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Shift work and flexitime: how prevalent are they?

Shift work and flexitime: how prevalent are they?

Although the needs of society require a diversity of work schedules, most Americans have traditional morning to late-afternoon hours. The great majority of full-time wage and salary earners begin work between 7 and 9 in the morning. The proportion who work in the evening or at night, or who are on flexible schedules, is rather small. In contrast, almost half of all part-time employees work schedules other than regular day shifts, and nearly one-fifth have some type of flexible scheduling. The incidence of shift work and flexitime varies by sex, race, age, and other characteristics, but differences are more apparent by occupation and industry.

These patterns are revealed in newly available data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which asked questions on beginning and ending hours of work, shift work, and the availability of flexitime, to name a few. The information relates to people who were at work during the week of May 12-18, 1985, and was collected in a special supplement to the May 1985 CPS.1

Workday, from start to finish

Nearly 8 of 10 full-time wage and salary workers began their workdays between 7 and 9 a.m. during the survey reference week, with 8 a.m., by far, the most reported time. (See table 1.) With so many workers starting at these hours, it is not surprising that the most frequent quitting times were between 4 and 6 p.m., with 5 p.m. leading. Thus, traditional daytime shifts predominate, with 8-to-5, 7-to-4, 8-to-4, and 9-to-5 schedules being the most popular. Of the top 10 work schedules (of a possible 576) only one--the tenth ranked 3-to-11 p.m. shift--included a substantial number of hours outside the normal daylight span. (The times actually reported are rounded to the nearest hour when they are entered on the CPS questionnaire. For example, 8 a.m. refers to any reported time between 7:30 and 8:29. See appendix for further details.)

For part-time workers, 7 to 9 a.m. were the most frequently reported starting times, accounting for 45 percent of the total. The most popular qutting times were in the 3-to5 p.m. span. As was the case for full-time workers, part-timers most often reported an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day-- but these hours accounted for only 4 percent of the part-time schedules. Part-time jobs--in terms of starting time, quitting time, and the overall schedule--were far less concentrated within the top 10 rankings. Whereas the top 10 schedules were reported by 71 percent of all full-time workers, they fit the pattern for only 29 percent of part-time workers.

Shift work

There are two ways to determine a worker's shift. One is based on the time the person begins and ends the workday;2 the other is based on responses to a question regarding which shift persons considered themselves to usually work. The former method permits a precise definition (for example, a day shift is one in which half or more hours worked are beteen 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.), and thus a shift work definition can be tailored to the user's particular needs. However, this makes no allowance for split or rotating shifts. The latter method allows the respondents to say what they consider is the shift usually worked. This concept permits the incorporation of split and rotating shifts as well as reduces the reporting of deviations from the usual work schedule which may have occurred in a given week. It is the self-identified notion of shift which is the focus of the analysis in this article.3

Generally speaking, shift work is a great advantage to employers who need to match production with demand, accommodate the nature of certain production processes, and reduce the cost of capital per employee. However, except for those who cannot work at a regular daytime job (for instance, students) and those who prefer evening or night hours, shift work often does not benefit workers or their families. In fact, the effects of shift work--particularly night and rotating shifts--can be quite disruptive, with such consequences as sleeping, digestive, and nervous disorders and interference with family relationships.4

Of the 73.4 million full-time wage and salary workers who were at work during the survey reference week, 61.7 million, or 84 percent, described their usual work period as a "regular daytime schedule.' Of the remaining 11.6 million --called "shift workers'5--most worked an evening shift (4.6 million), followed by rotating (3.1 million), night (2.0 million), and split shifts (about 540,000). A substantial number (1.4 million) worked some other schedule; presumably, this would include daytime workers who felt their schedules were not "regular,' and may include some on flexitime who vary their beginning and ending times.

Men were more likely than women to be shift workers. This was the case also in each age group, except for teenagers. (See table 2.) More than one-quarter of the teens who worked full time were not on a regular daytime schedule. Among adult men, the incidence of shift work decreased with age, reaching 15 percent for the 45 and over age groups. For adult women, the incidence fell with age to 11 percent for 35- to 44-year-olds, and then rose slightly in the upper ages, reaching 13 percent for those 65 and older. The evening shift accounted for one-third to one-half of all shift workers, except men age 65 and over.

Blacks were more likely than whites or Hispanics to be shift workers. Hispanic men were as likely as white men, but considerably less likely than black men, to work other than a regular daytime schedule. Hispanic women, however, were less likely than both white and black women to be shift workers. Married (spouse present) persons had much smaller proportions working shifts than either singles or those of other marital status. Given that single workers are usually younger than married workers, the higher incidence is probably the result of age differences. Younger workers have less seniority on the job--hence, less choice in shift selection. In addition, youths tend to be in the types of jobs that are more likely to require shift work. Another consideration is that married workers may be less willing to work other than day schedules.

Among occupational and industry groups, shift work is associated with skill and product demands which cannot be satisfied by daytime schedules alone. These include businesses whose customers with to shop until 9 or 10 at night, or even around the clock; the need for police and fire protection and health care 24 hours a day; and the overnight delivery of goods. On the supply side, some production processes requires continous operation, as it would be too costly to shut down each evening and restart each morning. In other cases, high capital costs necessitate around-the-clock utilization.

The incidence of shift work was 10 percent or less among full-time workers in managerial and professional jobs; administrative support, including clerical jobs; and farming, forestry, and fishing occupations. However, within some of these occupations, there were groups with an incidence of shift work of 20 percent or higher--for example, health diagnosing, assessment, and treating occupations among professional workers, and mail and message distribting workers within the administrative support category. (See table 3.) Protective service workers (61 percent) were most likely to work shifts (in fact, 22 percent worked rotating shifts), followed by workers in food (43 percent) and health services (36 percent). Other occupational groups traditionally associated with shift work--the operators, fabricators, and laborers group, and salesworkers in retail trade and personal services--had about one-quarter on shift work.

For most occupations, the evening shift was the most frequent departure from a regular day schedule. The exceptions were health professionals, retail and personal salesworkers, protective service workers, and motor vehicle operators, who reported rotating shifts more frequently than evening shifts. Night shifts were the least common, accounting for about 3 percent of all full-time workers. But, the incidence of night shifts was well above average for some in the groups noted for the likelihood of rotating shifts.

Shift work was more prevalent in the private sector (16.5 percent) than the public sector (12.8 percent). Among goods-producing industries in the private sector, shift work was highest in mining and lowest in construction. (See table 3.) In manufacturing, it was most frequent in areas requring continuous production (because startup and shutdown costs are high), such as primary metals, automobiles, paper products, chemicals, and rubber and plastics. In the service-producing sector, shift work was most often reported in transportation, retail trade (particularly in eating and drinking places), personal services, entertainment and recreation, and hospitals--all activities for which product demand goes beyond traditional daytime hours.

The incidence of shifts was much higher for those who did not usually work 5 days a week. Almost two-thirds of those working full-time on a 3-day-a-week schedule and just over a third of those on 4-day schedules considered themselves shift workers. Half of the 3-day workers reported working "other shifts.' This should be expected, because each day's work would average at least 12 hours and would not be considered by many as a regular daytime shift, even if most of the hours fell during daytime hours. About 29 percent of those working a 6-day week and 38 percent of 7-day workers considered themselves shift workers.

Of those who reported a reason for not working a regular daytime schedule, 28 percent cited voluntary reasons, including better arrangements for child care or care of other family members, better pay, or time for school. Of the 72 percent giving "involuntary' reasons, 9 of 10 cited the schedule as a requirement of the job; most of the remainder reported they worked shifts because they could not find any other job.

Part-timers were about three times as likely as full-time workers to work other than a regular daytime schedule. Employers often hire part-time help to cover periods of peak demand, which may be as short as 3 or 4 hours on weekdays and may require nonconventional working hours. This is the case, particularly in retail sales and in entertainment and recreation. Many seeking part-time work, especially students, are able to work only evenings or weekends. Nearly half of all part-time workers and four-fifths of the 16- to 19-year-olds were shift workers. About one-quarter of the part-timers worked in the evening. (See table 4.) Employees in sales, service (particularly protective service), transportation and material moving, and in handler, equipment cleaner, helper, and laborer jobs were most likely to work other than a regular daytime schedule. Seven of ten part-time workers in protective service jobs were on shifts.

Flexible schedules

Under flexitime, employees can vary the times their workdays begin and end. The arrangements vary among establishments, and even among units within an establishment, depending on such factors as production, customer, and other coverage requirements; public laws and collective bargaining agreements; and the attitudes of individual managers and supervisors.

The amount of flexibility made possible by flexitime arrangements varies--ranging from as little as 30 minutes to 3 hours or more. Some plans permit variation in the number of hours worked per day, and in some cases, even the total number of hours worked each week, or pay period, and provide for the accumulation of "credit hours.' Nearly all plans have a "core-time' requirement: all employees must work during the core time every day, or in some cases, on specified days of the week. A flexitime plan may be a formal document with detailed definitions, rules, and procedures, or it may be so informal that it is not explicitly identified as a flexible work schedule.6

Some potential advantages of a flexitime program are decreased tardiness, added hours of service to the public, smoothing rush-hour traffic peaks, larger blocks of employee leisure time, facilitating child care, and better scheduling of the work force to coincide with variations in the workload. Potential problem areas include the added need for managers and supervisors to schedule and plan the work flow and ensure the coverage of critical functions, the possible lack of supervision at some hours, added timekeeping needs, and nonlabor costs associated with more hours of operation (for example, heating and cooling).7

About 9.1 million full-time wage and salary workers (excluding the incorporated self-employed) who worked during the survey reference week in May 1985 were reported as having a work schedule which permitted them to vary their beginning and ending hours of work. (See table 5.) This was 12.3 percent of the covered workers. The incidence of flexible scheduling was lowest for teenagers (9.3 percent) and highest for the 35 to 44 and 65 and over age groups. Men were more likely than women to have flexibility in their work day, as were whites, compared with their black or Hispanic counterparts.

Among occupational groups, the ability to vary work hours ranged from 4 percent for machine operators, assemblers, and inspectors to 20 percent for those in sales occuaptions. For some more detailed classifications, the incidence was more than 30 percent, such as mathematical and computer scientists; natural scientists; technicians, except health, engineering, and science; and sales representatives (commodities except retail). The incidence was higher for men than for women for each occupational, age, and race or Hispanic category.

The likelihood of flexible scheduling was slightly higher in the private sector (12.6 percent) than in the public sector (11.3 percent). However, it was 20 percent in the Federal Government, where many agencies have formal flexitime programs. Within the private sector, those in service-producing industries (at 14.5 percent) had higher proportions with the freedom to vary work times than those in goods-producing industries (9.8 percent). Among industry groups, the incidence ranged from under 5 percent in furniture and fixtures, textiles, and apparel, to 15 percent or more in agriculture, printing and publishing, wholesale trade, finance, insurance, and real estate, business and repair services, personal services, entertainment and recreation, and the "other' professional services category, which includes legal services, membership organizations, and engineering, architectural, and surveying services.

Employees on regular daytime schedules were more likely to have the ability to vary their starting and ending hours (12.7 percent) than those on evening shifts (6.6 percent), night shifts (8.2 percent), or rotating shifts (10.8 percent). Nearly one-quarter of those on split shifts had either flexitime or some other scheduling arrangement permitting flexibility.

Part-time workers were more likely than their full-time counterparts to have flexibility in the scheduling of their work, with 3.3 million (18.6 percent) being able to do so. As with full-time workers, the proportion of men reporting flexibility was higher than that of women (19.8 versus 18.0 percent.)

1 Statistics on wage and salary workers usually include self-employed workers whose businesses are incorporated because from a legal standpoint they are the paid employees of a corporation. However, they are excluded from the analysis here, as the primary interest in the scheduling of work lies in a universe of workers limited to those who work for someone else. To have a consistent universe throughout the article, data are limited to those who actually worked during the survey reference week, because some of the data were collected only for this group.

2 Information on beginning and ending hours should not be used to indicate the number of hours worked per day--a stastistic available through another question in the May 1985 survey. As previously mentioned, the times are rounded. For example, a 9:00 to 5:30 schedule would appear as 9:00 to 6:00. Because most workers usually arrive at work a few minutes before the required start time, someone who has a 7:30 to 4:00 work requirement, but actually arrives at 7:25 most days (and "punches in' accordingly), would be tallied as 7:00 to 4:00 if that earlier time was reported as the stating time. Both factors may combine to partially explain the large number of those with such 10-hour spans as 8-to-6 and 7-to-5 schedules. Accordingly, an 8-hour work requirement of 8:30 to 5:30 (less an hour for lunch) may appear as 8 to 6. In addition, proxy respondents may not know precise starting and ending times and may report the times an employee departs from and returns home. The span also includes any time not worked, such as lunch and other breaks and the time between the work periods of split shifts--which vary in length among workers.

3 See Workers on Late Shifts, Summary 81-13 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1981); and Janice N. Hedges and Edward Sekscenski, "Workers on late shifts in a changing economy,' Monthly Labor Review, September 1979, pp. 14-22, for previously published data on shift work. Data published in this article are not comparable to those previously published on the subject.

4 See Hedges and Sekscenski, "Workers on late shifts'; and Peter Finn, "The effects of shift work on the lives of employees,' Monthly Labor Review, October 1981, pp. 31-35.

5 Although a regular daytime schedule is, strictly speaking, a "shift,' the term shift work is used here to describe only those schedules other than a "regular daytime schedule.'

6 Some of the variations of flexitime used among the plans covering Federal Government employees are flexitour, gliding time, variable day, variable week, and maxiflex. See The Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1978: An Overview of the Experimental Program for Federal Agencies (Washington, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 1979).

7 See John D. Owen, Working Hours (Lexington, MA, Lexington Books, 1979), which has a thorough discussion of alternative work schedules, including the practicality of flexitime in different work situations.

For testimony which cites both the merits and limitations of flexitime, see Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules and Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act, hearings before the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, U.S. House of Representatives (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1982 and 1985, respectively).

Table: 1. Most prevalent beginning and ending hours of work and overall schedules of wage and salary workers, by usual full- and part-time status, May 1985

Table: 2. Shift usually worked by full-time wage and salary workers, by selected characteristics, May 1985

Table: 3. Shift usually worked by full-time wage and salary workers, by occupation and industry, May 1985

Table: 4. Shift usually worked by part-time wage and salary workers, by selected characteristics, May 1985

Table: 5. Full-time wage and salary workers on flexible work schedules, by selected characteristics, May 1985
COPYRIGHT 1986 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:hours of labor
Author:Mellor, Earl F.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Nov 1, 1986
Words:3107
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