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Factory workers and other folks want flexible hours now. They're having success.

Choosing Your Own Hours Isn’t Just for Remote Workers Anymore

More on-site workers in manufacturing, warehouse and hospitality jobs gain ability to set their own shifts in a tight labor market


Renee Jumper works two nights a week at a GE Appliances factory in Louisville, Ky., a flexible schedule that gives her time with her family.


By Austen Hufford, WSJ

Aug. 31, 2022 5:30 am ET


It isn’t just remote workers who have gained leverage over when they work.


Shift workers such as assemblers and hotel maids are also getting more flexibility to set their own hours as the pandemic and the historically tight labor market change the economy.


Manufacturers, hotels, warehouses and restaurants are allowing new hires to work just a few days a week, take on four-hour shifts or even choose new hours daily using phone apps, according to the companies, job boards and economists.


The U.S. job market has remained strong with few signs it is weakening as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to curb inflation. The unemployment rate was 3.5% in July—matching a 50-year low—meaning that many people have more leverage when it comes to getting jobs than before, despite an increase in layoff announcements from companies like Ford Motor Co., Walmart Inc. and Robinhood Markets Inc.


Over the past 12 months, 11% of postings for in-person jobs offered flexible hours, according to the online job board ZipRecruiter. The flexible openings typically peak in the run-up to the Christmas season as retailers and warehouses staff up. In October, 29% of job listings offered flexibility. One recent posting for a home health aide in Boston advertised weekly paychecks and custom schedules: “Choose your own hours!”


Professors at the University of Chicago estimated in 2020 that 37% of jobs can be done fully remotely. In-person workers can’t work from home, but they can start working different hours.



“Those on-site workers need to be doing their jobs either in person or on-site,” said Sinem Buber, the lead economist for ZipRecruiter. “They are looking for the flexibility we have as well.”


While the percentage of such postings has declined in recent months, Ms. Buber said it remained above prepandemic levels, with the pullback coming from retailers. “This isn’t going away,” she said. “We aren’t going back to 2019 when it comes to work arrangements.”


The spread of flexible working hours is also being driven by workers who want part-time positions. In July, 20.7 million people were in part-time jobs of their own choosing, according to the Labor Department, while 3.9 million part-time workers said they were looking for full-time work. The proportion of the whole labor force that is choosing to work part-time hours is at its highest since early 2020.


Companies said they are offering different types of working arrangements for in-person jobs because it allows them to tap into new pools of labor and because workers are demanding it. The higher percentage of single mothers and an aging population resulting in elderly parents means that many working-age people have additional caretaking responsibilities, according to economists.


Amazon.com Inc. said more than 100,000 of its employees have used its “Anytime Shifts” program to book their own work hours. Logistics supplier Geodis Group said more than 110,000 hours of work have been done using the company’s flexible shift program on a phone app called Shyft. The app allows factory and manufacturing operations to function similarly to gig-economy roles like Uber drivers. Geodis posts dozens of open shifts a week, allowing workers to choose positions based on the pay rate and the hours.



Clothing retailer Gap Inc. has hundreds of part-time warehouse workers choosing their hours on Shyft. Gap and other companies say workers themselves are asking for part-time, flexible work. Many companies prefer to offer workers full-time positions.


“There’s a growing population of people in which flexibility is paramount,” said Kevin Releford, a logistics executive at the Gap. “You aren’t going to force someone who wants maximum flexibility to work a full-time schedule.”


The hotel industry views the rise of nontraditional shifts as an advantage compared with other industries because many hotels are open around the clock. “It’s not a nine-to-five job,” said Michael Jacobson, president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. “We have shifts starting every hour of the day.”


Manufacturing executives are scouring their production lines looking for jobs that can be done during off-hours. Office furniture maker Haworth Inc. found roles that use stand-alone machines to build extra parts that are then used by workers on assembly lines, according to Chief Operating Officer Kevin Bailey. “Before it was just very cookie cutter. We work this shift. It’s these hours. Here’s a start time,” he said. “Today, you better compete for what they want to do.”


Renee Jumper helps make washing machines two nights a week at the GE Appliances factory in Louisville, Ky. This schedule allows her to cook dinner for her 9-year-old daughter and take her teenage son to a studio to make music.


Ms. Jumper works every Sunday and Thursday night 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., making around $19 an hour. Typical 24-hour factory operations have three eight-hour shifts. Working two nights a week helps Ms. Jumper save money as it allows her to avoid paying for child care and to prepare meals in advance instead of going to restaurants. She is thinking about adding a third weekly shift.


Ms. Jumper doesn’t get complete benefits, like health insurance, as her full-time co-workers do. She said the extra hours with her children make up for that. “It gives me more flexibility with family, to spend time with my daughter and to do meal planning and prepping,” she said.


Amid a record hiring streak in the U.S., economists are watching for signs of a possible wave turn. WSJ’s Anna Hirtenstein looks at how rising interest rates, high inflation, market selloffs and recession risks challenge the growth of America’s workforce.


Anthony Salazar-Masias, of Ontario, Calif., uses Amazon’s phone application to take on additional hours or switch shifts if he is busy. Mr. Salazar-Masias typically works 10-hour shifts Wednesday through Saturday on the inbound dock in a company warehouse in nearby Eastvale, Calif. He recently was able to switch his Saturday shift to a Tuesday so he could attend his nephew’s 10th birthday party. He also uses the app to pick up additional overtime shifts.


“They offer accommodations for whatever I need,” he said. “It’s a really big benefit, being able to make your schedule work with whatever things you have going on in your life.”


Economists said shorter, part-time work could help draw more types of workers into the labor pool, boosting their incomes. However, there is a potential downside to the economy if people who only work once or twice a week produce relatively less than full-time workers.


Output per hour of labor across the economy has declined for three of the past four quarters through the second quarter of 2022, the first such decline in nearly 40 years.



Carola Frydman, a Northwestern University economics professor, said women in particular value the new working arrangements. She said the impact on productivity depends on the type of work involved.


“Can we produce the goods in an efficient way? That will vary a lot depending on what the nature of the job is,” she said. “If the job is being a barista, as long as I know how to make the coffee, that doesn’t matter if I’m there for two hours or six hours. The quality of the coffee I produce doesn’t really change.”


Write to Austen Hufford at austen.hufford@wsj.com


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