How to Schedule Shift-Based Workers
A Best Practices Guide on How to Lower Costs & Improve Worker Satisfaction
Employee Scheduling Is a Strategic Process
Complex. Fast moving. Highly skilled employees. This is a modern shift-based workplace. In these environments, making the right employee schedule is critical because it ensures the right resources are in the right place at the right time. It also impacts labor costs, productivity, and even legal compliance. Scheduling serves as a key connection point to employees. The quality with which your employee schedule is planned, published, and communicated impacts employee satisfaction, “no-shows”, and turnover.
-Bersin by Deloitte
That’s a lot riding on your employee schedule, and this guide is here to help. You’ll learn about best practices and how to approach employee scheduling more strategically to create a better schedule.
This guide breaks the scheduling process down into four key phases:
- Creating the employee schedule
- Assigning employee shifts
- Managing change
- Measuring, learning, and adjusting
These strategies apply to most work environments. That said, not every proposed strategy fits every circumstance, so incorporate what best fits your employee scheduling workflow. You can take these strategies and apply them to your specific needs. Additionally, you can learn more about how Shiftboard approaches employee scheduling.
The employee schedule defines what resources are needed, when, and where. Though a published employee schedule is specific to a particular scheduling period, proper planning requires looking well ahead to assess demand and resource supply. Advance planning is especially crucial when needs vary across scheduling periods. Done well, the master employee schedule will help lower labor costs by matching resources to demand. It will also help reduce the need for shift changes downstream.
There are three steps at this stage of the process:
- Properly determining the resource needs of your organization
- Assessing how your resource pool matches your needs
- Taking all of this information about your resources to create scheduling rules
Done properly, these steps will help you create better schedules. Furthermore, you’ll be better equipped for the other parts of the process, from assigning shifts to managing change.
Step 1: Determine Resource Needs
Clearly understanding your needs is the first step. Since everything is based on the master schedule, resource needs are important to get right. You’ll want to:
Determine the resources needed for each role by location and shift duration. For example, a hospital may need four nurses and two CNAs in Pediatrics from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are countless ways to define a location (e.g., hospital floors or event booths), 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 online scheduling software.
Identify trends you can apply to current planning efforts. For instance, there may be a pattern of underscheduling a particular role or shift. Reviewing data from past scheduling periods can help you anticipate needs.
Plan for future events ahead of time. While you can’t always predict future schedules based on past schedules, you can often consider other factors. For example, an approaching summer holiday might require more lifeguards on duty.
Define any required qualifications for each shift. For example, if you need four nurses total for a shift, it might be that at least one needs to be fluent in Spanish. If you have a plan qualifying people for shifts, you’ll get the right employees scheduled at the right time.
Integrated Time and AttendanceUsing technology to track time and attendance is helpful in creating an employee schedule. If your workplace does not use a time and attendance software application, then make sure your scheduling software service allows for time and attendance functionality as an add-on.
Step 2: Assess Resource Pool
Once you understand exactly what your needs are, you can assess whether your resources map to them. Your workers are the primary resource to consider, but there may be non-personnel resources to schedule as well. Here are a few important factors to consider:
If resource demand is fairly static, look ahead to identify upcoming events that may impact employee availability. For example, if a three-day weekend is fast approaching, your labor pool may be smaller than usual.
If you forecast a significant increase in resource needs, then you will probably want additional analysis. In this case, 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.
Let’s say you estimate for 20% beyond expected needs and plan accordingly with additional staff recruitment and on-boarding. Even if volume was higher than expected, you’d rest easy knowing that you have the staff you need.
If non-personnel resources are in the mix, they should be on the schedule, too. For example, if a security firm provides vehicles for their guards to make rounds, the vehicles should be added to the shifts on the master schedule.
Accurately predicting resource needs is essential because the entire schedule is based on it. Tools such as Shiftboard’s Demand Planner use sophisticated algorithms to forecast resources based on historical patterns.
Step 3: Define Scheduling Rules
Regulations, policies, and processes all drive how you schedule. Seniority, overtime status, location, and certifications are common factors that can trigger special rules that schedulers must observe when assigning shifts. Rules can vary greatly and can be unique to your organization. Clearly defining guidelines is important to ensure all managers understand them before assigning shifts.
Employee Scheduling Tool Kit
Learn more about how to improve and manage your employee scheduling process.
Now that your employee schedule is mapped out, it’s time to fill the open shifts. If your schedule was built correctly, then places and times should already be determined. Once they are, you can focus on selecting the right people.
That way, you’ll put the right people in the right places, at the right time.
Assigning employee shifts can be time-consuming depending on your workforce size, scheduling complexity, and level of automation. To maximize your results, consider these key criteria:
ApproachAre your shifts assigned by managers, requested by staff, or something in the middle? Bottom-up scheduling, where staff choose open shifts they’re qualified for, is an effective approach. It can drastically reduce scheduling effort. Though not always practical, bottom-up scheduling increases employee satisfaction and retention. Regardless of the approach you take, it’s helpful to consider how shifts are assigned when creating the employee schedule.
QualificationsUse 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. It’s important to confirm employees are in good standing before assigning them to a shift.
Scheduling RulesApply all defined scheduling rules. You may need to consider seniority, overtime, or other rules unique to your organization.
AvailabilityIdentify who is available to work that shift. From vacation requests to leaves of various kinds, employee availability issues are the #1 driver of schedule changes. Using a tool that shows you real-time availability can make all the difference.
PreferencesWhen you take employee preferences into account, you reduce change requests. More importantly, you improve employee satisfaction while lowering absenteeism and turnover.
CostsCompare scheduled resource cost with your forecast. The difference between actual cost (including overtime) and the forecast may surprise you. If labor cost is a key driver, model how cost changes with a different mix of resources.
Employee PerformanceSometimes 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.
Rich Profile ConfigurationYou likely have extensive information on your employees that you need to leverage in scheduling and reporting. This information often includes role, job-level, 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.
Shift Assignment AutomationAssigning 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.
Review the schedule to make sure all the factors above are considered. It’s easy to miss things, even with fairly straightforward schedules. Poor scheduling can have major consequences for your business. In high-stakes environments, develop a formal process to review costs, compliance, and any 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, including changes.
-The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.
No matter how perfect your schedule is when published, any seasoned scheduler knows what comes next. Frequent tweaking will happen, from the day it’s published through the last day it’s active.
Scheduling never stops.
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 SwingsThroughout the scheduling period, your labor needs may go up or down. Standby pools, made up of part-time and/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 AvailabilityAvailability 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. Scheduling software that provides 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.
Employee No-Shows Reacting to same-day situations, such as employees who are ill or fail to show up, is stressful. Call lists and text messaging often 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 ToolsIt’s critical to provide employees access to the schedule and communicate any changes. Combining the power of scheduling software with mobile technology is a fantastic way to improve communication. Between text messaging and high-quality software, your workforce can have 24/7 schedule access and real-time communication.
IntegrationsIf 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. 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.
– Aberdeen Group
The good news is that since most schedule changes stem from the three causes above, you can manage them more efficiently with the right process automation. 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. Make sure both managers and staff have 24/7 mobile access to schedules, so they can instantly interact and adjust on the fly.
Employee Scheduling How-To Guide
This page is available for you to download. Keep reading about how to better manage your employee schedule.
The end of one scheduling period means a new one is about to start. Such transition points often serve as triggers for payroll and numerous operational reports.
At these transition points, it is helpful to step back and assess how scheduling is going. Despite the repetitive nature of scheduling, it is critical to periodically review scheduling processes, employee feedback, and business KPIs. Reviews should involve stakeholders from lines of business, human resources, and finance. Make sure to include the following areas in your review:
Forecasting AccuracyComparing 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 ResourcesIt is critical to monitor and measure the health of your 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 are always filling them with the best talent. If you are using scheduling software, you have a rich source of data to tap, from skill ratings to attendance data.
Scheduling ProcessesReview key processes with other schedulers, management, and employees and regularly test any improvement ideas. In shift-based work environments, the schedule has a huge impact on employee productivity and morale. Employee feedback will uncover opportunities that may be difficult to see from a scheduling perspective.
Analytics and ReportingThe right scheduling software will collect the data you need to assess and reveal insights. With new understanding of your data, you can fully optimize your scheduling process.
-Aptitude Research partners
The Role of Technology
Employee scheduling software excels at making the scheduling process more efficient to manage. It can also help ensure compliance with the many rules and regulations that impact shift-based workplaces.
High-quality employee scheduling software has robust features that help with the scheduling process. When determining your resource needs and gaps, resource forecasting is particularly useful. Integrated time and attendance are an asset as well, because you can eliminate manual processing. As you create the employee schedule, rich profile configuration is helpful–you can use robust profile information to schedule the right people. Communication tools and shift assignment automation can help you manage change and adjust your process. Analytics and reporting capabilities allow you to find out what works and optimize your employee scheduling process.
Employee scheduling can be difficult and time consuming, but technology can help you make it more efficient and easier to manage.
If you’re considering scheduling software, we’d love to talk with you about your options. Our experts are here to help. We’ve learned a thing or two from helping to schedule millions of shifts across nearly every industry imaginable.
Find out how Shiftboard’s scheduling software empowers strategic scheduling.
Thank you for reading this guide. We hope you found some helpful insights and best practices to apply to your own scheduling efforts.