Two-thirds of shift workers given less than a week’s notice of hours, research finds

Survey also reveals one in 10 staff receive schedules less than 24 hours in advance, as experts urge firms to ensure flexibility works for both employer and employees

Nearly two-thirds of people who work variable hours are given less than a week's notice of their shifts or working patterns, research has found.

Two surveys of a total of 4,000 working-age people, conducted by the Living Wage Foundation, found that of the 59 per cent whose jobs involve variable hours or shift work, 62 per cent said they were given less than a week’s notice of their schedule.

This included more than one in 10 (12 per cent) who had less than 24 hours’ notice of their shifts. Just 10 per cent said they received at least four weeks’ notice of their shift patterns.

Laura Gardiner, director at the Living Wage Foundation, said that without notice of shift patterns millions of workers were unable to make decisions on childcare, transport and other areas of their family lives. 

“Low-paid workers have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, with millions struggling to plan their lives due to the double whammy of changing restrictions on economic activity and insufficient notice of work schedules from employers,” she said.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, noted that while some people didn’t necessarily want or need long notice periods, employers should only give shorter notice to those who have expressed they are happy with it.

“This issue is about two-way flexibility, making sure flexible employment arrangements work for both parties. Otherwise it won’t be sustainable because people won’t stay in these roles, because they won’t provide the certainty and flexibility they need,” he said, adding that as a baseline employers should have a notice period of seven days.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

The research found the issue of short notice was particularly prevalent in London, where almost half (48 per cent) of all workers received less than a week’s notice of their work schedules. This is compared to 35 per cent in Scotland, 34 per cent in the rest of the south of England, and 33 per cent in the north of England. 

Those on lower pay were also disproportionately affected by their employers giving them short notice of their working patterns, according to the study. More than half (55 per cent) of those working full time and paid below the real Living Wage – which the Living Wage Foundation has set at £10.95 per hour in London and £9.50 elsewhere – had less than a week’s notice of work schedules, with 15 per cent getting less than 24 hours’ notice. 

This increased to 68 per cent of low-paid, full-time workers from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 64 per cent of those with children.

Mandy Garner, managing editor of WM People, said short notice “plays havoc with people’s childcare plans”, and was a particular problem for single parents. The pandemic has also exacerbated the problems by further disrupting childcare.

“Formal childcare is often not adaptable to short-term changes, meaning changing shifts is a nightmare of patching together something informal at the last minute,” said Garner.

“Flexibility works best if the infrastructure needed is in place and best practice around managing flexible working suggests as much advance planning as possible is vital for success so that people can get on and do their jobs without constantly worrying about last-minute childcare logistics.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, added that no-one should have their shifts cancelled without proper notice and compensation. “Our research shows that over half of workers on zero-hours contracts have had shifts cancelled at less than a day's notice. This practice has to end.”