Variable work scheduling is when organizations change their employees’ schedules or number of work hours, either day-to-day or week-to-week. This practice allows managers to adjust the supply of labor and associated costs to accommodate changing demand. The common assumption is that this will optimize a firm’s performance – especially during a crisis, when demand can change quickly.
On the other hand, prior research has shown that variable work schedules have negative consequences for employees’ economic security, health, and work-life balance. It may even drive them to quit their jobs, particularly in times of already heightened stress and instability, such as a pandemic. Could it be that variable work scheduling actually hurts businesses and lowers financial performance by increasing turnover?
VARIABLE WORK SCHEDULES AND WORK OUTCOMES
The researcher (Chung, 2022) collected data from over 2,000 restaurants of a prominent fast food chain to study the effects of variable work schedules both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results showed that increased schedule variability was related to increased turnover. In turn, these higher turnover rates were associated with decreased performance and decreased performance recovery, which means the ability to “rebound from setbacks.” Additionally, the relationship between variable work schedules and turnover was stronger during the pandemic than it was prior to the pandemic.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This study suggests that variable work schedules may not always have the intended effect of maintaining profitability during times of instability. The researcher warns against relying on this practice as a short-term solution during crisis situations or times of low demand. Instead, managers should consider the possibility for employee turnover and how this may hinder the firm’s ability to bounce back from an initial disruption.
Chung, H. (2022). Variable work schedules, unit-level turnover, and performance before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Applied Psychology, 107(4), 515-532.