Top 3 Trends Shaping Employee Scheduling Today and How Employers Can Adapt

Top 3 Trends Shaping Employee Scheduling Today and How Employers Can Adapt

To describe global events over the last few years as disruptive is a gross understatement. Between the pandemic and its vast ongoing impacts, rising inflation, a highly publicized war, and myriad other crises, hundreds of millions of people are navigating unprecedented challenges in daily life.

Work life, too, has changed in many ways. The ongoing shortage of talent, which was exacerbated during the pandemic, continues to make headlines while disrupting supply chains — and creating constant headaches for operations leaders, HR executives, and workforce managers. Shift-based operations in manufacturing, healthcare, and warehousing industries have been hit especially hard.

What’s Changed and Why?

Many of the trends that started to take shape pre-pandemic have continued to gain momentum — and will undoubtedly continue to shape the way we work for the near term. Most notably, the job market will continue to be tipped heavily in favor of employees. Workers used to compete for jobs, but now companies compete for workers — so much so that McKinsey predicts more than 85 million jobs will be left vacant by 2030. High turnover — according to Gartner, up to 24 percent — and absenteeism appear poised to continue as the rule, not the exception, for many workplaces in 2023 and beyond.

Workers used to compete for jobs, but now companies compete for workers — so much so that McKinsey predicts more than 85 million jobs will be left vacant by 2030.

But it’s not only a labor shortage affecting the work landscape. Today’s employees have vastly different needs and beliefs regarding work’s role in their lives. More than ever, people are determined to work when and how they want to. This starkly contrasts with the prevailing “never miss a day of work” mindset of previous generations. Flexibility, especially when it comes to work schedules, has emerged as a non-negotiable for many workers today — but how they define it varies greatly, presenting yet another challenge for employers.

These challenges are also closely tied to the growing complexity of employee scheduling, a matter that successful employers must be prepared to address in their quest to thrive in the new world of work.

Workforce scheduling has always been a monumentally difficult task dependent upon an organization’s industry, operational processes, employees’ needs, and business goals. Layer in ever-changing regulations, worker expectations, and dynamic operations, and it’s easy to see how scheduling complexity takes on an unprecedented level of difficulty, time, and expertise. To tackle it, organizations need to implement robust, intuitive, automated, and customized solutions to meet their specific needs to create adaptive workforce operations. One-size-fits-all solutions are vastly inadequate.

Employers who can respond effectively and strategically to these three workforce trends will undoubtedly have a major competitive edge over those who can’t. Fortunately, some solutions are far better equipped to tackle the challenge than traditional manual methods: powerful automation technologies that enable workforce operations to run lean, be more adaptive, and find new coverage possibilities.

Here’s what workforce managers should know about the three top trends shaping workforce scheduling, and how they can turn these challenges into opportunities.

Trend 1: High Turnover and Absenteeism

High turnover and absenteeism continue to be key issues for shift-based workforces. According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s latest research, one of the most effective strategies for manufacturers seeking to address these issues, and improve the health of their workforce, is to look for ways to offer the greatest flexibility to on-site employees regarding their scheduling and/or hours worked.

And when workers don’t get that flexibility with their schedule, not surprisingly, they look elsewhere for employment. In fact, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, more than 47 million workers quit their jobs in 2021, many in search of better work-life balance and schedule flexibility. By the end of 2022, about 37.4 million people will have voluntarily quit their jobs, according to research from Gartner. The study emphasized that “new employee expectations” and the lack of flexibility in scheduling “will continue to fuel the rise in attrition” for the remainder of 2022 and beyond.

When employees have more control over their schedules, they are far more satisfied in the workplace. It gives them ownership and a degree of satisfaction that they have a level of flexibility that they may not get somewhere else.

Rue Patel
Manufacturing Consultant

Savvy workforce managers and HR professionals are starting to see the powerful impact that scheduling flexibility can have in deterring this kind of sky-high turnover and absenteeism. To create schedules that workers want, they must also understand what flexibility means to different employees on an individual level. Different worker types (such as full-time, part-time, temp, and gig workers) have different needs and expectations regarding their employment. Some want consistent schedules that match their work preferences. Some want high flexibility and the opportunity to pick up shifts ad-hoc. Some want extra work, and some don’t. Understanding those differences is paramount for employers to build sustainable work environments — especially schedules — that workers embrace.

When employees have more control over their schedules, they are far more satisfied in the workplace — and far less likely to leave. “It gives them ownership and a degree of satisfaction that they have a level of flexibility that they may not get somewhere else,” says manufacturing consultant Rue Patel.

At the same time, workforce managers and HR leaders must also be able to ensure fairness when accommodating workers’ needs regarding overtime, shift assignments, trainings, and other scenarios.

How the Right Technology Helps:

Automated scheduling technologies put employees in the driver’s seat of their schedule in a way that’s simply impossible for any manual scheduling process. Here are just a few examples of how such technology empowers employees:

  • Offers secure web and mobile apps to check schedules and new shift openings
  • Tracks and accommodates worker availability and shift preferences
  • Enables workers to volunteer, bid, pick up, and trade shifts on-demand
  • Distributes overtime fairly based on OT balance, seniority, shift refusal history, etc.

In addition, automation-based technologies help operations leaders overcome staff shortages by enabling them to efficiently leverage their different labor pools and move people around at the right moment — all while considering the hours people want (and are willing) to work.

By empowering employees to have a say in their schedule (and thus improving their job satisfaction) while utilizing their existing workforce in a more efficient way, organizations can put themselves on the path to becoming the employer of choice in a highly competitive (and complex) labor market.

Trend 2: Ongoing Labor Shortages and Coverage Gaps

Ask any workforce manager what their most pressing challenge is, and it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll say it’s finding qualified staff. The headlines and statistics illustrating this crisis are sobering, to say the least, underscoring the stark fact that this issue isn’t going away any time soon. Short staffing will be most acutely felt in 24/7, mission-critical industries that rely on shift workers, including manufacturing, food processing, healthcare, and public transit.

Yet, the work demands continue. Orders must be filled accurately and on time, and deliveries must be made as scheduled. The simple fact is that if companies want to continue doing business, they must meet those objectives by finding a way to adapt to today’s labor challenges.

Clearly, the process of workforce scheduling is more important than ever to meet the challenge of labor shortages and ongoing coverage gaps. And just as clearly, the traditional methods — bulky spreadsheets, breakroom bulletin boards, and time-consuming phone trees — are no match for the task of workforce scheduling in today’s complex labor landscape.

How the Right Technology Helps:

For a growing number of HR professionals and workforce managers, intelligent scheduling technology is the definitive answer to tackle gaps in coverage caused by ongoing labor shortages. With such solutions in place, workforce managers can unlock hidden coverage capacity and adapt work schedules to respond swiftly to the changing dynamics of daily operations based on production and service goals. Such technology also enables powerful visibility into additional labor pools, enabling backup contingency when needed.

Many workforce managers are also taking advantage of how some of these technologies enable seamless coordination and communication with employees. This is possible through powerful platforms and tools that keep workers informed in real time about schedule changes, open shifts, and available overtime, which maximizes coverage while boosting worker engagement.

With such solutions in place, organizations can offload the challenging, time-consuming task of workforce scheduling — and make their scheduling up to 30% more effective while increasing coverage rates by up to 88% and decreasing worker turnover by 16%.

Trend 3: Growing Scheduling Complexity

Workforce scheduling has always been demanding, challenging, and time-consuming. Figuring out which workers will work which shifts, at which times, and in which facilities is a mind-boggling process that must consider vast amounts of data. Decisions are often made upon short notice as demand needs change and staff callouts arise. Factor in more comprehensive labor laws, industry rules, union stipulations, and the rising need to improve flexibility for both workers and operations — and the task of creating worker schedules seems impossible.

Clearly, the old methodologies and strategies that workforce managers and HR personnel have relied on in the past (phone trees, Excel spreadsheets, e-mail) are no longer just unreliable: They’re downright impossible to use at any broad scale. Scheduling automation has started to gain more widespread implementation, but effective solutions must not offer one-size-fits-all software.

Instead, they must adapt to the specificity of plant scheduling procedures and policies, labor laws, and industry rules while, as always, tackling the ever-present challenge of optimizing their limited labor resources.

How the Right Technology Helps:

Clearly, automation-powered technology enables shift-based operations to tackle the myriad challenge of today’s changing workplace and position themselves for success. However, software that lacks the depth, capability, and robustness to meet the specific demands of an organization’s operations will require businesses to adapt to the software’s limitations — ultimately leading to more manual workarounds, lower user adoption, and, eventually, failed projects.

Instead, tailor-fit scheduling automation that supports all levels of complexity and is fully customizable to an organization’s unique needs is the only way to go. With the right automation technology in place, organizations can utilize many benefits, including:

  • Scheduling efficiency that offers the operational freedom needed to meet business goals
  • Fewer reworks and reduced scheduling errors, grievances, and complaints
  • Reduced unnecessary OT and lower labor costs resulting from scheduling errors
  • Access to the precise insights and toolsets necessary to make better scheduling decisions
  • Peace of mind, knowing all scheduling rules are adhered to accurately — around the clock

Tailor-fit automation allows operations leaders to spend less time managing employee schedules and more time supporting their people and the business.

Employee scheduling software that is powered by robust technology that also enables higher visibility across the board — into operational needs, demand fluctuations, worker availability, shift gaps, and more — is also emerging as a critical tool for workforce managers and HR leaders in scaling their workforces to meet today’s complex labor challenges.

“Today’s workforce managers demand visibility that you can break down according to their specific needs,” Patel says. “A training supervisor is going to want different visibility than the plant manager. And automation technologies that provide that are going to go a long way to help solve some of those workforce labor challenges.”

Recommended Additional Resources