Lean staffing and just-in-time scheduling might seem like necessary components in a fast-paced business that relies on hourly-wage workers. But there may be hidden costs to such an arrangement.

The thing to keep in mind is that when you take care of workers, they take care of you, said workplace management software company Kronos vice president of business development Charles DeWitt.

DeWitt was on a panel Thursday alongside a labor activist, investigative journalist and Starbucks barista at O'Reilly Media's Next:Economy conference in San Francisco.

While managers may be apt to blame software for wonky work calendars, Carrie Gleason, a director at the Center for Popular Democracy, said the problem isn't technology but how managers use it.

Here are three things to consider when determining how to create schedules for hourly employees.


When workers have unpredictable schedules, they can't plan ahead to accommodate activities like school, said Gleason. This can ultimately put workers in the position of having to make a choice--and they may not choose an unpredictable job, which means more turnover for you. 


"We're perpetually operating at the lowest number of people that we can have," said Darrion Sjoquist, a Starbucks barista in Seattle. The result is that if one person can't make it to work, the whole team suffers, he said. That means slower service and more mistakes, which can frustrate customers.

Health and sanitation.

When workers have irregular schedules, they have trouble fitting in second jobs. And when staffing is lean, each worker matters more to ensuring a store runs well. Combine these factors, and you end up with employees who may decide to head in to work even when they're sick. Sick employees lead to more sick employees, and possibly sick customers as well.

DeWitt says businesses are taking these caveats to heart and giving his company access to data to see how staffing practices impact operations. Starbucks pledged last year to make schedules more consistent and post them sooner. However, the company was said earlier this year to have come up short in its follow through.