in debates about how to help busy parents better juggle the competing demands of work and family. But the public conversation has been shaped largely by the experiences of professional workers. Low-wage workers face a different set of challenges -- they are much more likely to be paid hourly, work less than full time, and have erratic schedules with little advance notice of when they are expected to work. Widely used in the service industry, Just-in-Time scheduling results in last minute schedule changes with employers even sending workers home after they arrive for work or asking them to stay beyond the end of their shift. This brief examines the rise of JIT scheduling, what it looks like in practice, its effects on workers and their families, and what it means for business. It ends with a set of policy recommendations that would better balance the needs of workers and employers.

Top Facts

  • Just-in-time (JIT) scheduling, also called “sched­uling to demand,” is a practice that closely links labor supply to consumer demand. Used widely in the service sector, employers rely on scheduling software and measures of demand (such as floor traffic, sales volume, hotel registrations, or dinner reservations) to match work­ers’ hours to labor needs.
  • JIT scheduling results in unpredictable work schedules for hourly workers. Weekly schedules are sometimes posted with just a few days no­tice and last minute schedule changes are made often resulting in workers showing up for work only to be sent home, being asked to stay beyond a scheduled shift, or being called in on a putative day off.
  • JIT scheduling practices can wreak havoc in the lives of workers and their families, complicating child care arrangements, transportation, and eligibility for both employer-sponsored and government benefits. These conditions are challenging not only for parents but can create tremendous chaos and stress for children as well.
  • JIT scheduling fuels high rates of employee turnover, which in retail, for example, currently stands at 56 percent annually. High turnover rates can be quite costly, especially in cases where employees need higher lev­els of skill, training and experience or where the quality and quantity of interaction between customers and workers are key to success.
  • Various policy and practice reforms should be implemented to better balance the needs of workers and employers. Reforms should act to stabilize worker schedules, make child care more responsive to worker needs, increase the power of labor and make public benefits cater more to the needs and realities of hourly workers.

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