SSA Researchers Find that Regular Schedules Make Retail Employees More Efficient

The study found that stores implementing regular hours experienced a 7 percent increase in sales.

By Madeleine Zhou, Deputy News Editor

Researchers at UChicago’s School of Social Service Administration (SSA) recently collaborated on a study showing that retail workers are more productive when given more stable schedules.

This study, conducted with researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, follows previous studies that have shown that retailers often under-staff their stores during peak hours.

The study began in November 2015, led by professor Joan Williams of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She and her team of co–principal investigators began by interviewing managers at various Gap stores in Chicago and San Francisco about their management styles.

28 Gap stores in Chicago and San Francisco were randomly split into control and intervention groups. The store managers in the intervention group were given seven changes to implement. These included eliminating “on-calls,” which are defined as the scheduling of shifts that can be cancelled up until two hours before they start. Managers were also required to post employee schedules at least two weeks in advance, providing a core group of workers a “soft guarantee” of 20 or more hours per week, and establishing standard start and end times for shifts. The experiment lasted for 35 weeks.

After the conclusion of the experiment, the researchers found a 7 percent increase in sales for the stores in the intervention group, and they estimated that the Gap earned about $2.9 million from this increase. The researchers also recorded a 5 percent increase in labor productivity and found that, in general, employees in the intervention group reported feeling more enthusiastic and committed to their work.

Currently, many retail employees have schedules that vary on a day-to-day basis because store managers believe that this will lead to greater profits. The findings of this study suggest that this is not the case; instead, consistent scheduling generates higher profits and improved customer service.

“The key takeaway is that making these changes requires some small adjustments from the corporate headquarters,” co–principal investigator Susan Lambert, an associate professor at SSA, told The Maroon. “Managers can learn how to exercise basic practices with a bit of time and training.”

Some cities, such as New York and Seattle, already have Fair Workweek laws that emphasize stable schedules similar to the ones used in the experiment, leading Lambert to conclude that making these types of schedules more common is plausible. “These laws will set new standards in our jobs,” said Lambert.