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Only 24% of low-wage and low-income workers can take a few days off to care for a sick child without losing pay or using vacation days. (Bond & Galinsky 2006) Much of the cost of allowing employees to use their sick leave to care for sick children or dependents already is incurred as employees call in sick when, in fact, it is their children who are sick. The Federal Government, under the Federal Employees Family Friendly Leave Act (FEFFLA), authorizes federal employees to use their own sick leave to give care to or otherwise attend to a family member having an illness, injury, or other condition which, if an employee had such a condition, would justify the use of sick leave by the employee.

(U.S. Office of Personnel Management Frequently Asked Questions, Pay & Leave) Another key issue is notice. A study of welfare-to-work moms found that, although half received paid vacation and one-third received paid sick leave, typically paid time off required several weeks’ notice, which made it hard to use for family emergencies. (Weigt 2006) Among low-wage workers, only 34% of full-timers and 25% of part-timers are allowed days off to care for a sick child without using their paid vacation days. (Swanberg 2008) A survey of five companies that offer workplace flexibility found that 14% of hourly workers surveyed used paid sick time to care for a sick child and 11% used paid sick time to care for a sick family member other than a child. (Corporate Voices n.d.) K. Allowing employees to purchase additional vacation A survey of five companies that offer workplace flexibility found that 35% of hourly workers surveyed take additional time off without pay beyond vacation and personal days. (Corporate Voices n.d.)

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In one study, among low-wage workers, only 56% could decide when to take breaks, a percentage that climbed to 69% among other hourly employees. (Swanberg

2008) A survey of five companies that offer workplace flexibility found that over half (52%) of hourly workers surveyed used vacation time and about a quarter (23%) used sick time in hourly or partial-day increments. (Corporate Voices n.d.)

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Leave banks allow employees to donate unused leave to a colleague and are often used in situations where a worker or a worker’s relative is seriously ill. Leave banks also enable colleagues to help a woman who has recently borne a child. One study of bluecollar parents found that only 10% of the mothers had paid parental leave when their baby was born. (Perry-Jenkins, Bourne & Meteyer 2007) This meant that they tended to use up all their sick and vacation time to care for their newborn and thus to return to work with no safety net for needed time off.

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Some employers allow employees to take extended time off without pay. This is particularly important for workers with family in other countries so that they can return home for an extended visit without quitting their jobs and is also helpful when a worker has to nurse an ill family member through an extended recovery period or for a variety of other uses.

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A survey by World at Work found that 40% of respondents had an absence control policy. (CLASP 2010) These policies are an excellent source of information for determining whether flexible work arrangements need to be introduced. For example, when 80% of the associates are on probation, as occurred in one flagship department store (Henly and Waxman 2005), the time is ripe to examine and consider changing scheduling policies to improve work-life fit for employees. Another study found that one worker out of three had received points or other sanctions due to attendance problems.

(Henly, Shaefer & Waxman 2006) Said one manager at PNC Financial Services Group after adoption of various flexible policies, “Instead of having six people call off...we’d rather have you work a schedule that wouldn’t have us taking corrective action [because of absenteeism]. Most people want to do the right thing.” (Corporate Voices n.d.) Another issue that arises with leave policies that are supposedly “no-fault” policies is when employers give employees sick leave, but then penalize them for using it. According to one researcher, “In one nursing home we studied, nursing assistants received six sick days a year, but they were penalized anytime they used a sick day.” (N.

Gerstel, personal communication to J. Williams, July 27, 2010) This seems particularly troubling in a healthcare context, because it means that nurse’s assistants who are sick are forced to report to work and to expose patients to their illnesses. Turck, an industrial automation manufacturer, provides a useful model. It excludes the following types of absences from its no-fault policy: 1) absences accompanied by a medical provider statement, 2) absences taken for family medical reasons, and 3) absences that have been approved by the employee’s supervisor. (Geiger & Potratz 2010) Note that giving points or other discipline to an employee covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act who has taken time off in connection with a serious medical condition is a violation of federal law. (29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.)

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A common assumption is that hourly jobs are place-bound jobs. Some are, but many are not. In fact, much routine white-collar work can be remote. Estimates of telework among hourly workers vary widely. One study found that only 3% of low-wage and 6% of other hourly workers ever work regular hours at home. (Swanberg 2008) A study of eight unionized companies found much higher levels; 55% of employees with children under 18, 30% of employees with eldercare, and 38% of employees overall used telecommuting programs. (Berg & Kossek n.d.) Usage was higher among professionals than among nonprofessionals, but 36% of administrative support personnel and 17% of blue-collar workers telecommuted.

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According to one study, only 28% of low-wage workers strongly believed they could use flexible work arrangements without jeopardizing advancement. (Bond & Galinsky 2006) A study of call center employees found that hourly workers were more likely than salaried ones to use formal work-family policies but that workers with the best performance ratings had not used them. (Wharton, Chivers & Blair-Loy 2008) This may mean that high-performing employees were better able to negotiate informal accommodations or that employees who formally request flexibility face the “flexibility stigma,” which can negatively affect them. (Williams, Blair-Loy & Berdahl 2010) The first step in eliminating the flexibility stigma is to ensure that relevant scheduling information is widely available. In one survey, a woman in an hourly job said, “Information isn’t openly available, and it’s hard to get a flexible schedule,”, even in a company that strongly supports flexibility. (Corporate Voices n.d.,p. 80) Yet the five companies surveyed, all leaders in the field of workplace flexibility, clearly had made substantial inroads towards eliminating the flexibility stigma. Fully 70% of those surveyed reported that their manager was supportive of flexibility and 68% said their peers were supportive. One key to eliminating the flexibility stigma is to ensure that offering flexibility to some workers is not achieved by dumping unwanted extra work on others. Again, these best-practice companies have avoided this common problem; 66% of those surveyed said that their peers do not have a heavier workload because they used flexibility. (Corporate Voices n.d.) A key issue for hourly workers is the tradition of close supervision, which may lead to stigma if managers resist flexibility for hourly workers because they are apprehensive about the lack of control. In one heated session in a workplace that was adopting the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), in which employees’ comings and goings are not monitored as long as they get their work done, a woman in an hourly administrative position asked, “Can you, as a salaried person, trust us?” Her senior manager said that “hourly workers need to be here to support us,” to which she shot back, “but you’re not going to be here anyway [under ROWE]!” No one said anything for several seconds. (Kelly, Ammons, Chermack & Moen 2010, p. 294) Two departments withdrew from ROWE because high-status professionals opposed it. One exempt worker stated her view that these managers would not “let their nonexempt [employees] utilize ROWE. They want or need them here 8 to 5” (Kelly, Ammons, Chermack & Moen 2010, p. 297). Training is needed to help managers of hourly workers rethink these assumptions.

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A new approach, at least in the United States, is the passage of so-called “right to request flexibility” laws. Similar to policies in the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere, Vermont and San Francisco have recently enacted such laws, giving employees the right to request flexible working arrangements without fear of retaliation.

(Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 309 (2014); S.F. Admin. Code Ch. 12Z (2014)) Such arrangements include changes in the number of days or hours worked, changes in start or stop times, changes in work location, and/or job sharing. San Francisco’s law also includes the ability to request greater scheduling predictability. Under these laws, employers must put a process in place by which workers can negotiate schedule adjustments, though employers are not mandated to provide these schedule changes and may deny requests if they create an undue hardship.

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Many studies document the importance of supervisor support in helping employees balance work and family. (Hammer, Kossek, Yragui, Bodner & Hanson 2009) The sociological literature shows that employers can engender tremendous loyalty when employees feel their supervisor is supportive of their need to balance family responsibilities with work responsibilities. Kim, a cocktail waitress and mother of two young children, described why she stayed at a job with no benefits that paid just $7/hour

plus tips, because of her supervisor (Weigt & Solomon 2008, p. 636):

I couldn’t ask for anybody better as far as, I mean, that’s why I’m still there. I have no medical benefits, I have no paid vacations, I have no sick days or anything like that. But there’s not too many jobs out there that are so lenient, either...I could call him up and say, “John, I’m just exhausted, I’m tired. I didn’t sleep very well last night. I’m going to be an hour late.” “OK, well just don’t crash on your way here”...he’s great. And he’s done the kid thing you know, and he’s older. I mean, he understands.

Another woman, Maria, described how grateful she was to a supervisor who let her switch her hours to daytime from evenings so she could pick up her son from day care at 5:30 p.m. (Henly, Shaefer & Waxman 2006, p. 626) She said, “My manager, she’s real cool about everything. You know, you just have to tell her what you need and whatever...she respects a lot of us, you know?... But she’s always like, ‘You know your family comes first. You have to take care of them first.’” A 33-year-old shop supervisor explained that her employees were flexible with her because she was flexible with them.

(Perry-Jenkins, Bourne & Meteyer 2007) She said, “They are the best. They would do anything I ask within reason. They’ve proven it, people need time off for family matters and they can get it, no questions.” Given examples such as those above, it is surprising that only 36% of employers offer work-life training to managers of hourly workers, according to one study.

(Litchfield, Swanberg & Sigworth 2004) More recent work has identified the specific types of supervisory behaviors that help the most. Creative work-family management is pro-active and involves redesigning jobs to improve work-life fit. Instrumental support is reactive. It concerns a supervisor’s routine reactions in handling employees’ day-to-day work-family conflicts. Emotional support involves having supervisors make sure their subordinates feel comfortable talking to them about work-family conflicts, taking the time to find out their subordinates’ family and personal commitments, talking with their subordinates, and responding with sympathy and understanding when work-family conflicts arise. (Hammer, Kossek, Yragui, Bodner & Hanson 2009) Leslie Hammer and Ellen Kossek developed supervisory training based on this model and ran small sessions in grocery stores on how to plan coverage and cope with employees’ scheduling conflicts. One study found that employees of the trained supervisors were less likely to state their intention to seek a job elsewhere and were more willing to comply with safety programs. (Kossek & Hammer 2008) After the training, employees with high levels of work-family conflict felt less stress and had better physical health. The training program that produced these results consisted of a one-time selfpaced 30- to 40-minute computer training followed by a 75-minute face-to-face training;

the researchers met with the store director, assistant director, and department heads all together and trained them on the four dimensions of supervisory support, informed them of existing company work-life policies, and had them role play situations where they could provide more behavioral support to employees to enable them to better manage work and family. (L. Hammer, personal communication to J. Williams, December 27, 2010) III. Conclusion Employers often assume that uncontrolled turnover, combined with high rates of absenteeism, are simply facts of life. They are not. Often they are symptoms of a mismatch between the way today’s jobs are structured and the makeup and needs of the workforce of the 21st century. Gone are the days when most mothers stayed home, freeing workers up to work their shifts and overtime at short notice with the confidence that their children, parents, and ill family members were receiving the kind of care and attention all Americans believe they owe their families. Schedules that worked well in a workforce of breadwinners married to housewives do not work well today. And employers need to know that there are alternatives to existing practices that can benefit both them and their employees. Indeed, as discussed above, offering employees greater flexibility is likely to engender loyalty, enhance employee satisfaction, and decrease turnover.

To improve work-life fit in low-wage jobs requires effective practices to address problems presented by just-in-time scheduling and a quite different set of practices to address the workplace rigidity faced by hourly workers more generally. Only by combining effective practices designed to increase schedule stability in the just-in-time sector with effective practices designed to increase flexibility in hourly jobs more generally can the mismatch in the fit between today’s workplace and today’s workforce be remedied.

Businesses are organizations of people. Employers need to understand their employees’ lives well enough to design schedules that do not place workers in the position of having to choose between their employers’ needs and a family member’s immediate and pressing need for care. Employers who place workers in that position are bound to be disappointed time and again as employees put family first. (Williams 2010) The logical solution for both employee and employer is to increase schedule effectiveness by designing today’s schedules for today’s workforce. It can be done.

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Acs, G., & Loprest, P. (2008). Low-skill jobs, work hours, and paid time off (Urban Institute, Brief No. 2). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Retrieved January 15, 2014, from http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411802_work_hours_pto.pdf.

Berg, Peter & Kossek, Ellen E. (n.d.). The Use of Work-Life Flexibility Policies and Practices by Middle-Class, Unionized Workers (Sustainable Workforce Issue Brief). East Lansing, MI: The Initiative on Workplace Flexibility and the Employment Relationship, MSU School of Human Resources and Labor Relations. Retrieved January 15, 2014 from http://www.thesustainableworkforce.org/images/stories/briefs/issue%20brief%20 4%20newrevised.pdf.

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Employer- and employee-driven flexibility in retail jobs. Social Service Review, 80 (4), 609-634.

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Kelly, E. L., Ammons, S. K., Chermack, K., & Moen, P. (2010). Gendered challenge, gendered response: Confronting the ideal worker norm in a white-collar organization. Gender & Society, 23(3), 281-303.

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