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Short notice on shifts leaves employees in the lurch

Almost two-fifths (37%) of UK workers are given their hours with less than a week’s notice, having a negative impacting on their work/life balance.

Low paid workers are the hardest hit by short notice periods according to new research by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF), which makes it challenging to balance multiple commitments. 

Laura Gardiner, director at the LWF, said: “Without clear notice of shift patterns provided in good time, millions of workers have had to make impossible choices on childcare, transport and other important aspects of family life.”

Of the 59% of workers whose job involves variable hours or shift work, over three-fifths (62%) reported having less than a week's notice of their work schedules.

Worryingly, 12% of this group had less than 24 hours' notice, equating to 7% of all working adults in the UK.

Full-time workers on low pay have been most heavily impacted by short notice of working hours, especially during the pandemic.

Of those paid below the real Living Wage, more than half (55%) had less than a week’s notice of work schedules, with 15% having less than 24 hours’ notice.

The rate of short notice shifts was even higher in low-paid, full-time workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, with 68% having less than a week’s notice. 

Gardiner said: “Millions have been struggling to plan their lives due to the double whammy of changing restrictions on economic activity and insufficient notice of work schedules from employers.

“Despite this, and the challenges many employers have faced, some have stepped up during this crisis and committed to provide workers with secure, guaranteed hours and notice of shift patterns.”

To ensure employees receive proper notice periods for shifts, the LWF has launched the Living Hours programme.

To gain Living Hours accreditation employers must pay a real Living Wage, give employees at least four weeks’ notice for every shift, and guarantee payment if shifts are cancelled within this notice period. 

Scottish energy provider SSE has already committed to the programme.

Its HR director John Stewart said: “The amount of pay employees take home can be affected by irregular and unpredictable hours.

“The majority of our direct employees are already on contracts which meet the Living Hours requirements, but it is right that a company like SSE, headquartered in the UK and delivering some of the biggest projects in the fight against climate change, should guarantee higher standards for workers.”

The LWF's research is based on two surveys of more than 2,000 workers. The first surveyed 2,128 full-time working adults between 3 and 14 December 2020. The second survey polled 2,232 adults in the UK between 25 March and 10 April 2021.