December 10, 2008
An increasing number of employees work nontraditional schedules -- but not by choice
If you've been reading this blog awhile, you know that I'm a big fan of flexible work schedules for employees who need a bit more balance in their lives, whether it's to take care of family, tend to a side project, or just stay a bit saner during the workweek.
In Monday's Christian Science Monitor, writer Marilyn Gardner explored the other side of the coin: employers and industries offering less 9-to-5 shifts and more night and weekend shifts, as well as more erratic schedule changes, whether employees like it or not.
As Gardner writes:
"That unpredictable moving around from shift to shift -- days, evenings, nights, weekends -- is becoming more common as companies look for ways to cut labor costs. In a 24/7 world, finding a steady 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule poses a growing challenge for workers in healthcare, retail, hospitality, transportation, and financial services. Shifts, days, and even the number of hours change, often with little notice."
In fact, Gardner reports, "Forty percent of employees in the United States work the majority of their hours outside standard daytime schedules."
This is a far cry from the flex work of white-collar employees who negotiate an earlier or a later start time so they can avoid the rush hour traffic crunch or finagle telecommuting on Fridays so they can save a little gas money and be there when their kids get home from school.
Some of the problems Gardner cites for the shift workers she writes about:
1. Childcare is a pickle, as most daycare centers close by 6 p.m., and it's doubly difficult if a worker's hours are never the same from week to week.
2. Budgeting is also tough, as workers may not get the same amount of hours each week.
3. Having a social life is tough too, and erratic hours often put a strain on marriages.
4. With no benefits and little scheduling consistency, some workers feel as though they're being treated like on-call temps or day laborers.
I was happy to see the article end with the point that some employers in the industries Gardner cites have woken up to the fact that such scheduling practices lead to lower worker productivity and higher turnover. Among the solutions she mentions: higher wages for night shifts, more notice for rotating shifts, and staggered starting times that employees can choose from for early morning or late evening shifts.
As always, I'd love to hear from shift workers about their experiences. What is your employer doing to make your shift work less erratic and more balanced, if anything? Do you feel that given the crummy job market you need to suck it up and take whatever hours your boss offers? Or do you like the variety and flexibility that shift work affords you? Do tell.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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