The Stress of Unstable Scheduling

Stability is something most people want in their lives, especially when it comes to their work. With the rise of the gig economy, precarious work and scheduling software – inconsistent scheduling has become one of the biggest issues facing workers.  

Many who advocate for the gig economy or ‘flexible’ schedules don’t understand the catch 22 of these types of jobs. Flexibility also means inconsistency and can make it harder to fulfill other responsibilities in your life.  

Although unpredictable scheduling is not new to the workplace, it used to be tied to extra compensation. Doctors or firefighters would typically be paid very well because of the risk associated with their schedules. This is no longer the case as stable scheduling is on the way out.

Short Shifts

One of the biggest issues with unstable scheduling is the practice of regularly sending workers home early and not letting them work their full shift. It’s used by businesses to make staffing changes according to immediate businesses needs. Alberta labour laws state that an employee must be paid for at least 3 hours of work even if they are sent home right away. However, this does not make up for missing a full shift that was scheduled. 

Scheduling Notice

In these types of jobs, shifts are often changed, cancelled or created with little notice for employees. Alberta labour laws state that a schedule must be provided in advance for employees. If employers need to make a temporary change to a work schedule that was not requested by the employee they need to provide at least two weeks’ notice. Exceptions can occur if urgent work is necessary or an unforeseen or unpreventable circumstance occurs. In this case, 24 hours’ notice and 8 hours rest are always required. 

Inconsistent Paycheques

An unstable schedule also means a very unstable paycheque. When hours you are expecting to work and get paid for are taken away, it can mean your income can become much less than you were expecting. The reality is that the demands of bills, rent and groceries don’t stop just because your shifts get cut. 

Unable to Plan Ahead

As if inconsistent pay isn’t hard enough to deal with, the inability to plan ahead in your life is a huge inconvenience. Not knowing when you will have a shift change means it makes it almost impossible to have a second job and for students can interfere with their school schedules. For parents, it means constantly having to ask friends and family to help with childcare, which can put a strain on relationships. These workers are always having to change plans, cancel appointments and miss out on important life events. 


The list of stresses caused by unstable scheduling is too long to have in just one blog post. Inconsistent scheduling has a major impact on the mental health of employees causing anxiety, depression, low levels of job satisfaction and diminished cognition. It has also been shown to affect physical health causing issues such as heart disease and insomnia. What is also troubling is that this stress goes beyond the employee impacting parent-child interactions that are crucial to development and their mental and physical health. 


One of the main ways to fight unstable scheduling is through a union. When you have a union contract your schedule is stable, consistent and clearly written out in your collective agreement. If you do have any issues with scheduling, you have a team of people to stand up for your rights.  

If you ever do have any questions about safety and your schedule you can always contact Occupational Health and Safety. The contact centre is open 24 hours a day and can be reached toll-free at 1- 866-415-8690 (Alberta) or at 780-415-8690 (Edmonton). 

The Distress Line is a great resource to call if you are feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to. You can contact them at 403.266.HELP (4357) in Calgary, 780-482-HELP (4357) in Edmonton and 1-800-232-7288 in rural areas.


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Do you have any questions about your rights in the workplace or need someone to talk to about your job stress? Contact one of our free labour counsellors at (403) 259-4608 or

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