Reprogramming the robo-schedulers

August 15, 2014

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Flexible work hours aren’t always a good thing. Jodi Kantor made a splash with her New York Times story about Jannette Navaro, a Starbucks employee (er, “partner”) who has constant upheaval in her life thanks to her erratic work schedule. Starbucks is one of many companies that uses software to efficiently allocate employees around its stores. “This kind of work is ‘flexible’ only for the company. It means schedules and salaries vary to the point where it’s difficult for workers to make long-term plans,” writes Max Nisen. It can mean things like the “clopen,” when employees are scheduled to close the store late at night and open it again early the next morning.

Starbucks reacted quickly. Just hours after the story went live, the company announced it would be revising its policies. According to the Times, Starbucks executive Cliff Burrows emailed baristas across the country to tell them the company will curb “clopening,” allow employees who live more than an hour from their store to have the option to switch locations, and “scheduling software will be revised to allow more input from managers.” He also reiterated that schedules should be posted at least a week in advance.

There’s no guarantee that any of these changes will actually go into effect, though. Alexander Kaufman writes in the Huffington Post that, “the new policies may prove difficult to enforce, as it is up to store managers to implement the changes.”

This isn’t a new problem, of course, but scheduling software, with minimal human input, has definitely made it worse. A 2013 paper by María Enchautegui the Urban Institute takes a look at the effects of a nonstandard work schedule on low-income families and found (as detailed in Kantor’s story) that those who work erratic hours for low pay often have difficulties finding childcare, having time for family, and securing reliable transportation. The work then becomes self-perpetuating. Writes Nisen: “Navarro for instance, was a few credits short of a degree, but couldn’t commit to college classes because of her erratic schedule.” — Shane Ferro

On to today’s links:

Deals
Coke is diversifying its best in class portfolio of caffeinated sugar water products – Dealbook

Data Points
“Only 3.7% of all poor people are able-bodied, non-working black and Latino men” – Matt Bruenig

Good Ideas
Police should be required to videotape every interaction they have – Reihan Salam

Dear Future Regulators
If a company called “Chimera” promises “revolutionary technology to enable environmentally friendly oil-and-gas production,” it’s a fraud – SEC

Oxpeckers
Seriously, get rid of the comments section – Nicholas Jackson

Food and Banking
Raghuram Rajan lunches with the FT – FT

Post Text
Play the debt collector game! – Fusion
Read about the weird world of consumer debt collection – Jake Helpern

Demographics
We are Bacon and Kale States of America – Bloomberg Businessweek

Yep
“Most non-struggling companies don’t have to issue press releases stating that they are not struggling” – Sam Biddle

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