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OM in the News: Starbuck’s Controversial Scheduling Software

August 21, 2014

starbucks“Starbucks just announced revisions to the way the company schedules its 130,000 baristas, saying it wanted to improve ‘stability and consistency’ in work hours week to week,” reports The New York Times (Aug.15, 2014). The company intends to curb the much-loathed practice of “clopening,” or workers closing the store late at night and returning just a few hours later to reopen. All work hours must be posted at least one week in advance, a policy that has been only loosely followed in the past. Baristas with more than an hour’s commute will be given the option to transfer to more convenient locations, and scheduling software will be revised to allow more input from managers.

The revisions came in response to a Times article about a single mother struggling to keep up with erratic hours set by automated software. A growing push to curb scheduling practices, enabled by sophisticated software, has caused havoc in employees’ lives: giving only a few days’ notice of working hours; sending workers home early when sales are slow; and shifting hours significantly from week to week. Those practices have been common at Starbucks. And many other chains use even more severe methods, such as requiring workers to have “open availability,” or be able to work anytime they are needed, or to stay “on call,” meaning they only find out that morning if they are needed.

Starbucks prides itself on progressive labor practices, such as offering health benefits and stock. But baristas across the country say that their actual working conditions vary wildly, and that the company often fails to live up to its professed ideals, by refusing to offer any guaranteed hours to part-time workers and keeping many workers’ pay at minimum wage. Scheduling has been an issue for years. Said a former company executive: “Labor is the biggest controllable cost for front-line operators, who are under incredible pressure to hit financial targets.”

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What is the goal of the scheduling software many fast food restaurants use?

2. Why is scheduling a major operations issue at Starbucks?

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