Abstract: Precarious Work Schedules in Low-Level Jobs: Implications for Work-Life Interferences and Stress (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13344 Precarious Work Schedules in Low-Level Jobs: Implications for Work-Life Interferences and Stress

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 5:30 PM
Marina (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Julia R. Henly, PhD , University of Chicago, Associate Professor, Chicago, IL
Susan J. Lambert, PhD , University of Chicago, Associate Professor, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Employer scheduling practices are a well-documented source of employment instability that can impede job performance, worker well-being, and family life. Most research on work schedules focuses on the implications of nonstandard work timing (e.g., nontraditional hours) (Presser, 2003); however there is growing concern over the “precariousness” of work – employment insecurity and uncertainty – rather than its timing (Kalleberg, 2009). Employment precariousness is of particular concern for low-wage workers who disproportionately experience other vulnerabilities that can exacerbate the negative effects of precarious employment.

In this study, precariousness is defined as: (1) schedule predictability: whether employees can anticipate working particular days, hours, and shifts each week and (2) schedule control: the input employees have over their work schedules. Drawing from research on time-based and strain-based work-family conflict, we advance a behavioral and stress model to explain the hypothesized association between precarious work and three outcomes: interferences with nonwork activities (e.g., family meals, outings, and doctor's appointments), perceived work-family conflict, and perceived stress. Specifically, we hypothesize that schedule predictability and control will be significantly related to all dependent variables but that predictability will be more strongly related to the time-based behavioral outcome (interferences) whereas control will be more strongly associated with the strain-based outcomes (work-family conflict and stress).

Method: The analyses are based on data from the Retail Scheduling Survey, a telephone survey conducted in 2008 of 123 hourly retail workers in the Midwest. Sample eligibility is based on employment within one of 21 stores from a participating retail chain. Dependent variables include Interferences (4 items, alpha = .84), Perceived Work-Family Conflict (5 items, alpha = .87), and Perceived Stress (8 items, alpha = .81). Independent variables include Predictability (3 items, alpha = .65) and Control (4 items, alpha = .82). Multivariate regressions are used to examine the relationship between work schedule predictability and control and the dependent variables, controlling for covariates of vulnerability (race, education, part-time employment, marital status, parenting status, spouse's employment). Standard errors are adjusted to account for the clustering of employees in stores.

Results: Analyses support both behavioral and stress models. More unpredictable schedules and less schedule control are significantly related to interferences with nonwork activities. As expected, this relationship is stronger for predictability than control. More unpredictable schedules and less schedule control are also significantly related to perceived work-life conflict and stress. As hypothesized, the influence of predictability is attenuated when schedule control is included in the model, suggesting that having input over one's schedule reduces the stress associated with unpredictability. These effects are robust to several alternative model specifications.

Conclusion and Implications: This study extends knowledge on how work schedules shapes the lives of hourly workers. The results suggest that control over work hours can reduce the stress of unpredictable schedules, however such control is insufficient to fully compensate for the interferences in nonwork activities that unpredictability can cause. After considering study limitations, we discuss how this study can inform workplace interventions and legislative efforts to improve the well-being of hourly workers and their families.