How to Schedule Employees:
Your Guide to Managing Hourly Work Schedules

In this guide, you will learn the seven steps for creating and managing a win-win employee work schedule; one that benefits both your workers and your organization.

Employee scheduling is complex. It’s a juggling act of anticipating workforce needs, managing employee requests and preferences, and ensuring shift coverage. It doesn’t end there: employee scheduling also includes managing labor costs, adhering to compliance rules, and all the while maximizing productivity.

As such, the employee schedule serves as a critical connection point between an organization and its hourly workers. That’s why effective employee scheduling helps build a great employee experience, improving employee retention and satisfaction. In particular sectors, like manufacturing, the work schedule is essential to meeting production demands or other crucial business goals.

According to our hourly worker research report, 87 percent of hourly workers consider having control of their work schedules to be extremely important, and 55 percent said they would leave their job if they lacked control over their schedule.

This means the quality with which the employee schedule is planned, published, and communicated directly impacts worker satisfaction, “no-shows,” and, ultimately, employee turnover. Employee turnover is 174% more likely without real-time scheduling capabilities. It’s no wonder that’s the case. According to a recent study in the American Sociological Review, “exposure to routine instability in work schedules is associated with psychological distress, poor sleep quality, and unhappiness.”

Icon worker

87 Percent

said they would leave their job if they lacked control over their schedule.

Icon worker

55 Percent

said they would leave their job if they lacked control over their schedule.

In addition to the costs associated with employee turnover, the employee schedule impacts many other aspects of operations, including labor costs, productivity, and compliance with industry regulations, internal policies, and employment and labor laws. Manual staff scheduling is often inefficient and cumbersome for complex operations (but can work well for small businesses). When a “Big Three” U.S. auto manufacturer transitioned from manual to automated employee scheduling, they saw significant gains in efficiency and cost control, saving $800/employee in grievance costs and $1.5 million in unnecessary overtime within the first year of implementation.

Employee Turnover

Employee Turnover is 174% more likely without real-time scheduling capabilities.

Bersin by Deloitte

Here we share seven proven steps you can take to streamline and improve your employee scheduling process. We realize there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, so incorporate only the measures that best fit your organization’s employee scheduling workflow.

Step 1: Determine Labor Needs

First, clearly understand the labor resources you need to meet operations goals. Since everything is based on the master schedule that maps to your production goals, labor planning is essential to get right. You’ll want to:

Map Needs by Role and Location

It’s important to determine the precise resources required for each role by location and shift duration. For example, a supervisor may need four operators and two other skilled workers from 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. to meet production goals for the first shift. There are countless ways to define a location (e.g., departments or lines), so make sure you categorize locations clearly and consistently. You can organize resources for each role in many ways, such as a grid on a whiteboard, in a spreadsheet, or using employee scheduling software.

Identify Historical Trends

Reviewing data from past scheduling periods can help you anticipate needs and schedule employees fairly. A quick analysis of your production or volume history may show your business tends to have more needs on specific days of the week or during a peak season, justifying the decision to schedule more employees in that time frame to support the demand. Using past experience to make projections about your staffing needs will aid in planning for both the busier – and slower – times throughout the year.

Define Required Qualifications

This is a necessary step for each shift assignment. If you have a process to qualify people for shifts, you’ll get the right employees scheduled at the right time. For example, let’s say that you need four operators total for the swing shift, but at least one needs to be trained on a particular machine. Having a plan to qualify available workers before you schedule them will ensure you have the right employees scheduled at the right time.

Integrate Time and Attendance

Using technology to track time and attendance improves the efficiency of workforce scheduling processes through automation. If your workplace does not use a time and attendance software application, you may want to investigate adding this functionality to your employee scheduling software service.

Step 2: Assess Worker Pool

Once you understand precisely how much labor you need, it’s time to assess whether your current labor resources match those needs. In addition to hourly workers, you may need to factor in any non-personnel resources at this stage.

Here are a few important factors to consider as you make your assessment:

Plan Ahead

An upcoming holiday or long weekend may affect your available labor pool. Planning for these changes in advance will keep you from scrambling to fill missed shifts at the last minute.

Analyze and Allocate Resources

If a busy season is upcoming and you forecast a significant increase in resource needs, assess what you will need by role, location, and availability. Give yourself some extra room beyond expected demand to make sure you can allocate enough resources.

Include All Resources in the Schedule

For example, if a warehouse provides forklifts for their staff to use, the equipment should be added to the shifts on the masterwork schedule to ensure proper coverage.

Consider Staff Scheduling Software

Accurately predicting resource needs is essential but can get complicated quickly when non-personnel resources, hourly worker needs, and fluctuating demand are all at play. For complex scheduling environments, workforce scheduling technology is a huge help. Tools such as Shiftboard’s Demand Planner use sophisticated algorithms to forecast resources based on historical patterns.

Step 3: Identify Scheduling Rules

Seniority, overtime status, location, and certifications are common factors that need to be reflected in the hourly schedule. Scheduling rules based on these factors may also be unique to your organization, so clear guidelines are extremely important. To avoid confusion, make sure that all managers understand the policies or rules before shifts are assigned.

Compliance to Safety, Employment, and Labor Laws

Ensure staff isn’t working longer than is allowed by law, union rules, or fatigue management guidelines. You’ll also need to track and comply with any internal or external overtime restrictions.


Is seniority status given to employees for certain shifts? Those guidelines will need to be reflected during scheduling as well.

Training and Certifications

Do particular shifts require personnel who are certified with specific training? If so, put rules in place to ensure only people with current certifications are considered for assignment during those shifts.

Step 4: Assign Employee Shifts

Now that your employee schedule is mapped out, everyone understands the guidelines, and you’re confident that you can meet your resource needs, it’s time to fill the open shifts. Locations and times should already be determined by this stage. Once they are, you can focus on getting the right people in the right place at the right time.

It’s helpful at this stage to consider your approach. Are your shifts assigned by managers, requested by staff, or something in the middle? A common approach is top-down scheduling, where managers create a schedule and assign shifts that meet resource needs with minimal employee input. This approach is often used in static, repeating weekly schedules.

Bottom-up scheduling, where employees sign up for open shifts they’re qualified to work, is a complementary approach to top-down scheduling. This self-serve strategy can drastically reduce scheduling time for managers. Though not practical in all instances, bottom-up scheduling increases employee satisfaction and retention by giving workers more autonomy over their work schedules.

Regardless of the approach you take, it’s helpful to consider how shifts are assigned when creating the employee schedule. To maximize your results, consider these key criteria:


Use the defined skills and competencies criteria to ensure any employees assigned to a shift meet the requirements for it. Scheduling employees with expired credentials can present significant legal risk and hefty fines. It’s important to confirm employees are in good standing before assigning them to a shift.

Scheduling Rules

Apply all defined scheduling rules. You may need to consider seniority, overtime, or other rules unique to your organization or industry.

Employee Performance

Sometimes, you need your best people on the job, but identifying them can be difficult. This is especially true in large or complex organizations where staff fill multiple roles. Track performance ratings, so you know who to schedule when it matters most.


From vacation requests to leaves of various kinds, employee availability issues are the number one driver of schedule changes. During the pandemic, employers must also consider employees’ requests for schedule changes due to fluctuating school schedules for kids, caring for loved ones with COVID-19, and when they’ve had exposure and are required to quarantine. Using a tool that shows you real-time availability – like those available in Shiftboard’s toolbox – can make all the difference to keeping employees happy while still creating an effective schedule.


When you take employee preferences into account, you reduce change requests. More importantly, you improve employee satisfaction while lowering absenteeism and turnover.

Rich Profile Configuration

You likely have extensive information on your employees that you need to leverage in scheduling and reporting. This information often includes role, job-level, credentials, seniority, pay rates, and availability preferences for each employee. If you’re using employee scheduling software, make sure it can accommodate your employee profile data.

Automating Shift Assignment

Assigning shifts is typically the most time-consuming portion of the scheduling process. Manually matching people with positions is tough and keeping all the details straight is challenging. Employee scheduling software can help. Look for the ability to auto-assign shifts based on a variety of rules. Advanced features such as shift swapping and automated standby filling are also often extremely helpful.

Poor staff scheduling can have major consequences for always-on operations, even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface. In high-stakes environments, develop a formal process to review costs, compliance, and other key influences.

Publish and communicate the schedule so that everyone knows where and when to find it. Online scheduling solutions ensure everyone will have access to their schedules anytime and anywhere––and they’ll be notified of any changes.

Step 5: Managing Schedule Changes

Recent world events have proven that everything can change in an instant, which means that scheduling never stops. No matter how perfect your schedule is when published, it is bound to change from the minute it’s posted until it is no longer active.

Effective change management means quickly and efficiently addressing developments. It also requires real-time communication with your workforce. Keep a close eye on the following common reasons for schedule changes:

Demand Swings

Throughout the scheduling period, labor needs may go up or down. Standby pools, made up of part-time or contingent workers who can work on short notice, are a popular solution for managing surges. On the other hand, declining demand can be more challenging. If you have a sizable and flexible standby pool, you can staff the last 10-15% of normal schedule needs with surge staff. This provides a buffer for both increases and decreases in demand.

Changes to Employee Availability

Availability is often a prevalent driver of employee schedule changes. Many organizations require employees to identify a suitable replacement once the schedule is posted. This can have mixed results, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. Employee scheduling software that provides a shift swapping capability allows employees to post and accept open shifts in real-time. Managers can configure this workflow to either automatically process changes or require approval. This is a vital feature for employees who may require health-related schedule changes.

Employee No-Shows

Reacting to last-minute situations is stressful. Call lists and text messaging won’t find you a last-minute sub quickly. Develop a “hot standby” pool made up of a small number of highly flexible employees who can jump in at a moment’s notice. These pools often include part-time staff, contingent workers, and even full-time employees who are hungry for overtime opportunities.

Communication Tools

Targeted, real-time communication is also vital to effectively managing change. The popularity of smartphones makes text messaging an important tool for connecting with employees, so mobile access may be important to you. Combining the power of scheduling software with mobile technology is a fantastic way to improve communication. Regardless, you want to make sure both managers and staff have 24/7 access to their schedules, so they can instantly interact and adjust on the fly.


If you use different technologies to manage employees and their schedules, integration among systems is essential. In many workplaces, the schedule is the key to daily operations. Staff scheduling software can be integrated with payroll and human capital management systems to automate business processes. Ensure that your technology integrations are working well for your organization.

Employee Scheduling

Employees with the ability to manage their schedule in real-time are 6x more satisfied than those without.

Aberdeen Group

Step 6: Measure, Learn & Adjust

The end of one shift scheduling period means a new period is about to start. Such transition points often serve as triggers for payroll and numerous operational reports.

At these transition points, stepping back to assess workforce scheduling effectiveness for the previous period is critical. These periodic reviews should involve stakeholders from lines of business, human resources, and finance. Make sure to include the following areas in your review:

Forecasting Accuracy

Comparing forecasted to actual resource demand is a key review point. As a scheduler, you have a unique perspective. Use it to review variances and collaborate across your organization to improve your predictive accuracy. A seemingly small improvement can have a large impact on your business.

Evaluating Resources

It is critical to monitor and measure the health of your labor resource pools. Consider the time period and expected demand when reviewing employee availability. For example, noticing a spike in overlapping vacation requests will help you proactively adjust the schedule. Also, monitoring resource pools tied to mission-critical roles will help ensure you always fill them with the best talent. If you are using employee scheduling software, you have a rich data source to tap, from skill ratings to attendance data.

Workforce Scheduling Processes

Review key processes with other schedulers, management, and employees and regularly test any improvement ideas. In shift-based work environments, the schedule has a significant impact on employee productivity and morale. Employee feedback will uncover opportunities that may be difficult to see from a scheduling perspective.

Analytics and Reporting

The right scheduling software will collect the data you need to assess and reveal insights. With a new understanding of your data, you can fully optimize your scheduling process.

Step 7: Optimize with Technology

Staff scheduling software excels at making the employee scheduling process more efficient to manage – especially during the constant changes induced by unforeseen events. It also helps to ensure compliance with the many rules and regulations that impact shift-based workplaces.

Configurable employee scheduling software has robust features that dramatically improve the scheduling process:

  • When determining labor needs and gaps, demand forecasting tools are particularly useful.
  • Integrated time and attendance functionality eliminates manual processing.
  • When creating employee work schedules, instant access to worker profile information ensures only qualified and eligible people are scheduled.
  • Real-time two-way communication tools and automated shift assignments help schedulers efficiently manage day-to-day schedule changes.
  • Analytics and reporting capabilities provide real-time insights about what’s working and what’s not––so the scheduling process is continuously optimized.
  • Scheduling shift work can be difficult and time-consuming, but technology can help you make it more efficient and easier to manage.
  • Learn more about how Shiftboard’s employee scheduling software empowers strategic scheduling.

Want to learn more about how software can help you with employee scheduling?

Complete the form below and one of our team members will be in touch shortly. We look forward to discussing how employee scheduling software can help your organization.

Decrease Worker
Turnover by 16%

Make Scheduling
30% More Efficient

Increase Shift Coverage
Rates by 88%