General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Why do retail workers' hours get scheduled a week at a time?

Asked by Jeruba (51917points) June 11th, 2017

Retail stores and places such as Starbucks, Domino’s Pizza, and Safeway all seem to have this practice: that workers don’t know their work hours more than a week in advance. Somebody, such as an assistant manager, prepares a schedule every week. It tends to vary from week to week, and until it comes out, people just don’t know when they’re going to be working.

What’s the reason or rationale for this? What’s the benefit? Why isn’t it better for everyone if regular steady employees, whether full or part time, have a basic schedule that they can just stick with? It’s impossible to make plans with them more than a week ahead because “I don’t know when I’m working next week” and “I haven’t seen my work schedule yet.” Why?

And doesn’t this constant uncertainty just make life harder for people who are probably working for minimum wage? Is there an upside?

Tags as I wrote them: workers, employment, work schedules, working hours, retail, jobs.

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12 Answers

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Employers don’t give a shit, about employees personal life and one thing I can think of is to keep everyone on a part time schedule so they don’t have to pay any kind of benefits.
After all if you work for them you should be just grateful to have a job.

And there is no upside for the employee, but that is not the employers concern.

CWOTUS's avatar

My daughter runs her own food service business: a brick-and-mortar café, two food carts and a related catering business. With her business most of the time the work is “all hands on deck”. But sometimes that can vary.

When there’s going to be a holiday during the week, then the food carts won’t be out. The catering business may or may not be operational, depending on the holiday and whether they actually take on extra work at that time. The café will most likely be closed. However, depending on the work to be performed after this special day, whether it’s a weekend or normal, school-is-in-session work week – and also depending on the catering orders ahead – people may be working through the weekend to do prep work, to clean up after the finished catering jobs being picked up (and to do the runs to make those pickups, since most of her catering is drop-off and later pickup), hours may vary.

In addition, sometimes if people are planning to be away, such as on vacation – and she knows in advance – she might shut down one of the carts to put someone on the catering crew, and that could idle one of the other cart workers. I don’t think that’s a frequent occurrence, but I don’t get into her business, and I would imagine that other businesses face similar constraints on labor and other resources.

If school is not in session (at the U of Wisconsin, Madison), then the food cart on Library Mall may be reset at a new location in town, or could even be out of service entirely. And that often happens, anyway, if catering orders pick up more, and demand more than the usual catering crew.

And maintenance of the carts is a thing, too. They see pretty rough service, since she runs them year-round, even through Wisconsin winters, and they take a beating. So from time to time she has to take them off the road, anyway, to get unscheduled repairs completed.

Catering also runs on a different schedule, since it depends from week to week whether the job is a weekend affair, in which case some people might have days off mid-week, or whether the job is a luncheon, dinner, wedding or whatever.

Some employers care a great deal about their employees. They were all invited to her wedding last month, and she was grateful that so many showed up.

canidmajor's avatar

I’ve worked for a couple of retail businesses that scheduled week to week. It was because there were so many variables that could affect the circumstance. Weather, local events, other employees requests for time off, such like that. The few full-time folks had pretty set schedules, but most of the evening/weekend people were part time and more flexible.

jca's avatar

I just googled “Starbucks employees schedules New York Times” because I remember reading an article about this specifically in the Times a while back.

This is the article I was looking for:

If you do the google search, you’ll find a follow up article about Starbucks promising to do better, and another article about how they didn’t live up to their promise to do better, and other articles about this very question, citing Abercrombie and Fitch and other retailers with their employees’ scheduling practices.

I have two friends that have part time jobs in retail, in addition to their full time jobs at the local government where I work. One works at Kohls and one just got hired at Home Depot. Both seem to know their schedules one week at a time, about two weeks out. The one who works at Home Depot is so new to the job that she hasn’t gotten into it yet, but the one that works at Kohls has a very busy schedule with the rest of her life, so if she needs certain days/nights off, she lets them know and they don’t schedule her for those days/nights. Both of the employers will schedule people and if there’s a problem and the employee can’t work, they are compelled to work unless they find someone to switch with.

It wouldn’t be for me, especially with the low pay.

tedibear's avatar

When I was a retail manager, I tried to have the schedule two to three weeks ahead.

At the store in the mall, the only time this was a challenge was at holiday time. Not because there were major changes, but because I was so busy that sometimes I just didn’t have time to get it done sooner.

At the bank branch, my manager put me in charge of the schedule. (I was the assistant manager.) We were open seven days a week, though not as late as mall hours are. We had a rotating three week schedule that only changed if someone needed a specific day off, or someone was on vacation.

I think that a “set” rotating schedule can work, but it’s dependent on the type of work (as in @CWOTUS ‘s answer) and the employees being flexible when things go awry. It also works better when you have employees who have been with you for a while.

I can’t fathom the benefit of a one week schedule for anyone, except in circumstances where a business has fluctuations that can’t be known until a week prior. In that case, the employees need to be told before being hired that this is how the schedule is made.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

I found weekly scheduling to conflict with my time off. Regular television watching worked out for me to work noon to 4 , five days a week. I found scheduling without input demeaning. Fluther and Tv shows are my priority. When I get jerked around by bosses I quit. My mom once worked double full time and didn’t have time to go grocery shopping and had to buy stuff from the expensive convenience store at night and we went into a vicious cycle of debt.

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MrGrimm888's avatar

I would add that sometimes, they get their weekly allotment of hours to give cut.

JLeslie's avatar

Most department stores schedule staff more in advance these days. When I worked for Bloomingdales 25 years ago it varied from department to department. My fragrance department scheduled the coming month about two weeks before the current month ended. My staff did it, and I just approved it. They rotated as fairly as possible. Most departments the managers did it, and sometimes it was only a week or two at a time. Now, Bloomies has standardized it more, and employees know their schedules in advance for a few weeks at a time. Also, a lot of department stores have guidelines to make sure you get at least one weekend off a month, and many part-timers work very steady schedules like MWF night and Saturday’s, or TT and Sundays.

Specialty stores tend to be less regimented, and it has a lot to do with the manager just not sitting down to do it. If the staff tends to be very young, they might not be very good at requesting days off far in advance either. A party comes up, or some school thing. Even older adults have doctor appointments come up, social events.

The retail store is usually open seven days a week. When you work M-F and get invited to an event on a Saturday, you don’t have any problems, in retail you do. If you’re already scheduled to work, you need to trade with someone, if the schedule isn’t made yet, it’s easier to get the day, and put you on the schedule the following Saturday, or you work the Sunday, or whatever to make it fair among the staff.

One thing I liked about retail when I was younger were the later hours and the eradic schedule. Even early days didn’t start until 9:00 at most stores if you were a manager, and in sales it was 9:30. Want to go out late on a Thursday? You could request the late shift for Friday and sleep in. Need to see a doctor on Tuesday? No problem, take Tuesday off; which isn’t a vacation day, just your day off.

Vacation and other scheduling requests can still be put in for the far future and approved, even if the schedule is only fine weekly or twice a month.

dxs's avatar

I think it depends on the manager. At my old job, most of us working there (including me) had set hours every week. The ones without consistent schedules were ones who didn’t care when they worked. They would fill in hours that were needed.

NerdyKeith's avatar

We have our roster done in four weeks in advance. I work for a big pharmacy store. But sometimes it helps if you need to request time off.

Nullo's avatar

My employer tries to run the roster as lean as possible to save money, which means that they’re always trying to guess what peak times are going to be in order to schedule accordingly.
It works about as well as you would expect.

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