Editorial: Reasonable work policies help families

Published Aug. 20, 2015

Several retailers have wisely abandoned burdensome scheduling practices that keep employees on call without the guarantee of work. Getting rid of these practices is a smart, pragmatic move that provides employees stability and enables them to better manage the demands of work and family.

Clothier Abercrombie & Fitch announced earlier this month that it would no longer require its workers to be on call for shifts that could be canceled with little or no notice. The company followed similar actions taken by Williams-Sonoma, Gap and Starbucks, which faced criticism last year after the New York Times detailed the coffee company's reliance on "clopening." That is a scheduling technique in which baristas close a store at night and return to work hours later to open it the next morning. Combined, the scheduling practices result in unpredictable routines for workers, especially mothers who have to coordinate child care around shifting work schedules.

Little research exists about the effects of nontraditional shift work. But there is growing evidence that unpredictable scheduling has a disproportionately negative effect on children and adolescents. One study shows children of mothers who work nontraditional hours perform lower on problem solving, verbal comprehension and spoken language tests than children in homes where mothers have traditional hours. The ability to provide high quality child care for children and valuable exposure to early learning curriculums also is imperiled by unpredictable schedules. A separate study shows adolescents whose mothers worked odd hours are more prone to smoking, drinking, acting out and engaging in sexual acts.

Entire families suffer when companies rely on inconsistent scheduling practices that put profits before people and force workers to choose between making a living and providing stability for their children. Companies that recognize these dangers and are changing their operations should be commended and should benefit from more satisfied workers. Employers that still rely upon erratic scheduling techniques should discard them and adopt more employee-friendly policies.