Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences

Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper No. 394

41 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2015

See all articles by Lonnie Golden

Lonnie Golden

Pennsylvania State University - Abington College; Economic Policy Institute; Project for Middle Class Renewal

Date Written: April 9, 2015


The plight of employees with unstable work schedules is demonstrated here with new findings, using General Social Survey (GSS) data. These findings (as well as key findings from other research) are highlighted below. Irregular scheduling about 10 percent of the workforce is assigned to irregular and on-call work shift times and this figure is likely low. Add to this the roughly 7 percent of the employed who work split or rotating shifts and there are about 17 percent of the workforce with unstable work shift schedules.

Six percent of hourly workers, 8 percent of salaried workers, and 30 percent of those paid on some other basis work irregular or on-call shifts. Adding in split or rotating shifts, the shares working unstable work schedules are 16 percent (hourly), 12 percent (salaried) and 36 percent (other). By income level, the lowest income workers face the most irregular work schedules.

Workers paid under $22,500 per year are more likely to work on irregular schedules than workers in the income bracket above that (workers in the latter bracket who are salaried would be just above the current salary minimum threshold for assured FLSA overtime coverage). Irregular shift work is associated with working longer weekly hours.

By occupation type, about 15 percent of sales and related occupations have irregular or on-call schedules. By industry, irregular scheduling is most prevalent in agriculture, personal services, business/repair services, entertainment/recreation, finance/insurance/real estate, retail trade, and transportation communications. Estimates of the proportion of the workforce with “variable hours,” in terms of not being able to specify a “usual” workweek (according to Current Population Survey, not GSS data), are remarkably consistent — almost 10 percent of workers overall. Being part-time more than doubled the likelihood of having hours that vary weekly. The share with variable workweeks also is higher in certain occupations and industries, such as sales, and lower in others, such as professional, managerial, and administrative support. Also, the prevalence is reduced for union members, married workers, government employees, whites, men, and workers with a higher level of education.

Employees who work irregular shift times, in contrast with those with more standard, regular shift times, experience greater work-family conflict, and sometimes experience greater work stress. Less than 11 percent of workers on “regular” work schedules report “often” experiencing work-family conflict in contrast with as many as 26 percent of irregular/on-call shift employees, and 19 percent of rotating/split shift workers. Similar differences appear for reporting that they “never” experience work-family interference. Overtime work that is required by the employer increases the likelihood of having an irregular schedule and particularly of working on rotating/split shifts.

Overtime work that is mandatory is greatest among those who earn at least $22,500 but below $40,000 per year; who work longer weekly hours; who work inflexible daily schedules (they can’t take time off or change their starting and ending times); or who report that there are often too few workers on staff to get all the work done.

Work-family conflict is worsened not only by longer weekly hours of work, but also by having irregular shift work. The association between work-family conflict and irregular shift work is particularly strong for salaried workers, even when controlling for their relatively longer work hours. Working on rotating shift times exacerbates work-family conflict, although slightly less than does working irregular/on-call shifts and split-shift arrangements.

Irregular/on-call work is moderately associated with higher work stress, but rotating and split-shift times are not. Hourly workers experience greater work stress if working on irregular shift times and more so than salaried workers. Mandatory overtime work contributes to both work-family conflict and work stress. Being underemployed does not significantly reduce work-family conflict, but part-time workers who prefer that part-time status experience less work-family conflict.

Suggested Citation

Golden, Lonnie, Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences (April 9, 2015). Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper No. 394, Available at SSRN: or

Lonnie Golden (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University - Abington College ( email )

1600 Woodland Rd.
Abington, PA 19001
United States
215-881-7596 (Phone)
215-881-7333 (Fax)

Economic Policy Institute ( email )

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United States

Project for Middle Class Renewal ( email )

1408 W. Gregory Dr.
Urbana, IL 61801
United States

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