Key Findings

  • There may be more stability in labor demand than is commonly assumed in the retail sector. For most stores, over 80 percent of staffing hours assigned to stores stay the same from month to month, suggesting a great deal of predictability in staffing and scheduling requirements that could be capitalized on to produce more stable schedules for employees.
  • There may be more stability in the workforce than is commonly assumed in the retail sector. Analysis of corporate administrative records demonstrates that the stores had an annual retention rate of 50 percent or higher among part-time and full-time employees in both 2007 and 2008. Retention rates thus suggest greater stability in the workforce than seen when looking at annual turnover rates, which exceed 100% among part-time employees. The data reveal a core group of employees who stay longer term and a group that turns over quickly. Analyses indicate that newly-hired workers, African Americans, and younger workers are at highest risk of rapid turnover.
  • Management practices make a difference for turnover and retention. Stores in which managers pursue a strategy of keeping headcount high have higher turnover and lower retention rates than stores in which managers say they try to keep their staff small to help ensure that workers get hours, even after controlling for the composition of the workforce.
  • Employees experience a great deal of variability in their hours. Across the study period (May 2008 to January 2009), employees worked an average of 20 hours per week (range=4 to 45 hours). On average, employees’ hours varied 5.7 hours week to week, but some employees experienced greater variation than others (range = .4 hours to 15 hours). Employee age, race, and tenure are not significantly associated with work hour fluctuations; tenure (but not age and race) is positively associated with average number of weekly hours. Full-time assistant managers worked significantly more hours and experienced greater hour fluctuations than part-time sales associates.
  • The more hours employees work and the less hours fluctuate, the longer they remain employed at the firm. In multivariate analyses, both hour fluctuations and average total work hours are significantly related to sustained employment, after controlling for tenure, age, race, and even occupation and job status.
  • Both schedule predictability and schedule flexibility are related to employee well-being and work-life outcomes. Employee survey results indicate that employees with less predictable work schedules report higher levels of stress, greater work-to-family conflict, and more interferences with non-work activities such as scheduling doctor’s appointments, socializing with friends, and eating meals together as a family. In contrast, employees with more input into their work hours and shifts report lower levels of stress, work-to-family conflict, and interferences with non-work activities. Unpredictable schedules are more powerful than input for workers in this sample, meaning that even with the ability to have some schedule flexibility, unpredictable schedules remain negatively related to these key outcomes.