Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16965 Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers: Developing a Framework for Public and Private Policy Intervention

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:30 AM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Swanberg, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Elizabeth Watson, Legislative Council, Georgetown University, Washington, DC
Introduction: Over the past two decades, the quality of employment in the U.S. has declined significantly, especially among those at the lower end of the pay scale. Workers in low-wage hourly jobs are less likely to have access to health insurance and other employer-sponsored benefits, to be unionized, or to have access to flexible work arrangements—a popular organizational practice used to assist employees with meeting work and family responsibilities. Many organizations' work-family policies focus on flexible work arrangements for professional workers at the exclusion of workers in low-wage hourly jobs. Therefore, common forms of flexibility (e.g., daily flextime, compressed work weeks, and telework) are not easily transferable to hourly jobs, especially those in service sectors. Moreover, these forms of flexibility often overlook the main cause of work-family conflict among low-wage hourly workers—scheduling practices. Work-life scholars and policy advocates have called for an expansion of the definition of flexible work arrangements to address scheduling problems for low-wage hourly workers and to include solutions more responsive to their circumstances.

To address this knowledge gap in flexible work arrangements, this paper conceptualizes three types of scheduling problems, determines their prevalence using the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce, identifies three types of flexible workplace solutions that can address them, and proposes workplace and public policy strategies for incorporating flexible work solutions into low-wage hourly jobs.

Methods: The 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) is used to provide a descriptive analysis of the flexible workplace arrangements available to low-wage hourly workers employed in jobs requiring standard and nonstandard working hours. The 2008 NSCW is a nationally representative sample of the U.S. workforce conducted every five years by the Families and Work Institute. Restricting the sample to low-wage, hourly workers (N=648), bivariate analyses (cross-tabulations, t-tests, and analysis of variance) were used to determine the prevalence of three types of scheduling problems among employees with standard and nonstandard hours: rigidity, unpredictability, and instability. Our analysis also examined whether certain scheduling problems were more prevalent among individuals working standard or nonstandard schedules.

Key Findings: Analyses revealed that half of U.S. low-wage hourly workers have standard schedules while the other half work nonstandard schedules. Nearly half of low-wage hourly workers experience one or more rigid scheduling practices, including lack of control in scheduling of work hours (including overtime and extra work hours), inability to choose starting and quitting times, or inability to decide when to take breaks. Between 20-25% of low-wage hourly workers experience at least one form of unpredictability in work hours (i.e., layoffs, reduction in work hours) and nearly half of workers on standard and nonstandard schedules experience instability, including having little control over when they are scheduled to work.

Implications: We identify three flexible workplace solutions to address these scheduling problems (opportunities for meaningful input into work schedules, more predictable work schedules and more stable work schedules) and propose workplace and public policy initiatives to incorporate these solutions into daily workplace operations.

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