NEW YORK (AP)

After struggling to hire workers for its outlet store in Dallas, Balsam Hill finally opened on September 1. But the very next day, the online provider of high-end artificial holiday trees was forced to shut down after four of its five employees resigned.

The main complaint for three of them? Work weekends. So they found jobs elsewhere with better hours.

Balsam Hill reopened weeks later with nine workers, increasing hourly wages from $ 3 to $ 18 an hour. But more importantly, she has changed her approach: instead of focusing only on the needs of the business, she now works closely with each employee to adapt their schedules according to when they want to work.

“We work against people who have a choice of where they want to work,” said Kendra Gould, senior retail strategist at Balsam Hill. “Now it’s more about what do you need as an employee and how can we make you happy? “

Companies are faced with the demands of hourly workers on terms that were often non-negotiable: planning. Taking a page from their white-collar peers who are restructuring their workdays to fit their lifestyles, hourly workers are also looking for flexibility in how and when they do their jobs. That means pushing back weekend shifts, late nights, or holidays.

Job postings are plentiful, so workers can afford to be picky. There were 10.4 million job openings at the end of August and 11.1 million openings the month before, the highest on record since at least December 2000, when the government began to record this figure. At the same time, the Labor Department said the number of people leaving their jobs jumped to 4.3 million in August from 4 million in July.

Among the new workers hired by Balsam Hill was Rickey Haynes, 62, pastor of a local Baptist church. He retired in July but still preaches in the community. He said he was looking for a part-time job in retail, but didn’t want to work on Sundays because of his preaching. Balsam Hill was ready to adjust to his schedule.

“They were accommodating,” he said. “If I could, I could work with them until I was done. “

A recent study by ManpowerGroup found that nearly 40% of job applicants globally said flexible working hours was one of their top three factors in career decisions.

The shifting mindset manifests itself in the data of the jobsite platforms.

SnagAJob.com, an online marketplace for hourly workers, says the word “flexibility” now accounts for about 11% of the more than 7 million job postings on its site, up from 8% earlier in the year. year. But night shifts at restaurants have also increased significantly since January.

Instawork, a staffing marketplace that connects local businesses with skilled hourly workers, says the rate at which employers were able to fill weekend shifts dropped significantly from January through August compared to week shifts.

Such challenges arise as companies struggle to hire workers while on vacation. Target Corp. said this month she would pay an additional $ 2 an hour to employees who take shifts during peak holiday days, including Saturdays and Sundays, as well as the day before Christmas or Boxing Day. This is in addition to the bonuses already weighing down on companies and the easing of drug testing requirements and educational minimums that have kept some people from working.

Sumir Meghani, co-founder and CEO and founder of Instawork, says such benefits do not solve the root of the problem.

“It’s all about flexibility,” Meghani said, noting that the shifts available on Instawork have increased eightfold between just before the pandemic and August 2021. “These are workers who say ‘I don’t want to work on weekends “or” I can’t work on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays because I don’t have daycare or schools haven’t reopened “or” I’m worried about COVID .

Meghani says hourly workers ask how can they achieve the same work-life balance as their peers who can work remotely.

“The challenge is, if you’re a bartender, you have to work until 2 am,” he says.

Employers in these jobs are limited in what they can do given the nature of their operation, especially with clients who are used to getting what they want when they want it.

Radial, which fills online orders for retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and PetSmart, says it strives to align its schedules with candidate expectations at each location. Increasingly, it accommodates popular shifts such as Monday through Friday only, or Saturday and Sunday only.

But Sabrina Wnorowski, vice president of human resources at Radial, says meeting everyone’s needs is difficult given the unpredictable nature of spending while on vacation.

On the other hand, the working poor have long struggled with irregular working hours, especially in the restaurant and retail industries, says Daniel Schneider, professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government whose Shift project focuses on the inequality of low-income workers. .

“The problem is not new, and we have shown that the consequences for workers and their families are dire,” said Schneider, noting that the daily instability of working hours is inextricably linked to the instability of the workplace. use. This leads to high job turnover for workers, which in turn imposes costs on individuals and businesses.

During the pandemic, hourly workers were hit particularly hard when non-essential businesses like department stores and restaurants were forced to close for a few months in the spring of 2020. Those who remained employed in essential businesses like grocery stores found themselves overworked in the hustle and bustle. of buyers’ purchases for basic items.

When demand for restaurants and stores rebounded as more people were getting vaccinated last spring, companies couldn’t hire workers quickly enough. And many hourly workers have found new jobs by redefining their priorities. This has contributed to a labor shortage, forcing employers to look for ways to make their jobs more attractive while reducing hours of operation.

The National Restaurant Association reports that 68% of 4,000 operators surveyed in a September survey say their restaurants have reduced opening hours on opening days from June to August. The survey also found that 45% of operators surveyed said they closed their restaurant on days it would normally be open during this period.

Donald Minerva is the owner of a restaurant called Scottadito Osteria Toscana in Brooklyn, New York. He says just before the pandemic he had 16 workers working different shifts at his restaurant, which was open six days a week. Now Minerva has 14 employees, but a good chunk of them don’t want to double up, so the restaurant is only open five days a week with limited hours.

Minerva says 70% of her staff are on pre-pandemic days and want to work 40 hours a week. But new workers want more flexibility.

For Minerva, that means he has to spend more time working on their schedules and less time on priorities like coming up with new strategies to attract customers.

“It’s juggling to find them and juggling to keep them,” he said.


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