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Harvard Study Shows Negative Impact of Unpredictable Work Schedules on Michigan Service Sector Workers and their Children
February 13, 2023
LEO focused on helping state build healthy, supportive workplaces by providing awareness, resources and support for employers and employees
LANSING, Mich.—A recent report authored by researchers at The Shift Project, based at the Harvard Kennedy School at the request of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), titled “Working in the Service Sector in Michigan,” sheds light on the adverse effects of unpredictable scheduling practices in the workplace.
LEO continues to focus on helping our state build a healthy and strong workforce with supportive workplaces that promote the well-being of all working people. To share resources and strategies aimed at helping employees and employers across the state address mental health in the workplace, LEO launched Michigan.gov/WorkplaceMentalHealth last month.
The study, based on a survey of over 5,000 service sector workers in Michigan, showed that employees who work in jobs with irregular scheduling experience increased economic insecurity, decreased access to affordable child care and a heightened level of stress and exhaustion. Around 560,000 people, or 13% of the labor force in Michigan, were employed in the retail and food service sectors as of 2022.
“As LEO continues to rise to the challenge of ensuring that all working people in Michigan have proper workplace safety, fair wages and labor protections, it is critical that we bring to light their experiences,” said Susan Corbin, LEO Director. “We are committed to continued focus on building a healthy and strong workforce and pursuing efforts that will make Michigan a more equitable place for all.”
The new report was produced by researchers from the Shift Project, co-led by Professors Daniel Schneider and Kristen Harknett, and is part of a series designed to advance the understanding of working conditions in the service sector and how schedule instability and unpredictability impacts cities and states across the country.
According to the study, the retail and food sectors in Michigan are characterized by low pay, insufficient work hours and a lack of control over schedules. Not only do these individuals face significant work-life conflict and economic insecurity, but that exposure to unstable and unpredictable schedules may exacerbate these problems and even negatively affect workers’ health and wellbeing.
“As we continue to examine a number of workplace issues, including those that impact workplace wellbeing and mental health, we look to not only other states and the federal government to identify areas for improvement, but also experts in the field,” said Sean Egan, LEO Deputy Director of Labor. “Researching and identifying challenges helps us find opportunities where we can have a meaningful impact on the overall wellbeing and economic security for working people in Michigan.”
The study also found that workers with unpredictable schedules are much more likely to report having experienced hunger hardship in the past year, report worse sleep quality and are less happy and significantly more distressed. These challenges also flow to the children of these workers, creating anxiety and other impacts.
“The unstable and erratic work schedules that so many hourly workers in the service sector in Michigan cope with, lead to all too predictable consequences for their health, wellbeing and economic security,” said Daniel Schneider, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Our work and hour regulations simply haven’t kept up with the reality of these scheduling practices and workers need basic guardrails to protect them against the most pernicious practices.”
Last month, LEO launched a monthly webinar series that facilitates discussions around the importance of investing in mental health to build stronger, more resilient workplaces, featuring insight from experts in the field. Facilitated by Deputy Director Egan, this month will feature guest Professor Daniel Schneider to discuss his current research on precarious and unpredictable work schedules. Join the live webinar at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb.16.
In some cities and states around the country, work scheduling practices are beginning to change because of labor laws that regulate work schedules. In Michigan, House Bill 4035 was introduced last month requiring certain employers to provide written work schedules to certain employees and allowing employees to request changes. Where implemented, these types of policies are showing results in terms of earnings, but also the health and wellbeing of working people and their families in these industries.
To learn more about Michigan’s efforts to improve workplace mental health, visit www.michigan.gov/workplacementalhealth.