How Poor Scheduling Practices Are Hurting Retailers

While employee satisfaction is often discussed as an integral part of the overall performance and health of retail businesses, experts say something is lacking when it comes to execution.

Receiving significant attention lately are the employee scheduling practices of footwear-and-apparel companies.

Most recently, an email sent by Urban Outfitters to salaried employees — requesting they come in and work for free on weekends — set the Internet ablaze.

The situation brought new attention to ongoing issues with the shift systems used by many fashion retailers.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a statement on Oct. 7 saying that, following ongoing discussions, Urban Outfitters had agreed to end its controversial on-call shifts for employees at all of its New York stores, with a phase-in process starting in November.

In April, Schneiderman’s office also sent letters to Crocs, Target Corp., Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch, J.Crew, L Brands, TJX Co. and six others, informing them of possible labor-law infractions by those companies and requesting information regarding their scheduling practices.

Now, new research is providing insight on the financial and emotional toll that onerous scheduling practices can take on workers, as well as their employers and managers.

A study published by WorkJam, creators of an employee relationship management software platform, found that 56 percent of hourly employees receive their schedules a week or less in advance, and 29 percent rarely receive a consistent schedule.

This inconsistency obviously creates hardships for employees — and dissatisfied employees can become very costly to companies.

“Unpredictable schedules and wages give staff less incentive to stay, driving up expenditures for recruitment and training,” the study said. “On average, replacing one worker costs up to $4,000 and more than 60 hours of training.”

When turnover accelerates, understaffing can result in an even bigger problem for companies. In the WorkJam study, 46 percent of companies reported being frequently or sometimes understaffed — and the most-cited consequence of being understaffed is compromised customer experience.

Other side effects of understaffing include increased overtime expenses, decreased staff morale and failure to meet sales targets.

The issue also extends into the job hunt.

Of the workers surveyed, 60 percent said the most difficult aspect of a job search is finding a position that matches their availability and location preferences.

And mid-level managers — who often oversee retail stores as well as the recruitment process — also face significant challenges due to poor company scheduling policies.

Nearly 70 percent of them said the most difficult part of their scheduling responsibilities is assigning shifts that accommodate both their staff’s availability and the needs of the business. Add in unappealing wages and a lack of interested and/or qualified candidates, and the result is a corporate nightmare.

Since the New York AG’s office launched its inquiry into hourly scheduling practices earlier this year, Schneiderman said Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works, Gap and Victoria’s Secret have ended their use of on-call systems.

* WorkJam surveyed 500 U.S. service-company managers and 700 U.S. hourly employees for its report.

Access exclusive content