Study: Advanced scheduling for workers is better for business

By Michael R. Malone

Study: Advanced scheduling for workers is better for business

By Michael R. Malone
Restaurant employees asked to work last-minute shifts may hurt a business’ bottom line, a new inquiry led by a researcher with the Miami Herbert Business School shows.

While restaurant employers may like the flexibility of asking workers to take on last-minute shifts when a venue gets busy, the practice undermines productivity and cuts profitability, a new Miami Herbert Business School study shows.

The research, which examines “just-in-time” or “real-time” restaurant scheduling, shows that advanced scheduling is optimum for workers while also serving to increase restaurant profitability by up to 1 percent for the low-margin industry, explained Masoud Kamalahmadi, an assistant professor in the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School.

Masoud Kamalahmadi
Masoud Kamalahmadi

Kamalahmadi and collaborators Qiuping Yu, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Yong-Pin Zhou, University of Washington, compared management scheduling practices, analyzing 1.5 million server-customer transactions that took place over nine months in 25 locations of a national casual-dining chain.

Previous studies that examine restaurant scheduling have explored the impact on worker life and work balance, yet Kamalahmadi said their study is among the first to look at the impact on productivity. The findings will be published in Management Science, a scholarly journal on the theory and practice of management.

“Just-in-time scheduling has been controversial in recent years because it creates problems for workers, disrupts the balance between life and work—such as their ability to arrange for childcare—and creates conflicts with other jobs or study responsibilities if the worker is a student,” he said.

As a result, the state of Oregon and a range of large cities—Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia—have enacted predictive scheduling laws that require employers to provide two weeks’ advance notice for workers’ schedules or make additional payment for last-minute adjustments, according to Kamalahmadi.

When a restaurant gets busy and workers are asked to add hours or work beyond their regular shift, a practice known as "real-time" scheduling, they are likely to be fatigued and less attentive or even motivationally resistant to the request or demand. The scenario results in decreased servers’ sales—a 4.4-percent drop and even more when the scenario takes place on the weekend.

In addition to the short-term loss in sales, real-time scheduling may have long-term impact in that workers will like their jobs less and might be more inclined to seek work elsewhere, Kamalahmadi said.

Schedules with a few days advance notice, also known as “short-notice” schedules, do not appear to impact productivity, as workers have a few days to rearrange their responsibilities. And in addition to the potentially negative impact, the researchers noted that the short-notice ask might be welcomed by those workers who want the chance to pick up hours to increase their earnings or to show motivation.

Kamalahmadi suggested the research was especially timely.  

“Restaurants are trying to reopen, returning from months of falling revenues, and they might think ‘oh we need to cut costs as much as we can’ and schedule fewer servers to get the most out of them,” Kamalahmadi said. “Yet this could backfire based on what we’ve determined and also because servers are probably more sensitive and have more issues than in the past.

“When managers know there is a productivity loss for real-time scheduling, they will schedule servers with longer notice,” Kamalhamadi said. “At this time of reopening, this is an opportunity for employers in the food and beverage industry to rethink their scheduling practices.”