The Role of Manager Practices and Employee Work-Life Responsibilities in Explaining Fluctuating and Scarce Hours in Part-Time Retail Jobs
Methods. The site for the study is a US women’s apparel retail firm. The sample includes all part-time associates (N=606, all women) who were working in a set of 82 stores at any time between July and December 2012. Average age is 42; 51.5% of associates are white, 29.5% African American, and 15% Hispanic. Data on employee work hours come from the firm’s payroll system that tracks when employees clock in and out each day. Payroll data are matched with employees’ responses to a survey (75% response rate) and corporate personnel data on store and worker characteristics. Standard errors are adjusted for nesting of employees within stores, and analyses control for employees’ work-hour preferences and other individual and store characteristics.
Results. Many workers averaged fewer hours than they would prefer. Daily hours were summed to calculate total hours for each week of the study period. Associates averaged 15.1 hours per week (range=3.3 to 31.6 hours); 40% reported that they would prefer to work more hours. Many workers experienced large swings in weekly work hours. The average variation in weekly work hours (i.e., the standard deviation of weekly hours across the study period) ranged from .3 to 15.6 hours (mean=6), indicating that the extent of work-hour fluctuations differed substantially among part-time employees. The manager practice of keeping headcount high made it difficult for employees to get hours. The more employees on the store’s roster (per allocated hours), the fewer hours worked by individual part-time employees. Workers faced a trade-off between stability and adequacy of work hours. Sales associates with restricted availability had more stable schedules but worked fewer hours on average than coworkers with wider availability, even when they reported preferring additional hours.
Conclusion: Scarce and fluctuating hours are sources of precarious employment that jeopardize the economic and social well-being of today’s low-income families. The discussion will include suggestions of how social policy and employer practice can decrease fluctuations in work hours at the individual employee level while allowing managers labor flexibility at the store level.