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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Flexibility for Employers Means Less Flexibility for Workers

Flexibility for Employers Means Less Flexibility for Workers

Sunday, 28 October 2012 07:33

Steven Greenhouse has a great piece in the NYT reporting on how employers are gaining increasing control over their workers' hours as a way to minimize costs. The obvious point, which seems to be lost on proponents of workplace flexibility, is that allowing employers to be flexible on their time demands means that workers cannot make plans in their lives. This requires them to be able to make child care and other arrangements on short notice. This is likely a very important factor in the quality of the lives of millions of workers that has received little attention in discussions of economic policy.

Comments (13)Add Comment
Workers Must Work on Short Notice For Employers Who Can't Plan
written by Last Mover, October 28, 2012 9:16
Seems just yesterday employers were bragging about providing flexible work hours designed to make things better for both employee and employer.

No one expected it to be flipped into a day worker on-demand spot market.

On second thought it's not really that bad since workers are now required to listen to Orwellian programmed announcements during commute time (also taken over by employers) on how important it is for freedom's survival to vote for the right candidate, announced in a calm stabilizing voice amidst the chaotic upheaval of not knowing from week to week or day to day when one is required to report to work or allowed to leave.

Of course it's worth it given the 12 million jobs to be created from the added efficiency that will offset employer incompetence to plan ahead.
written by AnnS, October 28, 2012 10:53
RE: workers cannot make plans in their lives. This requires them to be able to make child care and other arrangements on short notice. This is likely a very important factor

Uh huh....no - the 'work life balance' blather of the chattering classes was NOT the main point of the article.

The main point - in fact the purpose of the article - was that employers want workers they can use for 15, 20, 24 or 28 hours a wweek, pay them so little they can not afford basic essentials AND demand that they be available any day at any time which keeps them from getting a 2nd job.

It was NOT about 'oh gee this work schedule is unrpedicable and inconvenient' - it was about NOT enough work so that they can afford food!

It was about MONEY - and the lack thereof because of how retial employers keep the employee from getting a 2nd job but don't give them enough work to make enough money to live.

It was NOT about having to arrange a sitter at short notice or other things that are an inconvenience rahter than survival-essential like food
quality of life...
written by Kat, October 28, 2012 12:24
There are serious financial consequences to having to find childcare at the drop of a hat.
But if even if there were not-- so what? Are low wage workers not allowed to worry about quality of life issues? For all their blathering about having to be "on" 24/7 CEOs and high level administrators obscure the fact that their predicament is a matter of choice. For these workers, they do not have the luxury of separating their private from their work life.
At any rate, this was a good article but I anticipate Tom Friedman's follow up piece in which he explains we'd better get used to it because this is reality and we need more STEM graduates that will create even more efficient dynamic scheduling software plus, Bloomberg 2016 because he has the courage to cut entitlements.
written by AnnS, October 28, 2012 8:33

MONEY solves a lot of the problem.

ANd the obsession with the work-life stuff IS the chattering classes. The other 75% of workers (those making $50K of less) and especially the bottom 50% (making $27K or less) are far more worried about paying the bills than rather if they can get to a PTA meerting or make Johnny's softball game.

THe senior partner in a Wall St Law firm can pull hdieous hours. At 4Pm a client walks in with an emergency and you are there all night and the weekend is shot. Childcare for someone like that? Not a problem - just call home and tell the nanny to take care of the kids.

The difference is MONEY - the law firm partner has it, the retial worker does not.

Wages too low, not enough hours = MONEY.

The article was about SURVIVAL - the first level on Maslow. It was not about the upper levels of the hierarchy - self-enrichment, quality of life (movie or real theater)..... It was about whether these people can eat and have shelter.

Once again, it's crony capitalism
written by Ron Alley, October 29, 2012 7:16
The topic is crony capitalism. AnnS has nailed the issue. Will government create conditions that enable employers (particularly retail employers) to offer jobs that provide the scheduling flexibility employers crave or the income and predictability workers need. The bottom line is the destination of revenue. Will it come to rest in corporate treasuries or in workers' pockets. The WalMart model of oppressing workers is not confined to the retail sector. Take a look at the medical technicians and nurses working in hospitals. The hospitals are increasing hiring workers on 0.6 to 0.8 FTE basis as a method of controlling costs.
so firms can expand with flexible hours but this is bad????, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by PeonInChief, October 29, 2012 12:07
It often means that mothers leave kids alone, and just hope, hope, hope that nothing bad happens. I mean, have you ever tried to hire a babysitter for two hours an hour from now?

And stay safe, all of our comrades on the East Coast.
written by chris9059, October 29, 2012 12:59
@pete "Kind of weird...workers will get paid more per hour if the hours they work are more productive,..."

If only that was true. But there is no reason to assume increased productivity translates into increased wages. In fact for the last thirty years median wages have not kept up with productivity.
Stupid Part Timers Think They're Doctors, Bankers and Cable Guys
written by Last Mover, October 29, 2012 2:02
Kind of weird...workers will get paid more per hour if the hours they work are more productive, that is only working when there is something to do...duh..

Who do part time workers think they are anyway? The efficient doctor who forces patients to wait hours for a 15 minute visit? The efficient banker who has time only for deep pockets and extractive fees? The efficient monopoly internet guy who forces customers to wait on call inside of 8 hours or even over a multi-day period for service?

Here's another brilliant idea. Since fire departments are only productive when actually putting out fires, why not put fire personnel on call 24/7 and pay based only on hours actually worked to put out fires?

Imagine the savings from productivity gains, surely as much as working a gardener for only 1.5 hours every Saturday, especially for fires that start only on Saturdays and burn for 1.5 hours at the same time of day, not to mention the incentives to start more fires anytime to get more pay.
written by denise, October 29, 2012 5:32
AnnS - obviously it is about both money and life. The abusive work schedules mean in effect that employers own you 24x7. It is about workers having no control over either their income or their time. Childcare, appointments and other arrangements of life outside of work are not minor matters to anyone, but particularly to those with little money.

The schedule abuse is used to ensure worker submission. Union organizers, complainers and anyone else who pisses off management gets severely punished with cuts in hours and split and undesirable shifts that wreak havoc with their lives.

It is disgusting. If anything should make the necessity of unions clear, this is it.
pay and productivity
written by pete, October 30, 2012 10:28
When monitoring is difficult, contracts change. Example is piecework in agriculture, or, say, laundry. I pay you by the shirt, you can take all the time you like. When productivity is sporadic, like fire, in rural areas we have volunteers. There are a continuum of labor contracting types. No need to fear any of them, they all solve different problems. Clearly, wages for highly productive labor have risen a lot. Real wages for say car mechanics, who are doing about the same thing they were 50 years ago, haven't changed much...tools are the same, cars are the same, productivity is about the same. Big issue, globally, is that capital is still scarce, and the returns to capital will be higher than the returns to labor until we have enough capital.
Contract? What Contract? Spot Markets for On Demand Labor Have No Contract
written by Last Mover, October 30, 2012 12:25
When monitoring is difficult, contracts change.

Monitoring of agents by principals governs changes in contracts because monitoring becomes difficult?

Piecework eliminates the need to monitor?

When productivity is sporadic like fire departments volunteers replace contracts for paid firefighters?

Ever heard of shirking and cheaters who don't put out fires expecting everyone else to do it, so no one does it and everything burns down? Thus the need for mandatory fire departments funded by taxes.

Ever heard of piecework production casually abused by employers who undercount or reject full counts on false claims or faulty quality? Or on the employee side faulty products and service designed to jack up pay with excess production speed to get a higher count that ends up harming customers?

If fast food workers were paid by the number of items shoved across the counter rather than hours worked they could work as many or few hours as desired which solves the short work notice problem?

Cars are the same, and car mechanics are doing the same thing they did 50 years ago? Like the extensive computer diagnostics they ran in the old days before laying a hand on the vehicle?

The whole part-time, total hour-reduction, short notice scheduling, busted annual earnings and benefit thing is about contracts and monitoring in a free competitive market that adjusts accordingly so get over it because pay always follows productivity?

And you do consulting on a demand basis that pays handsome amounts over a base salary and don't feel ripped off at all?

Imagine that. Surely you must be the one who consulted for Romney and recommended taking 12 million current FTE jobs and cut them down to 12 million halftime jobs, which allows employers to turn around and hire 12 million new employees also at half time to replace the cut hours, all under the guise of "expansion", for a total of 24 million part time employees instead of the original 12 million full time employees.

Presto, 12 million "new" jobs created from added supply side efficiency no less that shreds all contracts and replaces them with on-demand phone calls 24/7.

Work now or get fired America, and be glad you Takers of Productivity have a job at all from us, the Makers of Productivity.
written by PeonInChief, October 30, 2012 3:27
Pete, a recent fire in California showed us why volunteer fire departments are a really bad idea (and why they've been abandoned in most of the country). A small fire became a big one because there was no one at the volunteer fire department when the blaze began. That's why most communities pay firefighters to sit around in their Barcoloungers most of the time.

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Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.