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Starbucks moderates 'clopening' practices

August 18, 2014

Starbucks workers usually seem pretty happy with their jobs — often downright enthusiastic. With equal parts inspiration, perspiration and caffeine, most workers seem to do well.

And yet, when it comes to managing worker hours, Starbucks comes under much of the same scrutiny as other retail chains, including Whole Foods and other "great places to work." Since Starbucks workers, perhaps worried about spoiling a good thing, don't tend to complain much publicly, it took a recent expose in the New York Times to rouse management into action.

Late last week, according to the Times, Cliff Burrows, Starbucks' group president, U.S., Americas, and Teavana, announced that the company would moderate scheduling demands on its baristas. In particular, the company would address the "clopening" problem whereby workers are required to lock up the store late at night only to reopen in the wee hours the next day.

Mr. Burrows' statement was a direct response to the Times' Aug. 13 feature, subtitled "Scheduling Technology Leaves Low-Income Parents With Hours of Chaos." The piece profiled a 22-year-old Starbucks barista, Jannette Navarro, who struggles to provide childcare for her 4-year-old son while dealing with her erratic work schedule.

According to the story: "She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy."  

Starbucks, said Mr. Burrows, will now make changes to its workforce management software to give managers more say in keeping work hours reasonable. Mr. Burrows also promised to enforce a rule calling for schedules to be posted at least a week in advance.

Consistent practices appear to be a sizable part of Starbucks' problem. In a Reddit.com online forum intended for Starbucks workers, one recently transferred employee checked about company rules with his colleagues: "My new manager has a habit of scheduling people to close (11:30) and then open (4:30), and working 7+ days in a row, and no one bats an eye."

The responses varied:

"I have been told, by multiple SMs, that the company does frown upon having less than 8 hrs. between shifts."

"Hmm as far as I knew 'clopens' were a no no."

"The company doesn't like them but there isn't a fixed national policy against them I've been made aware of..."

"I have always been under the impression that the manager has to expressly ask you if you are ok with a clopen... I personally like it some days, as long as it's in the same store."

Overall, Starbucks is rated fairly well by its employees. On Glassdoor.com, a workplace evaluation site, Starbucks workers give the company a 3.7 satisfaction rating out of a possible 5. By comparison, Costco, rated #1 among retail companies last year by Glassdoor as a place to work, currently gets a 3.9 rating.

One former barista interviewed by Glassdoor may have summed it up best. "Great company if you can handle it. ... I once spoke with my manager because my schedule was being changed with less than 24 hours notice, and that was against state law. She got this crazed look in her eye and spat 'Starbucks law goes above state law!'"


Discussion Questions:

Should erratic scheduling be accepted as a "right of passage" for retail employees working their way up? How can retail operations like Starbucks run profitably while providing good work/life balance for their employees?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Do you think Starbucks needs to significantly moderate the pressure they put on their workers?


Unacceptable decision by the bean counters to make employees, the ones most responsible for their brand, into serfs. As I wrote in my post How Can Retailers Stop Creating Angry Employees?

You want to create an exceptional experience for your customers.
You want your foot traffic to increase.
You want to grow your business.
Then treat your sales crew with respect.

All the talk of creating an engaging atmosphere for shoppers falls flat when you undermine morale by cutting hours on an ongoing and capricious basis, and expecting your team to be happy.

This will become a bigger issue as more light is spread on the practice.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

Kudos to Starbucks for proactively addressing this. When my kids were opening our Starbucks they needed to arrive by 5:00 a.m., that's not so hard to do if that's a regular part of the schedule (even for teens). Part of Starbucks' appeal has to be its happy associates.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Erratic scheduling in this technology age should not be happening. If Starbucks is scheduling using a computer program by store, that program can be built or adjusted to give adequate lead time, prevent "clopening" and prevent extended days in a row for employees.
When I managed retail we had guidelines for building schedules and we were doing it manually! Surely Starbucks, which controls product quality and inventory so closely through technology, can manage schedules that make sense for both the company and the baristas!

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

This is crazy. I can't believe that the corporate operations group has them schedule three days before the next week. It should be more around 10 days out. How do they manage labor?

Couple things to do here, one is allow self scheduling to an extent. If it's good for some nurses who work late, early, weekends why not baristas? Second is enforce the no clopens. That can't be efficient for workers or good for quality of service or product.

Erratic is one thing, ridiculous another. Come on Starbucks!

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Robert DiPietro, SVP Energy Services and New Ventures, Homeserve

There's no excuse for these kinds of scheduling issues. Any good workforce management solution can be configured to universally enforce rules like "no fewer than eight hours between shifts." And personally, I think even one week's notice on shifts is ridiculously short. Even when the retailers I worked for had to do it manually, we had four weeks of schedules available. The first two weeks were hard-scheduled, the second two were soft, and it was updated every week.

With the technology available today, there's no excuse for any retailer to perpetrate this kind of chaos on employees. Cheers to Starbucks for at least acknowledging (when brought to the public) that it has a problem.

Right now, I see help wanted signs in almost every window around the retail part of my woods. I wonder when someone will discover that a stable schedule could be a differentiator in attracting and keeping high-quality employees?

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Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

This is not a profitably, problem this is a local store manager problem. As the article pointed out, lazy/untrained managers created the problem. Not the policy that the company had in place.

Yes retail is a tough business to create a world with a lot of choice about the hours someone needs to be at work. If the store opens at 6 a.m., someone needs to open the doors and 6:10 a.m. is not acceptable. On the other hand technology, if used correctly, makes the job of scheduling much easier and controllable. For example making sure the correct number of people are scheduled when needed and that the right employees with the right skills are also scheduled. Technology also allows notification of when a shift is open so employees can bid on it or decline it. The list goes on.

But technology is only as good as the person who is using it.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

I also think it is a sign of the times, Starbucks needs to have more part-timers so that the schedules are maintain in accordance with both state and Starbucks laws. I just think making all the products during peak times has got to be stressful and I'm so glad they do it well. I do not know many store-level employees who think working in retail is fun. It is a job and most do it well, but everyone would like a better one someday.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

My first response is there needs to be some reasonable level of setting hours. Asking someone to close at 11:30 p.m. and come in five hours later is not reasonable, unless it is a very occasional occurrence and the employee is willing to step up. And why would employees be willing to step up?

Because the company really is a great place to work. They keep their employees motivated through a good environment, making them feel appreciated, exploiting their talents and uniqueness and overall, fulfilling their professional life.

Fulfilled and engaged employees are willing to step up, engage at a higher level and more.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

If erratic scheduling has been working for Starbucks, then why not keep doing it? There is always going to be a few over-dramatized situations to sell papers where the work schedule doesn't fit the unique life style of certain workers. Really, it's up to Starbucks to decide whats best and what is the most profitable. I'm not so sure Starbucks will accomplish much. If they do it will revolutionize the fast food industry. My guess is based on the high marks Starbucks gets, they probably do as good job as any fast food business. If workers are complaining about Starbucks scheduling, just imagine what they are saying at their fast food competitors?

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

Erratic scheduling is one of the reasons for quick burn-out and high turnover in retail. Scheduling seldom has anything to do with what works best for the employees. Company policies often require workers to work shifts or days that make life difficult and can change in a moment's notice.

Part of the rationale for rotating shifts is that employee performance is largely based on sales and the volume of sales varies for times of day and days of the week. Therefore, if an employee was only scheduled on low volume shifts, her performance would be rated lower than someone who had high volume shifts. Forcing employees to work a variety of shifts is therefore considered creating an even playing field for generating sales and measuring performance.

If you are a full-time employee scheduled 40 hours per week, the way many retail schedules are set-up, you could end up working as many as 10 days straight if your days off are at the beginning of the first week and at the end of the second week. During that 10 day span you could be asked to open, work mid-shift, and close, including having a clopen thrown in. It's not a frequent scenario but it happens. Working six or seven days straight, however is not that unusual.

There must be a better way for retailers to allow more consistency and predictability in scheduling employees which would likely greatly increase productivity.


Oh no! Not Starbucks, the penultimate place for people to sit and drink. I hope we are not just getting lip service from Starbucks corporate when it comes to resolving what is probably a real problem for many of their young workers. They don't need this swept under the rug. They need a true resolution.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

I agree with RetailRetail, however, some burnout and turnover is needed. Otherwise too many employees would stick around collecting raises, vacations, and healthcare. That's fine for super good workers, but the rest need to rotate out. Maybe the erratic work schedule is designed for the the worker that is less valued.

I know from working in retail management that these erratic schedules usually do not apply to your rainmakers. You want to keep them happy. The people running Starbucks are not idiots. They know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. We might not understand it and question why there isn't a better way to schedule. My guess is, any attempt by Starbucks to change their scheduling is just for the press release and there will be no meaningful changes.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

As many have pointed out, the scheduling software can be set to manage, in reality, whatever rules Starbucks wants to observe. If you can imagine one dial on the software which turned all the way to the left says "minimize wage expense," and all the way to the right says "maximize associate life balance" it's interesting that Starbucks had it set no doubt consciously, too far to the left.

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Peter J. Charness, SVP America, Global CMO, TXT Group

Erratic, no. Variable, yes. Scheduling systems today allow for an organization to "best fit" between the needs of the business and labor management culture.

There are many solutions to enhancing scheduling flexibility for employees:

  1. Schedule two weeks out (most accepted)
  2. Allow employees to swap shifts thru portal visibility
  3. Conduct annual "availability" updates

There are many ways to skin this cat, but let's be clear. Most automated scheduling systems try to "optimize" the employee schedules to produce the least waste and lowest labor costs. Therefore, any modification is a compromise to the company profitability. Getting the balance right is key!


One great quote was included in the article above and I think it applies to the way many retail workers would comment on their jobs - "Great company if you can handle it."

To improve employee satisfaction in earnest and to retain employees longer, Starbucks and others would be well-served to get ahead of the curve on the type of scheduling practices quoted in the article.

Why wait until exposes hit the media and pressure/public outcry creates a need for change? Why not look at employees as actual human beings that deserve the same respect in setting work and family schedules as do the executives they work for?

It truly seems like an easy issue to recognize and to manage for corporate leaders. Why are they not taking up the challenge?

One idea...the tenuous nature of the economy allows employers to manage by fear, even if it is ever so subtly allocated. Rock the boat and you might lose your job. "Handle it" and you keep it.

Time for a change?

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Bill Hanifin, CEO, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

Optimized schedules are important to the health of the retailer, but collaborating with employees in the scheduling process is key. There has been legislative action mandating how this should work, but actually it's just good business anyway.

I've published more complete thoughts in a LinkedIn article on the topic "New Workers' Rights Laws and You."

JD Miller, VP of the Americas, Workplace Systems

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