The Wellness Industry Snoozes Thru the Predictable Scheduling and Clopening Debate

By | September 19, 2016

Starbucks employees in Seattle have advocated for predictable, secure schedulingFor a group that purports to be committed to wellbeing and helping employees get a good night’s sleep, the wellness industry sure is quiet about the issue of “clopening.”

Wellness experts harp on the importance of sleep, and vendors hawk sleep-tracking devices, apps, and programs. But nary a word is spoken about the job conditions  necessary to assure workers have the opportunity to get the sleep they need.

It’s hard to get eight hours of sleep if you’re only home for five or six hours between your evening shift and your morning shift. And that’s where “clopening” comes in. The term commonly applies to schedules in which part-time retail and fast food workers are required to close the store late in the evening and open early in the morning.

Clopening gained notoriety in a 2014 New York Times story about the life challenges a Starbucks employee faced as a result of “just in time” (last minute) scheduling that included clopening. In the minds of activists, unpredictable scheduling and insufficient rest periods between shifts have been linked ever since — appropriately so, as  both practices tend to coincide and threaten employee wellbeing.

These scheduling practices also go hand-in-hand with schedule fluctuation (like working eight hours one week and 40 hours the next) and inflexibility. According to a report by the University of Chicago, unpredictable, fluctuating, and inflexible scheduling undermine almost every dimension of workers’ wellbeing, including the physical, mental, family, occupational, and financial realms. The report’s author, Susan Lambert, was quoted in a follow-up Times article as saying:

This particular form of scheduling — not enough rest time between shifts — is particularly harmful.

The Economic Policy Institute has delineated how “irregular scheduling” influences employee stress, work/life balance, and financial health — all issues we in the wellness industry prattle on about ad nauseam.

In July 2016, Human Impact Partners published an analysis, Scheduling Away Our Health, concluding…

Through literature review, original data analysis, and focus groups, we find that the health and well-being of workers is undoubtedly compromised by unpredictable work schedules.

Even prior to the original New York Times exposé, and increasingly after it, municipalities have considered “secure scheduling” legislation to limit schedule unpredictability, fluctuation, and, yes, clopening.

Employers inevitably resist regulation. But if they are as committed to employee wellbeing as they say they are, they should evaluate and address scheduling practices proactively.

Leadership sometimes emerges where it’s least expected — in this case, Walmart. The mega-retailer recently phased in new processes — on the heels of improvements it made to compensation and occupational development — in order to make scheduling more flexible and predictable for workers. The Washington Post reported that, based on early results, workers with access to the new scheduling system experienced an 11% decline in absenteeism and a 14% drop in turnover, “which comports with what academic research has shown is possible with greater predictability and worker control.”

Earlier this year, a group of large employers, led by a prominent wellness vendor, reportedly launched a bizarre initiative to persuade publicly held businesses to disclose aggregate data on the health status, including body mass index, of their employees.

In recent years, the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from the largest corporations in the U.S., lobbied aggressively against the EEOC’s efforts to curb discriminatory cost-shifting strategies cloaked as “wellness incentives.”

Hopefully, these business leaders will channel their commitment to employee wellbeing toward more genuine efforts, leading the business community on issues that matter to employees and that employers are in a position to do something about — like predictable scheduling and clopening.

As wellness professionals, our job is to anticipate these issues, study them, propose evidence-based action plans,  and to keep these employee wellbeing needs at the forefront of the business agenda.

Below is a video from a Seattle City Council meeting in which stakeholders testify about how unpredictable scheduling and clopening affect employee wellbeing. Note that none of them are lobbying for tracking devices, apps, or programs.

(Video courtesy of Working Washington and Seattle Channel)

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