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OM in the News: Starbucks Scheduling Software Makes the Headlines–Again

September 27, 2015
 Starbucks employees protesting work conditions at a Starbucks in Decatur, Ga


Starbucks employees protesting work conditions at a Starbucks in Decatur, Ga

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz has long presented the brand as involving its customers and employees in something more meaningful than a basic economic transaction. But Starbucks has once again has drawn fire for its workplace practices, reports The New York Times (Sept. 24, 2015). Last year, the firm vowed to provide store employees with more consistent schedules from week to week, and to post their schedules at least 10 days in advance. The company said it would stop asking workers to endure the sleep-depriving ritual known as a “clopening,” which requires them to shut down a store at night only to return early the next morning to help open it.

But in the last 2 years, the combination of a tight labor market and legal changes has raised labor costs for employers of low-skill workers. And there has long been another central obstacle to change: the incentives of store managers, who are encouraged by company policies to err on the side of understaffing. It often turns peak hours into an exhausting frenzy that crimps morale and drives workers away. (Starbucks employees are often responsible for finding their own replacements when they are sick. “A lot of times when I’m really sick, it’s less work to work the shift than to call around everywhere,” said one barista.)

On the question of scheduling, Starbucks uses Kronos state-of-the-art software that forecasts store traffic and helps managers set staff levels accordingly. Using the software to schedule workers 3 weeks in advance typically is not much less accurate than using it to schedule workers one week in advance. “The single best predictor of tomorrow is store demand a year ago,” says Kronos’ VP.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why is scheduling in the service sector complex?
  2. What benefits does Starbucks offer full-time and part-time employees that other food service operations do not?
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