What is Predictive Scheduling?
One out of every six employees in the U.S. works in a shift-based job with an irregular schedule, such as retail sales, food services, drivers, airline workers, and people in the cleaning industry to name a few. Irregular schedules transfer the cost of unforeseen downturns in customer demand from the employer onto personnel.
Predictive scheduling rules are laws and policies to protect the work-life balance and financial stability of employees by mandating fair-minded shift scheduling practices. The ideas behind predictive scheduling go by several names such as predictable scheduling, secure scheduling and fair workweek.
Worker protections are sorely needed:
- 21% of food service staff and 29% of retail employees receive irregular “just-in-time” or on-call schedules.
- 41% percent of workers, ages 26 to 32, receive a week or less notice before their schedules begin.
- Workers earning less than $22,500 per year are most likely to have irregular schedules, raising the probability of work-life conflicts from 11% to 26%.
The New York City Council is considering five ordinances that are good examples of predictive scheduling:
- For retail employees, prohibit on-call scheduling and provide advance notice of work schedules.
- Require certain fast food employers to provide advance notice of work schedules to employees and to provide a schedule change premium when hours are changed after required notices.
- Ban consecutive work shifts in fast food restaurants involving both the closing and opening of the restaurant.
- Require fast food employers with available hours to offer shifts to existing employees before hiring new employees.
- Establish a right for employees to seek flexible work arrangements and to establish a “right to receive” flexible work arrangements in certain emergency situations.
Why do Irregular Schedules Happen?
Volatile work schedules occur because of over scheduling and under scheduling.
Over scheduling occurs when companies over estimate customer demand or workload, then send scheduled, but unneeded, employees home.
A version of over scheduling that’s been in the news and the subject of prominent lawsuits is on-call scheduling. On-call scheduling requires that employees be available and ready to work a scheduled shift. However, before reporting to work, the employee must call to see if they are actually needed, and if the answer is no, they forego the hours and pay.
It’s widely accepted that on-call scheduling for low-wage hourly workers is unfair. Over the last five years, many large retail chains announced they were voluntarily ending the practice of on-call scheduling, helping them avoid legal action by states attorneys who are increasingly cracking down on this predatory practice. Voluntarily ending on-call scheduling also avoids class action lawsuits by employees, which have become increasingly common and have recently been won or settled in favor of workers.
Over scheduling and on-call scheduling remove the security normally associated with employment. They deny promised income, making it difficult to plan finances and spending. For example, parents may arrange costly, nonrefundable childcare only to discover that they don’t need it.
Predictable scheduling rules prohibit on-call scheduling or limit the financial consequences workers endure. For example, a new Seattle law addresses over scheduling by requiring that employers provide half-pay to their workers when their assigned hours are withdrawn.
Under scheduling happens when employers do not give eligible employees available hours they’re willing to work.
Frequently, employers give frontline managers, who are responsible for scheduling their departments, a monthly or weekly budget of work hours. For example, a manager may have 175 hours to divide among staff, but, without tools to calculate schedules, it’s easier to create flexibility by hiring fewer full-time employees and more part-timers.
Some businesses perform just-in-time scheduling. They wait until the last possible moment to calculate how many workers they will need, and when. Also, managers often put off creating the schedule in anticipation of time-off requests or other late-breaking factors.
Work schedules published less than two weeks in advance impact the under and irregularly scheduled the most. Without adequate notice, employees find it difficult to hold a second job, attend school, or plan their personal and family lives. Everything from booking childcare to arranging family outings must wait until the work schedule arrives.
For the people making the schedules, dealing with complicated variables, like availability, number of employees, budgeted hours, covering breaks and lunches, and avoiding overtime is a time-consuming and stressful task. Without good planning tools and flexibility, it’s impossible to build effective and fair schedules.
Poor scheduling results in events like clopenings, where an employee works a closing shift followed by the next morning’s opening shift. This leads to lack of sleep and fatigue, which can result in poor work performance and health issues. Notably, in 2014, Starbucks promised to eliminate clopenings. And a new Seattle law gives workers the option of declining closing and opening shifts that are separated by fewer than 10 hours.
Fair Workweek Laws
Fair workweek laws have become a hot topic among legislators at all levels of government.
San Francisco adopted the first U.S. laws, which went into effect last year, followed by Seattle, WA and Emeryville, CA. Last year, more than a dozen states and municipalities considered the topic. A federal Schedules That Work Act was introduced to both the House and Senate this session and last.
Because predictive scheduling rules affect businesses, cities and towns are most likely to adopt them. At the state legislature level, where it can take many years before an idea becomes law, fair scheduling, as a collection of unified rules, is a somewhat recent phenomenon.
Even if your business does not operate under fair workweek mandates, it’s important to understand that changing laws could affect your scheduling practices.
It’s not just laws that are changing. So are attitudes. More and more companies, of all sizes, are adopting predictive scheduling policies. For some, it’s as simple as ethics or that they value their employees. As big data and new technologies streamline operations and reduce costs, these businesses wish to avoid placing unfair burdens on their personnel.
Other organizations recognize the importance of employee engagement and strengthening morale. Lowering turnover and absenteeism can make fair scheduling profitable. And, as the U.S. approaches full employment, fostering a positive reputation becomes more and more important for attracting new applicants.
Incorporating Predictive Scheduling into Shift Scheduling
Effective staff scheduling
- Makes the best use of your workforce
- Fulfills operational requirements
- Ensures law and policy compliance
- Optimizes the roster (when demand forecasting is used)
As already touched on, operations and compliance each have many requirements, and every new factor increases the difficulty of creating good schedules, while at the same time reducing the number of workable schedule solutions. Demand forecasting—intended to ensure good customer service and sales during busy times, and save money when things slow down—complicates scheduling even further.
In short, the more complex your scheduling needs, the harder it will be to find the right solution.
Navigating all the variables to create fair workweek schedules is largely a difficult math problem. Paper templates and spreadsheets are useful, but limited. However, cloud-based applications, designed specifically for crunching complex employee shift scheduling, put workforce utilization, operations, compliance and even demand forecasting within reach of nearly any organization.
Perhaps one reason businesses, labor organizations and governments are paying greater attention to predictive scheduling and fair workweek policies is because sophisticated scheduling technology is available across companies, locations and departments. And, employers can publish schedules right to workers’ smartphones and personal devices.
Fair workweek, it’s an issue that’s not going away. But, technology makes it easier to solve.