Tips on Employee Scheduling

Mary Gormandy White
holding tablet with calendar

Creating and managing employee schedules is a critical management task that can be time-consuming and complicated, but it doesn't have to be. Whether you are scheduling hourly, non-exempt employees or exempt-level professional positions, there are ways to improve the process. Follow these helpful tips to simplify workforce scheduling in your organization.

Use a Technology-Based Scheduling Solution

While it is still possible to create employee schedules using paper and pencil, that's certainly not the most efficient or effective strategy. Instead, opt for a software product designed specifically for the purpose of workforce scheduling. There are a number of outstanding scheduling and shift planning applications available, including standalone programs (such as When I Work) and modules designed to integrate with larger-scale human resources information system (HRIS) solutions, like Kronos Workforce.

These types of scheduling applications allow managers to create optimized schedules and easily make changes, and there are built-in protections to prevent many types of human error. For example, a scheduling application won't allow a manager to schedule the same person for overlapping shifts, though this kind of error can happen when scheduling via paper. Employees can easily access their schedules from any web-enabled device through an intuitive interface or app, with changes showing up in real time. This way, managers won't have to deal with employees saying they can't find their schedules or that they only had an outdated version.

Create and Distribute Schedules in Advance

company calendar

Your employees will appreciate it if you create and distribute the work schedule at least a week (preferably two weeks or longer) in advance, rather than waiting until the last minute to let them know what hours they will be working. This is particularly important for companies where work days, times, and the number of hours can vary significantly for team members, though any company can benefit from having employee schedules completed in advance.

As pointed out on the American Express OPEN Fourm for small businesses, doing this may help you "make your employees happier, since they can plan their lives accordingly, which may mean less turnover." After all, people need to have some idea of when they'll be expected to work and how much income they are slated to earn in order to manage their lives and budgets. They are more likely to find their jobs satisfying and choose to stay with employers who make it easy for them to do so.

Keep Schedules as Predictable as Possible

In keeping with the idea that it's important to let employees know when they are scheduled to work a few weeks in advance, it's also a good idea to keep work schedules as predictable as possible, which is also recommended on the American Express OPEN Fourm. For example, if full-time employees are going to have two days off each week, try to either keep those days the same from week to week, or have a regular rotation (such as two weekdays off on the first and third weeks of the month and two weekends off on the second and fourth weekends of the month). This allows them to plan activities outside of work in advance without having to wait with bated breath for their schedule to come out.

Predictability is also important for part-time employees for different reasons, including knowing how much income to expect and eligibility for assistance programs. As pointed out in The Atlantic, "A lack of predictable hours can lead to difficulty obtaining or keeping government benefits for some workers." For this reason, your company may find it difficult to retain part-time workers in lower-paying jobs if you don't schedule predictably.

Of course, some companies experience special circumstances that impact the exact number of workers that they need at any given time. This is probably more of an exception than a general rule. It's fine to let employees know that staffing needs may change from time-to-time and that they are expected to be available as needed, but that the company will make every effort to provide them with work schedules that are as predictable as circumstances allow.

Ask Staff Members About Schedule Preferences

You'll have fewer problems with getting employees to work the schedule once it is set if you give them an opportunity to let you know their preferences regarding work hours and do your best to accommodate their requests. While it's not likely that you'll always be able to give each worker exactly what he or she prefers, chances are that you'll be able to meet at least some of their preferred shifts if you at least know what they are. As BPlans.com points out, "Knowing employee preferences can allow you to place staff in an available work shift that's convenient for both parties."

Plus, the simple act of allowing employees to voice their requests shows that management is making a good faith effort to listen to employees. As stated on BPlans.com, "Giving staff the option to voice their preferences offers managers a way to promote a collaborative environment." Of course, don't promise what you might not be able to deliver. It's important for employees to know that the overall schedule has to meet the company's manpower needs.

Look for Ways to Incorporate Flexibility

With work-life balance being a real concern in the modern workplace, more and more employers are looking for ways to fit flextime options into their approach to scheduling employees. If you're concerned about attracting and retaining top talent, this is definitely something to consider. After all, according to Fast Company, "Scheduling with a bias toward flexibility can help to retain the best and most loyal team."

There are many approaches to flextime, with options that can work in all types of work environments and employees at every level and in every type of job. Examples of flexible work arrangements include (but are not limited to):

  • time sheet
    Compressed work week: Employees work a full-time schedule in fewer days than ordinary, such as working four 10-hour days each week instead of five 8-hour days.
  • Flextime: Workers are able to adjust their work hours, such as coming in and leaving earlier or later, or taking longer breaks in the middle of the day by both coming in early and staying later.
  • Teleworking/telecommuting: Team members are allowed to perform some tasks remotely, such as working from home certain days of the week or performing specific tasks out of the office.
  • Shift swapping: Within specified guidelines, employees are allowed to work out arrangements with each other to swap scheduled shifts.

While not all approaches to flexibility work in every work environment (assembly line workers can't really telecommute), there are options that can work everywhere.

Implement Formal Schedule Change Procedures

It's important to recognize things sometimes happen that will prevent team members from working as scheduled. As discussed on the When I Work blog, it's important to have a procedure in place for employees to request schedule changes, including advance and last-minute changes. The procedure should address all aspects of how employees and managers should handle schedule changes. For example, it should specify how employees need to submit their requests, how employees will find out if their request is approved, who is responsible for finding someone to work the shift, and all other aspects of ensuring that the company's staffing needs are met when a team member is not able to work as scheduled.

The procedures for schedule change requests should be included in the company's employee handbook. Both employees and managers should be held accountable for following the procedures.

Hire a Pool of On-Call Workers

Workers in grocery store

If your company has periodic peak work times when staffing needs are much higher than ordinary, you may find that it is beneficial to have a pool of on-call workers that you can call to work during such times. This can help reduce fluctuations to regular employee's work schedules, while also helping prevent employee burnout associated with requiring team members to work extra shifts frequently or expecting people to be on-call when that is not the type of job they applied for or agreed to do.

Capterra recommends hiring on-call workers as a particularly good option for retail employees. They suggest that employers "look for students or people who otherwise do not depend on this job for survival, and let them know explicitly they will be used for on-call scheduling." When you have a pool of on-call workers, you can keep your regular team members on their regular schedules for the most part, while meeting your increased staffing needs with workers from your on-call pool, who will likely be happy to have the extra income.

Cross-Train Your Team Members

If there are certain roles within the company where you often find yourself struggling to keep the schedule full, consider cross-training other team members to perform those jobs. Having a pool of workers who know how to do more than one job can help keep things running smoothly during times that you simply don't have enough team members to fill all the open slots on your schedule. Consider doing this with both regular workers, who you may be able to move from one position to another during a regularly scheduled shift or in an overtime situation, and with on-call workers, who may have more opportunities to be scheduled if they are prepared to step into more than one role.

As BizFluent points out, cross training can lead to "optimum job function coverage" and "greater worker flexibility," which can definitely be beneficial when it comes to scheduling. Cross-training can also have a positive impact on employee morale and help build a stronger team.

Improving Your Approach to Employee Scheduling

If you're ready to improve your approach to employee scheduling, there are a number of potential solutions to consider. You may need to update policies or practices in your company, or incorporate a technology-based solution. Whatever option you choose, focus on finding ways to simplify and streamline the process for management while meeting the needs of your organization's employees.

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Tips on Employee Scheduling