People Working Part-Time Want and Need Better Schedules

If you wanted to find out whether people working part-time would like having more hours and a more predictable schedule, whom would you ask’the workers themselves, or their employers?

Last summer, when DC Jobs with Justice, Georgetown University, and DCFPI surveyed retail and restaurant employees throughout the District, we found that 4 in 5 said it was important to them to get more hours. The survey also found that having a more predictable schedule would be very helpful for most employees.

The Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015, legislation currently before the DC Council, would do just that’provide employees with advance notice of their schedules, and make additional hours available to current employees first, before businesses can make a new hire.

However, a new report from the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) decided to ask employers whether their employees wanted more hours, rather than asking the actual employees themselves. They found that 70 percent of businesses in the District claim their part-time employees only want to work part-time.

We have more faith in a survey of the employees themselves. Employers cannot know exactly how their employees feel. Simply because someone applies for a part-time position does not mean they would not welcome additional hours if offered. Our survey found that in given month, typical weekly hours for a given employee fluctuated from a low of 25 to a high of 38. Also, an employee who applied for part-time hours may, later on, want more hours because their situation changes.

Consider this from our survey: one in four retail and restaurant employees has a second job, and most say they would rather work just one job with more hours. In addition, 23 percent feared their employer would retaliate against them for requesting a scheduling change. Given this, it is safe to say that employers cannot know how many hours their employees would be most happy with.

In addition, there is evidence that offering existing employees access to more hours when they become available is not a particularly onerous requirement. The EPI report finds that 68 percent of business owners responded that either they were “unsure” or that it would not be difficult at all to offer existing employees more work before hiring. A small business owner in the District recently wrote an op-ed about her own scheduling practices in the Washington Post, saying that providing access to hours’as well as other provisions of the bill such as advanced scheduling’helps keep her employees happy and her business competitive.

The EPI report also uses government data (the Current Population Survey) to estimate the number of employees who were working involuntarily part-time, and says that because only a small minority report they “could only find part time work” as the reason to work part time, that most people working part-time are content with their hours. Yet many who list other reasons for working part-time in the CPS survey’child care, attending school, and other family obligations’would be better served by having a regular schedule that is posted well in advance. Once their schedules are more predictable, they may very likely want to take on additional hours. Indeed, this is the whole point of the legislation.

More specifically:

  • Our survey found that the median age of DC’s part-time workforce is 36, and that one in five are adults with families to support. These parents need predictable schedules in order to coordinate child care for their children. Some 28 percent of part-timers with children said that unpredictable schedules negatively impacted their child care arrangements.
  • The EPI report finds that 27 percent of part-timers are currently attending school. These employees need a more predictable schedule in order to attend their scheduled classes and obtain their degrees. According to our survey, 12 percent of these employees found unpredictable schedules negatively impacted their ability to attend classes.

It is also important to note that exactly how many part-timers want more hours is irrelevant. If any employees want and are qualified for additional hours, and they become available, the offer should be made to them first, before additional employees are hired.

Thus, encouraging and enforcing stable work scheduling practices would go a long way to helping hard-working DC residents provide for their families and continue the education that they need to advance their careers’despite what businesses say about their employees’ happiness at work.