Glass ceiling effect of working time arrangements

In 2008, Giancarlo Cerruti investigated the impact of changing working time arrangements on employees in a Turin hypermarket since an earlier survey in 1991. More employees now work part time, and both overtime and work at unsocial hours have increased. Women tend to do unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. The combined impact of differences in labour contracts and changing working time arrangements amounted to a striking gender bias in employment and occupational status.

In his recent book, Lavorare al tempo del cliente nel post-fordismo (‘Working at the customer’s pace in post-Fordism’), Giancarlo Cerruti summarises the changes in working time arrangements at a hypermarket on the outskirts of Turin between 1991 (three years after its opening) and 2009. The research is based on evidence from in-depth interviews (15 in 1991 and 10 in 2008), combined with an analysis of workforce composition according to data provided by the employer, as well as the findings of a 1991 survey among employees which was not replicated in the 2000s.

Key findings

Figures on workforce composition demonstrate major changes over almost 20 years.

Gender and working time

Following an expansion of the hypermarket’s premises, the workforce increased by over 100 employees, from 213 in 1991 to 317 in 2008. Most employees worked part time, with the proportion increasing from 59.2% in 1991 to 75.7% in 2008, while the share of full-time employees declined from 40.8% in 1991 to 24.3% in 2008 (Table 1).

Table 1: Workforce composition by gender and working time, 1991–2008
  Men Women Total
1991 2008 1991 2008 1991 2008
No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
Part-time workers 13 18.6 23 31.9 113 79 217 88.6 126 59.2 240 75.7
Full-time workers 57 81.4 49 68.1 30 21 28 11.4 87 40.8 77 24.3
Total 70 32.9 72 22.7 143 67.1 245 77.3 213 100 317 100

Source: Cerruti, 2010

Labour turnover was considerable at the beginning of the period (with 83 resignations over an average of 200 employees between 1988 and 1991), but quickly fell to less than 3% among permanent employees. This indicates improved working conditions compared with other hypermarkets both in terms of pay and the working time arrangements offered by company-level agreements (this observation was also highlighted in the interviews).

In 1991, 84% of employees had a permanent contract and those hired on a two-year work-and-training contract were optimistic about their prospects of permanent employment. The share of temporary workers remained the same in 2008, mostly composed of seasonal workers hired to help meet peak demand around Christmas or to cover holiday periods.

Human resource managers set minimum workforce requirements for each shift, which meant that any short-term volatility such as variations in the flow of customers, promotional campaigns and personnel absences had to be covered by overtime. The number of working Sundays increased from four in 1991 to 12 in 1998 and 24 in 2006. Both developments were experienced by part-timers as an increase in unsocial hours. The actual working time of a part-time employee thus amounted to a weekly average of 25–27 hours instead of 20 hours.

Contract type and working time

The combined impact of differences in type of contract and changing working time arrangements amounts to a striking gender bias. While 77% of men with a permanent employment contract and 18% with a non-permanent contract worked full time in 2008, 86% of permanent and all non-permanent women employees worked part-time (Table 2).

Table 2: Workforce composition by contract and working time, 2008 (%)
  Permanent Non-permanent Total
Men Women Men Women Men Women
Part-time workers 22.9 86.3 81.8 100 31.9 88.6
Full-time workers 77.1 13.7 18.2 0 68.1 11.4
Total 84.7 83.7 15.3 16.3 22.7 77.3

Source: Cerruti, 2010

Occupation and working time

The type of contract also seems to have a direct bearing on the occupational structure and opportunities for advancement. While there was a noticeable shift in full-timers from semi-skilled jobs (47.1% in 1991 to 31.2% in 2008) to skilled sales operators and low-level foremen (24.1% in 1991 to 41.6% in 2008), part-timers were increasingly concentrated in the ranks of semi-skilled occupations (cashiers, basic sales operators) (Table 3). There is considerable interest in moving from part-time to full-time work but the opportunities are few because of low turnover among the latter group.

Table 3: Workforce composition by occupation and working time, 1991–2008 (%)
  Part-time workers Full-time workers Total
  1991 2008 1991 2008 1991 2008
Unskilled – entry level 38.9 22.5 1.2 1.3 23.5 17.4
Semi-skilled 59.5 75.8 47.1 31.2 54.5 65.0
Skilled and shopfloor foremen 0.8 1.7 24.1 41.6 10.4 11.3
Foremen and professionals 0.8 0 18.5 20.8 8.4 5.0
Specialists and managers 0 0 8.1 5.1 3.2 1.3

Source: Cerruti, 2010

Occupation and gender

Interaction of employment type (full-time versus part-time) and occupational shifts with gender resulted in an increased concentration of men in the category of skilled and shopfloor foremen. Women became increasingly concentrated among semi-skilled workers, with a moderate increase in the proportion of skilled and low-level foremen (Table 4).

Table 4: Workforce composition by occupation and gender, 1991–2008 (%)
  Men Women
  1991 2008 1991 2008
Unskilled – entry level 12.9 15.2 28.7 18.0
Semi-skilled 37.1 37.5 62.9 73.1
Skilled and low-level foremen 24.3 29.2 3.5 6.1
Foremen and professionals 15.7 12.5 4.9 2.8
Specialists and managers 10.0 5.6 0 0

Source: Cerruti, 2010


The book describes a good example of the effect of overtime on gender bias. A company’s demand for extensive working hours from full-time employees favours men with fewer family commitments. Women opt for overtime as the ‘second best’ solution: even if it involves working unsocial hours and Sundays, part-time work allows them to slightly improve their earnings with only marginal adjustments to the division of tasks within the family. However, it also results in a glass ceiling for advancement within the company if promotion is linked to employment status.


Cerruti, G., Lavorare al tempo del cliente nel post-fordismo [Working at the customer’s pace in post-Fordism], Milan, Angeli, 2010.

Mario Giaccone, Ires

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