Finding More Workers Through Job Fractionalization

Month after month, economists and pundits are asking the same question. “Where are the hourly workers?” While governments look for policy solutions and employers increase financial incentives, alternative labor markets for fractionalized shift work are putting hundreds of thousands of people into jobs and unearthing critical insights for employers that are struggling to fill them.

Think of job fractionalization as taking one full-time job, perhaps in a convenience store, and breaking it down into smaller shifts, so a worker has a choice in their schedule. These shifts would comprise the various components of the original job. In the case of a convenience store, the shifts could be for bathroom cleaning, merchandising, restocking, and cashiering. A working mother may not want the 8 am shelf-stocking role when she’s taking the kids to work, but a retiree may be happy to take that shift.

Here are some takeaways about job fractionalization and how to make it a win for both employers and workers.

Rethink the Anatomy of the Job

Jobs were historically packaged together – pay, hours, and responsibilities – and put out into the labor market as a “take-it-or-leave-it” proposition. Even when workers chose to “take it,” there were often demands, such as evening or weekend requirements, that made it a challenge to remain within the job as packaged. As pandemic life has evolved and workers reenter the labor market, many are forever changed and are reentering with a heightened focus on flexibility and new ways to engage with work.

With so many hourly jobs still unfilled, it is worth examining the components that make up a job to see if they can be redesigned to better match available labor.

For example, can we encourage greater labor participation by changing the duration or frequency of shifts? Can we attract more workers with different or more narrowly defined job responsibilities?

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Make the Transition From Jobs to Fractionalized Shifts

Most jobs are a collection of multiple skills and responsibilities and companies look for one employee who can “do it all.”

For example, a typical convenience store is likely seeking someone who can do everything from merchandising, to food prep, to cashiering and even bathroom cleaning.  If we rethink this job through the lens of fractionalization, we would break it down into more narrowly focused shifts done by multiple workers. Instead of four different jobs in one, workers can opt-in to the parts that interest them based on their availability. Perhaps a parent with young children takes on a two-hour cleaning shift, while a retiree can show up for three hours of merchandising.

Through fractionalization, employers can also reach into parts of the labor pool that were not previously a fit, because someone who wants to clean doesn’t also have to know how to interact with customers.

Get More People to Do Less Work

According to the most recent BLS data available, the average number or hours worked by part-time workers was 5.58 hours per day or approximately 28 hours per week.

Analyzing data from the Shiftsmart platform, a majority of participants not only value flexibility, but fewer hours and shorter shifts. Looking across over 750,000 fractionalized shift workers over the past year, the average number of hours worked per week was 13, with an average shift length of just 3-4 hours.

Furthermore, participants only pick up 20% of the hours offered to them, suggesting a preference for limited hours and the option to choose. While this may sound like a scheduling nightmare for employers, technology has enabled marketplaces that bring workers and shifts together in a way that is virtually seamless to employers.

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Enable Greater Participation Among Minority and Women Workers

While labor force participation rates and unemployment rates are beginning to improve, employment rates among minority women are still lower than the average. As of February 2022, the unemployment rate was approximately 4.0 percent, compared to 5.8 percent among black women. While fractional work is by no means the only answer to this complex economic challenge, we are encouraged to see that flexible shifts are resonating with women and minority workers, with women making up 58% of Shiftsmart platform participants and non-Caucasians making up 67%.

Don’t Just Fractionalize Shifts, Fractionalize Training

The average retailer spends approximately 3% of payroll on training each year, a significant investment that was typically managed by maximizing the number of hours worked per trained employee.  Pushing for more hours makes sense when it comes to training spend but it may be in direct conflict with the demands we are seeing for more flexible, shorter shifts. To make this model work, employers should leverage partnerships and advances in technology to fractionalize their training along with their work. It is possible to take the dense, lengthy training manual for that convenience store job, and break it up into quick, bite-sized lessons to fit more narrowly defined shifts.

Hourly work scheduling, once seen as a source of tension between workers and employers, is being disrupted for the better by digital transformation. Offering flexibility for workers and efficiency for employers, the advances in fractionalized shift work may be more than just a tiebreaker, but a win for both sides.

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