Case Study

Can Shift Reminders Increase Attendance Rates for Hourly Employees?

According to J.P. Morgan’s Weathering Volatility report, almost four in ten individuals experienced a job transition in a given year, which makes up 14% of the month-to- month volatility in labor income.

There are many reasons people lose or change jobs, but not showing up to work or being late consistently fall in the top reasons for termination. According to a CareerBuilder survey, more than half of employers expect employees to be on time every day, and 41% have fired someone for being late. The next logical question is: why are people late or missing work? Is it because they are intentionally trying to shirk on work? Or, perhaps more likely, people forget or don’t plan well. The alarm isn’t set, or traffic is heavier than usual.

To help employees show up and show up on time, we partnered with Homebase, a scheduling application that helps employers schedule and employees know when to come to work.

Behavioral Diagnosis and Key Insights

We reviewed shift attendance rates of over 100,000 employees in Homebase’s database and determined that attendance in particular was an issue for employees. Roughly 50% of Homebase employees have missed more than 7% of their total shifts in the last 90 days. Not only does this put the late employees at risk of termination, but it also has a major negative impact on their coworkers who do show up, who now have shorter breaks and longer shifts.

Experiment

Our intervention was simple: we reminded employees about their shifts. Reminders have a long history in the behavioral sciences of helping people remember to vote, save money and get vaccinated, among other things.

We sent employees before-shift reminders via both email and push notifications through the Homebase app and varied the timing of the reminder (the night before the shift or 1 hour before the shift), the number of reminders per shift (1 or 2), and the text of the reminder (telling people with whom they were working with or giving them an ‘out’ to trade shifts).

We randomly assigned 42,000 Homebase employees who had worked in the past month to one of six conditions (shown below). In total we tested five different reminders, and assigned each employee to receive only one type of reminder before their shifts. Those in the control condition did not receive reminders. The reminders incorporated different behavioral principles: four of the reminders went out the night before each shift to address employees forgetting about their shift; and two went out an hour before each shift to remind employees to leave enough time for their commute. In condition four, the reminder invoked social proof and showed employees pictures of the coworkers that they would be working with during their shift to encourage them to come to work.

shift reminders research | Behavioral science

Results

We analyzed over 608,000 shifts over a 44-day period. On average, employees worked four shifts per week (~22 hours). In our control condition, employees were on-time to 74% of their shifts, late to 18% of their shifts, and missed 8% of their shifts.

Unfortunately, none of our five experimental conditions impacted on-time rates or show-up rates.

There are a number of possible reasons why our reminders may not have impacted attendance rates, including:

  1. “Forgetfulness” may not be the biggest barrier. It could be that hourly employees are already aware of their shifts and don’t need reminders. Transportation hurdles, missed alarm clocks, and other mundane barriers could be the main reason for employees’ tardiness.
  1. Our reminders may have been insufficient. Research by Daniel Fernandes and John Lynch suggests that reminders don’t work for people who have a low propensity to plan. In our study, it’s possible that reminders did not do enough to help employees plan how they would get to work (when to start getting ready, when to leave, etc.).
  1. Our reminders may have increased The National Health Service (NHS) reviewed 31 reminder interventions and found that reminders increased both attendance rates and last-minute cancellations. In short, more people show up, but more people actively cancel. It is possible that in our study reminders increased last-minute shift cancellations.

Impact

We are continuing to understand what other factors could impact attendance rates, including transportation hurdles and scheduling preferences.

IN COLLABORATION WITH