Research news

Service organizations need to design a 24/7 strategy to address the challenges of work at nonstandard hours

Starting in 2018, a new law on shop and service opening hours went into effect in Finland, leading longer hours of service and around-the-clock work. How have managers in 24/7 workplaces reacted to this situation? A Finnish research group from Jyväskylä surveyed managers in 24/7 workplaces about the specific challenges and solutions related to planning work shifts. These managers came from in two sectors: the hospitality and retail industry and flexibly scheduled early childhood education and care (ECEC). According to earlier research, successful companies working 24/7 aim to balance between the interests of different stakeholders.

The group’s findings, published in Social Responsibility Journal, show that managers regard work shift planning as a challenge. In scheduling and coordinating work shifts, the manager has to decide what it means to treat employees in a fair and equal way. Who should work the most extreme and unsocial shifts and who should be asked to work overtime on short notice? How to prioritize the different care needs of employees? Is care of young children more important that care of older people?

“In a company with a diverse workforce, it is almost impossible to treat all employees fairly, says Marianne Ekonen, from JAMK University of Applied Sciences. “Employees of different ages and life stages have different needs and views on fairness. On the other hand, a skilled manager is able to reconcile the various individual needs.”

Balancing business goals and wellbeing

The study highlights how important it is in 24/7 workplaces to consider, along with business goals, what 24/7 service availability means for employees, their family and society in general. According to international research, managers in successful 24/7 companies aim to balance the interests of different stakeholders.

The research group suggests that it is time in Finnish society to initiate a public discussion about how 24/7 working life could develop more family friendliness. It is probable that extending the opening hours of services will increase and multiply the service needs in other sectors as well. In that case, key issues include working time legislation and the flexibility of working time. Practices enhancing the predictability of working time are particularly important for parents who need to arrange flexibly scheduled childcare.

“24/7 companies need to make a strategy to take into account the possible challenges that nonstandard and unpredictable working time can create for employees and stakeholders. This strategy should also include guidelines to minimize these harms, suggests Professor Anna Rönkä, from the University of Jyväskylä. “Conversations between the manager and employees, clear rules, the involvement of teams and utilizing the diversity of the workforce are evidence-based means to establish fair work shift planning practices.”

The study is based on two research projects: Families 24/7, funded by the Academy of Finland, and Take care 24/7, funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund. Both studies were collaborations between the University of Jyvaskyla and JAMK University of Applied Sciences.

Further information:

Professor Anna Rönkä, Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, tel +358 40-8054891

Principal Lecturer Marianne Ekonen, PhD (Econ), JAMK University of Applied Sciences, tel +358 50 409 8352

Academy Researcher, Research Director Mia Tammelin, Work Research Centre, University of Tampere, tel. +358 50 437 7504 

University Lecturer Leena Turja, PhD (Ed), Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, tel +358 40-8054035

Reference: Rönkä, A., Ekonen, M., Tammelin, M. & Turja, L. (2018) Management in the 24/7-society raises concerns of fairness and social responsibility. Social Responsibility Journal 14 (3), 670-684. doi:10.1108/SRJ-06-2017-0100