Prof. Susan Lambert has spent her whole career working on work.
“It was a no-brainer,” said the leading national scholar of work and family. “There are enormous wealth disparities, by race especially. Those disparities are lodged in our institutions—in education, in our social networks, but they're also in our workplaces.”
A faculty member at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice (formerly SSA) for nearly four decades, Lambert’s research has not only deepened our understanding of labor practices, but also changed how we work.
When Lambert and frequent collaborator Prof. Julia Henly began documenting the experiences of low-paid workers, they identified a major—yet fixable—problem: work schedules.
For many hourly workers, the unpredictability of daily schedules can disrupt all parts of life from family dinner time to childcare to sleep.
“Susan’s specific focus on work scheduling was profound for me,” said Erin Devorah Carreon, a doctoral student at Crown working with Lambert. “It’s so important to think about how our work schedules, and the control we have over them, affects our daily lives.”
Lambert’s randomized trials in major national retailers have shown that not only are predictable work schedules better for people, they are also good for business. Often citing her findings and testimony, labor organizers and public policymakers have successfully passed Fair Workweek Laws throughout the country.
Though Lambert retired this August, her research, and its impact, isn’t done.
In the early 1990s, the U.S. was in the midst of a heated debate around welfare.
“A lot of that discussion assumed welfare recipients weren't working because they were dependent on public benefits,” said Prof. Julia Henly, a colleague of Lambert’s at Crown. “But most welfare recipients had histories of labor market involvement. Some were temporarily not working for caregiving or economic reasons.”
A 1996 law overhauled the welfare system and pushed unemployed parents into the workforce. Lambert collaborated with Prof. Emeritus Evelyn Brodkin on a study that examined the jobs public welfare participants were being referred to—jobs that were “setting up people for failure.”
“The problem was not the people, but the jobs,” said Henly.