Retailers…Are You Ruining Your Hourly Workers’ Health?

According to information found on Harvard Business Review, retailers often view their store associates as an expense that must be controlled rather than a means of providing better service for customers.

In fact, the convention of having barebones staff and unstable schedules (scheduling that varies day-to-day) has prospered under the appearance of empowering retailers to achieve greater profits.

But HBR discovered that by increasing staffing, retailers could actually improve sales and profits. Sadly, this message isn’t sinking in.

The Negative Effects of Unstable Work Schedules

Today, most retail associates work part-time schedules, which typically change not only daily but also weekly—often with barely three days’ notice of the next week’s schedule.

As Retail Dive points out, the stress of unstable work schedules—including erratic work hours and disruptive on-call work policies that interfere with personal activities—can rob retail workers of sleep and cause adverse health problems.

In a study involving a randomized and controlled study of the Gap—which focused on the impact of unstable scheduling on Gap workers’ health, work-life conflict, and financial well-being—key findings revealed that:

  • 47% of employees said their work schedule interrupted their sleep
  • 60% of workers reported having stress-related physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches, within the past week, unrelated to a prior health condition.
  • 39% of mothers and 56% of fathers had to cancel an event or appointment in the last three months due to their work schedule

In a separate study on the hardships of unstable shifts on hourly hospitality and retail workers, WorkJam revealed similar results, citing the financial setbacks workers face when they miss a shift due to unpredictable scheduling.

Stable Scheduling Increases Productivity in Sales & Labor

Referring back to the Gap study, interventions were put in place to counter the negative effects of unstable schedules, including the elimination of on-call shifts, the expansion of part-time options, the incorporation of tech-enabled shift swapping, the addition of more targeted staffing, and ensuring that workers received their schedules two weeks in advance.

Interestingly, Gap saw the following positive changes:

  • 7% increase in sales and a 5% increase in productivity
  • Workers enjoyed a 6% to 8% increase in sleep quality
  • Parents experienced 15% less stress
  • Workers holding two jobs experienced 9% less stress

HBR estimates that Gap earned $2.9 million as a result of more-stable scheduling during the 35 weeks the experiment took place.

Instead of the typical way of driving sales through increased traffic, Gap’s sales occurred due to higher conversion rates and basket values made possible through better service from associates.


“Here’s the bottom line: a shift to more stable schedules is a win-win for retailers and their employees. During a challenging time in the retail industry, Gap made a commitment to its values and it paid off,” says HBR.

Giving workers more scheduling options allows them to better manage their lives and reduce stress-induced health problems and financial hardships that unstable scheduling creates, suggests Retail Dive.

Retailers would do well to implement more stable scheduling for their associates, which can significantly improve customer service and increase sales.

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Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.