Employer practices
Research Summary

A Win-Win for Business and Workers: Evidence from a Predictable Scheduling Intervention at Gap, Inc.

Oluwasekemi OdumosuLast updated on April 23, 2024
Source: Management Science Title: Doing Well by Doing Good: Improving Store Performance with Responsible Scheduling Practices at the Gap, Inc. Author(s): Saravanan Kesavan, Susan J. Lambert, Joan C. Williams, Pradeep K. Pendem Original Publication Date: March 2, 2022 Read Full Research Article

Mandates regarding scheduling practices for shift workers are receiving considerable attention from employees, businesses, and policymakers alike. Many of these employees work inconsistent, unpredictable, and often inadequate hours with little control over their schedules. This may create barriers to their other responsibilities such as child care, attending school, or working another job.

These concerns have prompted the passage of "fair workweek” laws in several US municipalities and one state over the past decade. While the primary aim of these mandates is to improve scheduling predictability for shift workers, research shows that predictable scheduling could also potentially yield significant benefits for businesses by improving labor productivity.

The study highlighted in this research summary examines the potential impacts of predictable scheduling practices aligned with fair workweek laws on both business outcomes and worker well-being. Saravanan Kesavan at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School and his coauthors detail the results from a field experiment conducted at 28 Gap stores in San Francisco and Chicago between November 2015 and August 2016. The study evaluates more than 150,000 shifts of 1,500 employees working at the chain of clothing stores, where over 90 percent of their employees work part time.

Nineteen stores were randomly selected to participate in an intervention designed to improve four dimensions of scheduling practices: schedule control, consistency, predictability, and adequacy. At selected stores, management was encouraged to establish fixed shift times, consistently schedule the same employees for certain shifts, and implement a third-party scheduling app to allow workers to add, drop, or swap shifts. The researchers found that this suite of responsible scheduling practices increased store-level labor productivity by 5.1 percent.

Key findings

  • Business outcomes: The intervention yielded a 1.8 percent reduction in labor hours while boosting sales by 3.3 percent. Consequently, store productivity increased by 5.1 percent (sales per labor hour), surpassing the average annual productivity growth of the retail sector, which stands at 2.5 percent per year.
  • Scheduling changes were key to these positive business outcomes:
    • Schedule control: In the intervention stores, 62.2 percent of part-time, nonmanagerial employees used the scheduling app at least once, resulting in a total of 5,260 uses during the intervention period.
    • Schedule consistency: A greater proportion of employees in the stores selected for the intervention reported beginning and ending work at the same time each day after the intervention (70.2 percent begin; 65.2 percent end) compared to employees in stores where scheduling practices remained unchanged (48.5 percent begin; 53.9 percent end).
    • Schedule predictability: Following the intervention, a notably higher percentage of respondents in intervention stores (75.5 percent) compared to nonintervention stores (61.3 percent) reported being able to anticipate their weekly work hours.
    • Schedule adequacy: About half of the employees in the study expressed a desire for more work hours—a demand that is difficult for businesses to accommodate while minimizing store labor hours. To address this, an additional component of the intervention, Part-Time Plus, urged management to designate a subset of associates for whom adequacy was prioritized by scheduling them for a minimum of 20 hour per week. This was effective in increasing the average number of hours worked per week from 21.2 to 26.4 hours for the 77 selected staff.
      • Importantly, this intervention did not significantly diminish other employees' perceptions of scheduling fairness. In fact, a notably larger proportion of respondents in intervention stores (68.9 percent) compared to traditional stores (59.1 percent) agreed that their managers fairly allocated hours.

Policy and practice implications

The authors identified the following implications for policy and practice:

  • Businesses: Improving the control, consistency, predictability, and adequacy of work hours not only promotes fairness in the workplace by enhancing employees' perception of equitable treatment, but also leads to tangible benefits for businesses. Consistent schedules can facilitate more streamlined execution of employees’ work tasks, such as increasing familiarity with the location of store merchandise, improving overall efficiency. Additionally, familiarity with tasks and the teams they work in can boost task performance, while increased schedule predictability can reduce absenteeism and tardiness—both critical factors influencing store productivity. By providing employees with greater control over their work hours and reducing scheduling uncertainty, businesses can mitigate potential labor inefficiencies. 
  • Policymakers: Fair workweek laws often target improvements in schedule predictability and control for employees, mirroring the interventions examined in this study. While some business leaders continue to challenge that such legislation may limit labor flexibility for employers and threaten profitability, these findings suggest otherwise. Future research could continue to assess constraints on labor flexibility without the assumption that they will reduce firm productivity.

WorkRise identifies the following implications for policy and practice:

  • Policymakers: These findings highlight the potential to improve worker well-being through responsible scheduling practices without compromising firm performance. Yet voluntary changes to scheduling practices, as in this case, may have different consequences than legal mandates. In enacting fair workweek legislation, policymakers could recognize the diverse needs and constraints of businesses by allowing for the phased implementation of fair workweek laws or tailor those provisions based on the size, industry, and geographic location of businesses to ensure feasibility and minimize disruptions. Policymakers and labor standard enforcement agencies also could provide resources and support for businesses, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, to adapt to the new regulations and implement responsible scheduling practices effectively.

This study challenges the conventional wisdom that restricting retail managers' scheduling practices diminishes efficiency and profitability. The observed increase in store productivity in intervention stores offers compelling evidence that responsible scheduling practices can be implemented without sacrificing firms’ financial performances. Importantly, the fair workweek-like intervention in this study enhanced the scheduling process by incorporating employees’ perspectives while still meeting firms’ business needs. These findings underscore the potential of aligning business practices with principles of social responsibility, showing that prioritizing employee well-being can contribute to both organizational success and societal welfare.

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