New Jersey Service Workers Experience Unstable, Unpredictable Work Schedules

Daniel Schneider, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Kristen Harknett, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco.

BERKELEY, CA – UC Berkeley’s Shift Project released a new report today that explores the work and family lives of low-wage workers in New Jersey.

Titled “Working in the Service Sector in New Jersey,” the research brief highlights findings from a unique survey dataset of 1,996 New Jersey service sector workers. The majority of those surveyed by Shift experience routine schedule instability and unpredictability, which create hardships and stress for themselves and their families. For example:

  • 59% receive their work schedules with less than two weeks’ advance notice
  • 49% worked consecutive closing/opening shifts (“clopenings”)
  • 70% report a change in the timing or length of a shift (they were asked to come in to work early/late or leave early/late)

Workers in New Jersey also report insufficient wages and work hours. Forty-three percent typically work fewer than 40 hours per week at their primary job and would like more hours. Sixty-eight percent of New Jersey workers said that, in a typical month, they have difficulty covering their expenses and paying all their bills.

Short notice and last-minute schedule changes may increase work-life conflict and make it difficult for workers to fulfill obligations or goals outside of work. For example, nearly half (46%) of student workers in New Jersey report that their work schedule makes it difficult for them to attend classes, study, and complete school work. These scheduling conditions may have intergenerational consequences for workers’ children as well, as schedule instability can impede parents’ ability to arrange consistent, quality child care. Children who experience disruption to routines and other stressors related to schedule instability are more likely to act out or feel sad.

The brief also describes how unstable and unpredictable schedules are associated with an increase in hunger hardship, decrease in happiness, and reduction in sleep quality. Workers who experience the most unpredictable schedules score 45% higher on a scale of psychological distress than workers with the most predictable schedules.

“The data clearly show that this is unstable and unpredictable scheduling from the perspective of workers, not flexibility,” said Schneider. “Workers have little input into their schedules and would like more schedule predictability and stability.”

View the research brief.

Study co-authors:
Daniel Schneider, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley
Kristen Harknett, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco
Megan Collins, Project Manager for The Shift Project at the University of California, Berkeley

Support for this brief was provided in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Award No. 74528 and Award No. 45264). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. Research reported in this publication was also supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (Award No. R21HD091578). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We also gratefully acknowledge support from the W.T. Grant Foundation, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.