To meet 24/7 demands of consumers, businesses have to be more accommodating than ever, and sometimes that means employees do, too.
A RECENT Op-Ed by Nick Hanauer, “Schedule workers as you would have them schedule you,” (Opinion, Feb. 10) extolled the virtues of a potential law being explored by the Seattle City Council to enact more rigid employee scheduling criteria. The noble goal is establishing more certainty in schedules and eliminating last-minute changes made by managers and companies. According to Hanauer, these last-minute changes occur “because we can.”
I’d suggest that flexibility and last-minute changes are necessary for significantly different reasons, one of the most compelling is that we as consumers demand it.
• We live in a 24/7 society. People want their latte at 5 a.m. Monday, their restaurant dinner at 8 p.m. Saturday and their package arriving two days after pressing the order button on their phone. To execute on those expectations, companies need to staff throughout the week and around the clock. Some shifts are less desirable for employees and more variable based on the whims of consumers.
• Customer demand is not subject to perfect forecasting. Should a restaurant with a last-minute request for a large group say, “No thanks, not this week,” instead of calling in an extra person?
The service centers at our heavy truck dealerships are open well into the night because that’s often when trucks break down and need to get back on the road. Twenty years ago during a meeting with a large retail customer of our trucking business, I was complaining about the challenges meeting their huge freight spikes in late November and early December. Eventually, their transportation manager said simply, “Look, until someone moves Christmas, December is always going to busy. If you can’t handle it, we’ll find someone who can.”
We figured out how to add staff to cover its needs the next year.
• Employees can’t always make it to work. Illness, family issues and myriad other reasons can cause anyone to miss work. That may necessitate a last-minute call to another employee to cover the workload. Usually, the newest and least experienced personnel get the toughest shifts as more experienced associates have “earned their stripes.” Potentially, a business could cut hours and serve fewer customers, reducing the “short-term profit” that Hanauer points to. However, that probably means you can’t get your 5 a.m. coffee, 8 p.m. dinner, or that truck that broke down isn’t getting back on the road to deliver your package tomorrow.
As a longtime manager and business owner, I know one of our biggest challenges is staffing our business, balancing the demands of our customers and the needs of our employees. With perfect foresight when consumers are going to buy and when employees are going to miss work, we probably wouldn’t need to make last-minute changes to schedules. However, that’s not reality, and businesses that consistently can’t meet the demands of customers don’t simply forgo short-term profits, they shrivel up and die.
Can businesses do better here? Yes, certainly. But additional City Council regulation eliminating necessary flexibility to meet real-world demands isn’t the answer. Consider the very different customer, employee and scheduling environments of a bank, a gas station, a restaurant, a retail store, a construction company or a trucking company, to name just a partial cross-section of enterprises in Seattle. There is no one-size-fits-all legislative solution to this combination of scheduling challenges.
Complex issues face companies and employees alike here. Divisive rhetoric that profit-hungry corporations are arbitrarily taking advantage of employees isn’t accurate or helpful. We need healthy, motivated and engaged associates to provide the service that meets our expectations as consumers and drives healthy economic growth.
We need productive solutions more than further regulation.