Sunday, 1 May 2011

What ingredients sweeten Sunday working?

I hope you're having a relaxing weekend. If so, spare a thought for those busy at their jobs, serving in shops, making our meals, or mending wounds. Lacking a sacrosanct day of rest – in much of the West at least – we expect this work to get done... but are reluctant to be the ones doing it. Sunday is the day most workers avoid if they can help it; now, a new study suggests ways to sweeten this bitter pill.

James Martin and colleagues contacted union members working in a retail food chain that often requires Sunday shift-work, using a survey to gather responses from 2000 employees. The researchers were interested in how an employee's satisfaction with their current work schedule relates to other factors, after taking into account considerations such as base pay rate and hours worked.

They found that unsurprisingly people were happier to work Sundays when this came with a salary premium; however, the premium needed to be at least moderate in scale ($2/hour extra, rather than $1/hour). In addition, Sunday workers with more control over their overall schedule were more acceptant of their schedules, as were workers with longer organizational tenure. The latter probably reflects the fact that time in a job offers more opportunities to get out of, negotiate, or make peace with schedules that pose inconveniences.

Martin's team also explored what future benefits could entice Sunday workers into taking further Sunday shifts, and found that this depended on how the workers currently felt. For those already satisfied with their working pattern, the notion of a raise in the Sunday premium was attractive; those currently fed up with their current schedule were much harder to please financially. These individuals thawed towards future Sunday shifts when it came with the prospect of more power over the rest of their schedule: to flex and amend it to fit circumstances, or simply to have more say over it in the first place. It's worth noting that these analyses give insight into how to handle incremental change – working more or fewer Sundays – but have less to say about the introduction of wholly new working schedules, as they did not assess attitudes in non-Sunday workers.

Organisations that depend on work completed in non-standard schedules have to account for the fact that we prefer to do other things with our nights, evenings, and weekends. This research reminds us that although financial incentives do still appeal, we would do better to provide employees more say in when they work. And if you're working today, I hope you have some time off soon when it suits you.

ResearchBlogging.orgMartin, J., Wittmer, J., & Lelchook, A. (2011). Attitudes towards days worked where Sundays are scheduled Human Relations DOI: 10.1177/0018726710396248


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