When it comes to personal finances, most people aspire to the level of security that can deal with the daily curveballs life tends to throw. Yet, according to a newly released study, hourly wage earners in the U.S. are hard-pressed to lose a single shift without potentially falling onto hard times.
The study, titled "The Economic Impact of Missing a Single Shift," was released this Monday by digital workspace company WorkJam. More than 1,000 American hourly workers in the retail, hospitality, logistics, healthcare and banking industries were surveyed for the study.
Nearly 80 percent of the American workforce lives paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey. Steven Kramer, the co-founder, president and CEO of WorkJam, said his company's findings highlight how tenuous many Americans' financial stability can be.
"Today's workforce is living paycheck to paycheck," he said. "For them, the loss of a single shift can jeopardize control over their entire livelihood."
A March 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there were "80.4 million workers age 16 or older ... [who] were paid hourly wages" in 2017, representing "58.3 percent of all wage and salary workers."
Regardless of what kept an hourly worker away from their job, WorkJam's study suggests that losing a few hours in a workweek can have a major impact in the short term. Approximately 49 percent of respondents said they were unable to pay their utility bills on time whenever they missed a shift. Another 27 percent said they missed rent, and 25 percent said they skipped buying groceries for a week.
Kramer said the study highlights how important good communication between employers and their hourly employees can be.
"It's never been more important for employers to make communication and scheduling a priority so that they aren't putting their employees at risk of forgoing basic necessities," he said.
Chief among the issues that can crop up for hourly workers, according to Kramer and his company's study, are the lack of modern scheduling solutions and erratic work schedules.
Of the study's respondents in the hospitality industry, 55 percent said they rely on paper schedules posted in their break room to learn about their schedules for the following week. The number increased slightly for retail respondents, who said they relied on paper schedules 57 percent of the time.
Among those respondents who said they were most impacted by an unexpected loss in hours were single parents. As they are their family's primary wage earner, missing a single shift can throw a massive wrench in their ability to keep up with their financial responsibilities.
Single mothers, according to the WorkJam study, are hit particularly hard. Approximately 67 percent reported making late payments on their bills, while 47 percent said they would be forced to skip buying groceries and 42 percent said they were unable to pay their rent on time.
The situation is also dire for single fathers. Among that subset of respondents who missed one shift, 58 percent said they missed bill payments and 11 were forced to skip groceries for that week.
While outdated scheduling practices can cause problems for hourly employees, the study also found that breakdowns in communication with their employers can also cause a lost shift.
According to the study, when a worker is unable to reach their manager in a quick and easy manner, they "may ask a colleague to relay information about availability or swapping shifts." That situation can then leave both parties "vulnerable to miscommunication and mistakes, jeopardizing an employee's good standing and earnings for that week."
Erratic work schedules also play a part here. They tend to make life more difficult for workers and managers, since the former has to schedule their lives around work and the latter has to "efficiently oversee their workforce."
"Miscommunication and scheduling inconsistencies deepen the disconnect between employers and their front-line employees," Kramer said. "This drives down employee engagement, which can have a major impact on a company's bottom line."
WorkJam's study found that "71 percent of dissatisfied hourly employees are currently looking for new jobs, citing unstable schedules and difficulties reaching their managers" as the main reasons for their ongoing job search.
In order to combat employee dissatisfaction as it relates to scheduling and communication, WorkJam contends that "service industries should strive to create a working environment that addresses the scheduling pain points plaguing both employees and employers."
"A stable work schedule is more than a convenience for both sides of the table – it offers financial peace of mind and empowers hourly employees to control their economic well-being," according to the study. "By simplifying the front-end distribution and management of schedules and unexpected shift changes ... managers [can] improve staffing while aligning work shifts to the needs of their employees."