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Erratic Work Schedules Killing Work-Life Balance

Erratic Work Schedules Killing Work-Life Balance
Credit: Mark/Shutterstock

Unpredictable workweeks are causing problems on the home front for many U.S. employees, new research finds.

Nearly half of young workers are given their work schedule with one week's notice or less, according to a national study from the University of Chicago. In addition to receiving little advance notice of their work hours, many workers are forced to deal with fluctuations in their work hours and have little input into the timing of when they work.

The study's authors said when work schedules are unpredictable, so too are family and school schedules, as employees must re-shuffle family meals, homework and bedtimes around variable work hours.

"Many of these workers are raising children," Julia Henly, one of the study's co-authors and a University of Chicago associate professor, said in a statement. "[Unpredictable] work schedules are likely to challenge the ability of even the most motivated parents to fulfill responsibilities at work and at home."

The research discovered that scheduling fluctuations are particularly common in low-wage occupations where the variability makes it difficult to predict earnings week to week. An example is in the food service industry: workers almost universally experience wide work-hour fluctuations over the course of a sample month, fluctuating on average by what amounts to 68 percent of usual work hours. [Work-Life Balance? If These People Can Do It, You Can, Too! ]

Retail workers are another example, with half not getting more than a week's advance notice of when they are working.

"With these new data, we find that schedule unpredictability and fluctuating hours are not conditions of work relegated solely to the bottom of the labor market," said Susan Lambert, one of the study's co-authors and a University of Chicago associate professor. "While low-level workers are at greatest risk, these practices are widespread."

The survey found that more than 25 percent of employees in higher status jobs receive their work schedules with one week's notice or less, and more than 75 percent of early-career workers in these upper tier occupations reported work-hour fluctuations of at least 30 percent each month. In addition, about a third of elite professionals, business staff and technicians say their employer decides the timing of their work without their input.

Lambert believes that their data shows state and local governments need to take a more active role in trying to implement new standards on employer scheduling practices.

"We want our research to provide the rigorous empirical foundation needed to develop new approaches to reducing inequality and strengthening the well-being and economic security of today’s families," Lambert said.

The research was based on national data released in 2013 on 3,739 workers, ages 26 to 32, employed in the wage and salaried civilian U.S. workforce.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.