Businessman hand cuffed (mid section)

Will Predictive Schedule Mandates Work?

By Rob Branca

Predictive scheduling mandates require employers to have perfect advanced knowledge and employees to act perfectly. It seeks to legislate an impossible result, every minute, every hour, every day. No business can perfectly predict how many customers will come in the door or what they will order. It is very difficult to predict needed staffing and inventory, which is only one reason that more businesses fail than succeed.

Is there any workplace on Earth that knows in advance how many customers will come in, and what they want? The closest place is perhaps an airport. To understand why these laws are seeking to legislate the impossible, one merely needs to have been stuck in a long, snaking airport security line anxiously wondering if you will make your flight.

Airports are perhaps the only place of business where multi-billion dollar employers (airlines and federal and state government agencies) know the exact number of customers that will arrive, exactly who they are, what luggage they will be bringing to process and when they will arrive. They know this mostly for months in advance. Yet, even with the perfect advance knowledge that a fortune teller would admire, they still are unable to get it right, with TSA being nicknamed “Thousands Standing Around.”

Sure, airports suffer all the same unknowable circumstances that other businesses do: bad weather, who might call in sick, who might not show up without calling, water main breaks, construction delays, equipment failures, and human error, just to name a few.  However, one of the largest unknowable factors in business is absolutely, undeniably known to airports: how many customers are coming and how many people are needed to serve them, exactly when, in advance.

If multi-billion dollar companies with extremely sophisticated data systems, analysts and advance reservations from their customers often cannot get it close to right, how do proponents of punitive predictive scheduling mandates like those enacted in Seattle expect a burger joint to be perfect? They don’t. They are seeking fines and large class action legal fees, not employee stability. They are intended to punish employers for not knowing the unknowable. Businesses cannot possibly comply with these poorly drafted laws.

This is not to say that employers ever want to overburden their people with wildly unpredictable hours or work closing and opening shifts within mere hours. Quite to the contrary; a simple, recurring schedule is the easiest and least expensive to manage for a business and provides well rested, happy employees who have had the opportunity for a full night’s sleep, healthy meals, and quality family time. That is the employee that an employer wants to be greeting its valued customers. Punitive predictive scheduling in the forms currently enacted and proposed simply is not possible, even for the closest to perfect fortune tellers among us. There has to be a better way.

Most businesses fail for a multitude of reasons, among them failing to survive the unpredictable. We must not let legislatively mandated punishment for the inability to know the unknowable be another reason. These inept laws are already on the books in a few cities, and are being proposed in numerous other cities and states.

Please contact your local chamber of commerce and any trade organizations to which you belong and share these points.