Stable Scheduling Increases Productivity and Sales: The Stable Scheduling Study

In the first randomized controlled experiment of a multi-component intervention designed to shift schedules in hourly retail jobs toward greater stability, the Stable Scheduling Study found that increasing the stability of work schedules is possible and even profitable in today’s competitive retail environment.

Report: The Stable Scheduling Study

Contrary to the widely held assumption that schedule instability for employees is an inevitable outcome of the volatile retail business, this study demonstrates that giving employees more stability is not only possible, but it can increase sales and labor productivity, and offer a high return on investment.

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

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Authors: Distinguished Professor Joan C. Williams, Associate Professor Susan J. Lambert, Associate Professor Saravanan Kesavan, Peter J. Fugiel, Lori Ann Ospina, Erin Devorah Rapoport, Meghan Jarpe, Dylan Bellisle, Pradeep Pendem, Lisa McCorkell & Sarah Adler-Milstein

The Experiment:

The study began with a pretest that lasted from March 2015 to October 2015 in three Gap stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the end of the pretest, Gap decided to roll out two of the proposed practices to all of their U.S. stores as of October 1, 2015:

  1. Two-week Advance Notice: All stores were required to finalize and publish schedules two weeks in advance, and
  2. Elimination of On-calls: All stores were required to cease the practice of scheduling tentative shifts that may be cancelled only a few hours before they are scheduled to start.

The full pilot, which included 28 stores in the San Francisco and Chicago metropolitan areas, ran from November 2015 to August 2016. For the full pilot, 19 stores were randomly assigned to the treatment condition and 9 stores were randomly assigned to the control condition. During the pilot, both the treatment and control stores continued to implement Two-week Advance Notice and Elimination of On-calls, along with the rest of the company’s stores. In treatment stores, five additional practices were added:

  1. Tech-enabled Shift Swapping: Through an app called Shift Messenger, associates could swap shifts without requiring manager involvement, and managers could post additional shifts as the need arose.
  2. Stable Shift Structure: Managers endeavored to increase the consistency of shift start and end times in their store across days of the week.
  3. Core Scheduling: Managers aimed to improve the consistency of their associates’ shifts (days and times) from week to week.
  4. Part-time Plus: Managers offered a core team of associates a soft guarantee of 20 or more hours a week.
  5. Targeted Additional Staffing: The research team analyzed store data to identify which stores would be likely to increase their sales by adding additional staff to the sales floor at consistent specified times, and these stores received additional staffing hours at no cost to the store budget.

Major Findings:

  • Consistency, predictability, and worker input increased. The intervention produced significant, but modest increases in these three dimensions of schedule stability.
  • Adequacy of work hours did not increase for most associates. Part-time Plus associates saw an increase in hours during the intervention period, but the average associate did not.
  • Stable scheduling sharply increased median sales by 7% in treatment stores during the intervention period—a dramatic increase in an industry in which companies often work hard to achieve increases of 1-2%.
  • Stable scheduling also significantly increased labor productivity by 5%. Treatment stores generated an additional $6.20 of revenue per hour of labor than did control stores.
  • Fluctuating customer demand is not the primary source of instability. Only 30% of the variability in weekly payroll hours was explained by changes in traffic from week to week. Store managers identified three key sources of headquarter-driven instability: inaccuracies in shipment information, last-minute changes in promotions, and visits by corporate leaders.

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