News & Events

Counting the Drawer, or Counting Sheep? Better work schedules mean better sleep for retail sales associates

February 19, 2019

From the E4A Stable Schedules Study to Promote Low-Income Worker Health and Well-Being Project

Improving schedule stability in the retail sector means better sleep for sales associates. This is what the researchers leading the Stable Scheduling Study uncover in their new Health Outcomes Report.

Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation have negative short- and long-term effects on health and impede the ability to learn. The scheduling intervention evaluated improved the quality of sales associates’ sleep by 6-8%. The findings provide evidence for businesses and for legislative efforts of the potential health benefits of improving the stability and predictability of scheduling in retail and beyond.

The study, conducted at Gap Inc., was a randomized experiment of a multi-component, store-level intervention designed to improve multiple aspects of scheduling practices in hourly retail jobs. The issued report focuses on sales associates’ health and well-being—both the hardships facing associates before the intervention was implemented and improvements due to the intervention. A total of 28 stores participated in the experiment: 15 in the San Francisco Bay Area and 13 in the Chicago metropolitan area.

“Employers may not be aware of the ways unstable schedules produce significant financial and health hardships on many of their valued employees,” said Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Many sales associates support themselves and lack necessities such as food and housing. Many retail workers are financially stressed due to the inability to secure a minimum number of work hours. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that they also have a hard time sleeping.

Highlights of the study’s findings include:

Worker experiences before intervention implementation

  • 47% of workers reported that their work schedule interfered with their sleep.
  • 51% of workers reported at least moderate food insecurity in the past month.
  • 26% were late on utility payments in the past three months.
  • 19% delayed going to the doctor or getting prescriptions filled because of financial concerns in the past three months. 

Effects of the intervention

  • Self-rated sleep quality improved by 6-8% on average as a result of the intervention.
  • The effects of the intervention on other health outcomes vary by subgroup. For example, the intervention reduced stress among parents and workers holding a second job.

“This important research sheds light on the challenges experienced by people with unstable work schedules,” said Claire Gibbons, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The findings show that a more predictable work schedule can improve workers’ sleep and stress levels—both of which are key factors in living a healthy life.”

“We found that even modest improvements to work schedules can make a meaningful difference to workers’ health and wellbeing,” said Susan J. Lambert, Associate Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

“It has been well known that management practices can have an impact on workers’ health. What our study shows is that it is possible to have sensible management policies that improve workers’ lives without compromising on the bottom line,” said Saravanan Kesavan, Associate Professor and Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

The high rates of food and financial insecurity, and long-term negative health effects of sleep deprivation, highlight that a move to more stable scheduling is not just about profits. As the researchers explain, “it’s about corporate social responsibility. Stable scheduling is an ethical issue that also has concrete business benefits: it’s a win-win.”

The Stable Scheduling Study reflects a partnership between an interdisciplinary team that includes Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law; Susan Lambert, Associate Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA); and Saravanan Kesavan, Associate Professor and Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School; and the Gap, Inc.

The Stable Scheduling Study was supported by generous grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Evidence for Action program, the Institute of International Education in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, Center for Popular Democracy, the Suzanne M. Nora Johnson and David G. Johnson Foundation, and the Gap.

 

Media Contacts

Joan C. Williams
Distinguished Professor, Hastings College of the Law
Founding Director, Center for WorkLife Law
(415) 565-4706
williams@uchastings.edu

Susan Lambert
Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration
The University of Chicago
(773) 702-1143
slambert@uchicago.edu

Saravanan Kesavan
Associate Professor and Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar
University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School
(919) 962-3140
kesavans@kenan-flagler.unc.edu