Abstract: Attendance Anxiety, Precarious Work Schedules, and Job Satisfaction Among U.S. Food and Beverage Workers during Early COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Attendance Anxiety, Precarious Work Schedules, and Job Satisfaction Among U.S. Food and Beverage Workers during Early COVID-19

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Encanto B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hyeri Choi, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pennsylvania
Ioana Marinescu, PhD, Associate professor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background: COVID-19 is exacerbating uncertainties in the workplace, especially among workers who cannot perform their work remotely. Even in the height of the pandemic, retail workers deemed ‘essential,’ such as those in grocery stores, were required to continue working on-site. Work hour unpredictability and instability grew as consumer demand surged and subsided and coworkers fell ill from the virus. Employers varied in their provision of personal protective equipment and paid leave for COVID-related reasons, leaving many retail workers at even greater risk of the coronavirus. Perhaps not surprisingly, essential retail workers experienced a new element of workplace risk: anxiety over going to work. In this paper, we draw on original survey data to address the following research questions:

Q1: How does attendance anxiety and work hour precarity help explain job satisfaction among essential retail workers?

We focus on job satisfaction because research has shown that it has profound consequences for workers’ physical, psychological, and family well-being.

Q2: What employer supports helped reduce attendance anxiety among retail workers who continued working on-site during the pandemic?

Methods: Data were collected through an online survey on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform. Between July and August 2020, we secured a sample of U.S. part-time workers in “food and beverage retail stores” (N=179), which includes workers in such workplaces as grocery stores, convenience stores, and seafood markets. The sample does not include restaurant workers.

Using Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression analyses, job satisfaction was regressed on several measures of precarious work schedules, attendance anxiety, and a set of control variables. Precarious work schedules have five dimensions: instability of hours (work-hour fluctuations), the timing of hours (standard vs. nonstandard hours), predictability of hours (advance notice, last-minute schedule changes), schedule control (input into the number and timing of hours), and inadequate hours (deviation from preferred hours). Attendance anxiety is measured by asking respondents if they feel nervous, anxious, or on edge to come into work on a 5-point scale.

Results: The findings indicate that attendance anxiety is negatively associated with job satisfaction; a one standard deviation increase in anxiety is associated with a 0.34 standard deviation decrease in job satisfaction. Among work schedule measures, employer-driven control over work hours was negatively associated with job satisfaction, but the association was smaller than that of anxiety. In terms of employer supports during COVID-19, workers with higher attendance anxiety were less like to be provided with paid leave (14%) and personal protective equipment (76.3%) than workers with lower anxiety (33.7%, 93% respectively).

Conclusions and Implications: Our results underscore the importance of high rates of attendance anxiety and problematic scheduling practices among food and beverage workers during early COVID-19. Anxiety about coming to work was an important psychological determinant of job (dis)satisfaction as was having little say in work hours. At a time of renewed interest in worker well-being, our findings suggest the importance of making worker health and safety a priority at the workplace.