Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The impact of changing shift times in WFM

I just told a group of retailers at RedPrairie's user conference that you can't under-estimate the impact of changing shift times on retail front-line workers. And while I wholeheartedly believe it, I think having said it, it still gets under-estimated. Here's the thing: It's been a long time since I've had an hourly job. And I'm guessing that it's been a long time since you had an hourly job too. My job hours haven't changed in 15 years.

But I just recently got a taste of what it feels like when your start time changes on you. My children's school is changing its start time from 8:30am to 9am. Not that much of a change, right? someone who works from home, that's a big change. That means another half hour of my children at home during prime meeting times. It means a later day pickup, which means more coordination between that, dinner, afternoon activities and even homework time.

Now, play a very small fiddle for my woes. The school is changing its hours because my school district is facing a huge budget crunch and they have decided one of the ways to address their shortfall will be by co-bussing middle school and high school students. Whether that is a good idea or not is a whole 'nother discussion, but it means that the middle school and the high school have to start their day closer together, and in order to accommodate, the elementary school times are being pushed back. That's all reasonable. Makes sense.

What didn't make sense was how they communicated it. I have a child already attending the elementary school, and another starting Kindergarten this summer. I found out about the time change through my Kindie's enrollment confirmation. I have yet to hear it officially for my older child. For a change that impacts my childcare arrangements, my business, my family's whole schedule - the communication has been remarkably blasé, and mostly through indirect channels.

So, I think some of the challenge in implementing workforce management, and some of the resistance that retailers are encountering has as much to do with people who have forgotten what it's like to work an hourly job - our jobs' hours don't change, whether we work way more than we should or way less. But having experienced the movement of a major item that my family schedules our lives around, I can say that the disruption to employees' lives should not be under-estimated. That's not to say you can't get away with the changes. But you do need to be far more sensitive to both the message and the advance warning of that message that you give.

People will accept almost any change - as long as you can sell them on the need and acknowledge the degree of disruption you're introducing into their lives.