This article was originally published on The WorkForce Blog

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This is a true story about hourly work:

When Jamal woke up, his manager was standing over him with a cup of cold water. It was the same manager who demanded that Jamal show up for a morning shift after having just closed the restaurant, a practice known as “clopening.”

Typically brought on by unforeseen scheduling circumstances, clopening has become a staple of hourly employment, one that often leaves staff miserable and disengaged. Unfortunately, most hourly workers can’t refuse a shift manager’s short-term request…

Technically they can, sure, but it usually comes at a cost: In Jamal’s case, his manager would dock his hours the following week. He’d even threaten to fire him if he didn’t come in.

17% of employees have unstable work schedules.

And that’s in the U.S. alone, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.

The cause of this instability? There are many, but a few practices stand out:

  1. Clopening: “Don’t forget to turn both locks before you leave, Jamal—and we’ll see you first thing tomorrow morning.”
  2. On-call shifts: “Hi Jamal, I know you’re not scheduled today but Mike just called out sick. I need you to come in.”
  3. Rotating shifts: “You’ll get your full 9 hours today, Jamal, but they’re going to be split into 3-hour sets spaced about 90 minutes apart.”

These scheduling workarounds create serious, lasting problems for employees, including family dysfunction, depression, and health issues, like those Jamal experienced.

“17% of workers have unstable work schedules.”

The Future of Hourly Employment

Liz Ben-Ishai is an analyst for CLASP, a nonprofit research and advocacy group. She helps secure policy solutions that work for low-income people, many of whom are paid by the hour…

“Workers need a fair and livable wage,” says Ben-Ishai. “They also need other aspects of their jobs to be reasonable so that they can actually keep the jobs and care for their families.”

In other words, when a worker’s health and family are on the line, higher wages only go so far. Tomorrow’s workers want protections. They want practices designed to support their wellbeing, to make their professional environment fair.

“When a worker’s health and family are on the line, higher wages only go so far.”

Here’s what hourly workers want specifically:

1. They want to know their schedules are secure.

Receiving a schedule in advance, only to have your shifts “reworked” because something out of your control happened isn’t fair. But it happens constantly, costing employees time and money while it chips away at their enthusiasm.

The result is employee disengagement, which trickles down to the customer in the form of poor service.

In 2015, the nation’s first “Fair Scheduling” law went into effect in San Francisco. It requires employers to provide their people with concrete, unchangeable schedules at least two weeks in advance.

San Francisco today; the country tomorrow; the world next month.

2. They want to have a say in when they work.

Unlike cogs in a machine, hourly employees have somewhere to be after work: They have dates and dance recitals and family barbecues to attend. But many non-salaried workers can’t commit to much because it’s hard for their managers to factor individual availability into schedule development, especially if those managers are creating schedules manually.

That’s where modern workforce management software can help by enabling staff to indicate their availability in advance. The algorithm takes care of the rest.

3. They want to be able to collaborate with colleagues.

Traditionally, managers have served as scheduling middlemen for hourly workers. To simplify this important and complicated task, managers created “rotating” shifts and began putting their people “on-call”, which has arguably done more harm than good.

That begs the question: What if there was no middle man?

What if a phone was all every worker needed to swap shifts and bid on prime vacation time, to actually balance his or her life?

Jamal would be happier, healthier, and more productive.

And Jamal’s manager would have more time to grow his employees and sales, to actually manage.

What if…