The Complete Guide To The Best Employee Scheduling Process

Coffee shop worker taking a customers order

Effective employee scheduling involves a long list of variables that dramatically affect the way your business works.

Even the smallest business has to consider their own schedule, their employees’ schedules, time-off requests, no-shows, substitutes, backups, distribution, accessibility, communication, and employee engagement.

The list goes on and on, and each component has a profound effect on the way your team and your business operates. It’s imperative, then, that you make the right choices when it’s time to put together a new schedule.

To help you in that regard, we’ve compiled a list of best practices for employee scheduling that you can use to make the process as efficient and effective as possible.

Table Of Contents

The Importance Of Employee Scheduling Practices

Employee Scheduling Practices

Employees are your business’s most important asset. It’s vital that your scheduling practices reflect their value and also make them feel like an important part of your company’s success.

When your scheduling practices are understandable, consistent, and effective, your employees will be happier and more productive, and your customers will notice the positive difference.

On the other hand, haphazard scheduling can lead to tasks falling behind schedule or falling through the cracks altogether and the quality of work declining — something your customers will notice as well.

Beyond the day-to-day impact on productivity and customer service, poor scheduling practices can have big long-term consequences for employee morale and retention.

Employees will quickly become frustrated at schedules that are unpredictable, inconsistent, or made at the last minute, forcing them to come in to cover at times they expected to be off.

Staff who show up for shifts and find themselves stretched too thin because not enough employees are working may feel they’re being taken advantage of. This can leave your best and most reliable employees feeling unappreciated and worn out.

No matter how much your employees love their jobs, if poor scheduling practices leave them stressed, overworked, or feeling like they have no work-life balance, they’re likely to start looking for other opportunities, leading to high staff turnover.

In sum, good scheduling practices will allow your business to:

  • Enhance productivity every shift
  • Deliver consistently great customer experiences
  • Track employee hours and labor costs more effectively
  • Manage time off requests and emergencies
  • Improve employee retention and satisfaction

What You Need To Know

You can’t develop employee schedules that fit either your needs or your employees’ needs without understanding all of the variables in play.

Start with considering your resources. Your budget for wages determines how many hours you can afford to pay employees each week.

It’s also important to think about the roles you need to fill every shift. For example, some shifts may require supervisors, while others may not. And some shifts may require employees with training to operate certain equipment, while others may not.

In addition, consider the hours of the day, days of the week, and months of the year when your business experiences peak customer demand and you need more staff coverage. This practice is called labor forecasting.

Take your employees’ preferences and availability into consideration as well. Forcing employees to work shifts that they don’t want is a good way to find yourself needing to replace an employee.

Finally, don’t forget to take into account any federal, state, and local employment laws, as well as any applicable labor union or trade industry guidelines. Running afoul of these rules can seriously hurt your business, both financially and in terms of your reputation.

Neglecting any one of these factors can compromise the effectiveness of your employee scheduling practices with costly consequences.

Best Practices For Employee Scheduling

Girl looking at her employee scheduling app

1) Release The Schedule With Plenty Of Lead Time

A key contributor to the success of your employee scheduling process is creating the schedule itself with plenty of lead time.

Doing so gives your team ample time to plan their lives and the opportunity to:

  • Reschedule personal obligations
  • Trade shifts with other employees
  • Find substitutes if need be

It also allows enough time for you to make the inevitable changes without throwing the entire schedule into disarray.

If you’re not sure how much lead time to give, a good rule of thumb is two weeks. But if you find that that’s too much or too little lead time, you can tweak the release date so that it works for your business.

2) Create A Custom Template

Creating your own custom template cuts down on a lot of the work involved in the employee scheduling process.

With a template, you can set the fonts, borders, colors, and format of the document so you don’t have to recreate the wheel every time you schedule your team. You can even schedule full-time and part-time employees in certain shifts if you know they’ll be working these on a regular basis.

Then, when it’s time to organize the schedule for the next week, month, or quarter, you can jump right into assigning employees to their respective shifts rather than worrying about what the schedule is going to look like.

3) Make The Schedule Easy To Read

When organizing your workforce, one of the best things you can do — for your own sanity and the sanity of your employees — is to keep the schedule as simple and easy to read as possible.

If your team members have to read closely and really think about what they’re seeing in order to decipher the timetable, consider making some changes, reducing the amount of information on the page, or simplifying the appearance.

They should be able to look at the schedule and figure out the day, the hours, and the job they’ll work in a matter of seconds. If it takes any longer than that, your schedule has some problems.

Here’s an easy test to see if you need to tweak the agenda slightly:

  • Create the schedule as usual
  • Concentrate on something else for a while (30 minutes minimum)
  • Get the schedule out, but don’t look at it
  • Pick an employee (employee A, for example)
  • Start a stopwatch
  • Look at the schedule and see how long it takes to figure out when employee A works next

If it takes more than 30 seconds, you may need to brainstorm how you can make the schedule easier to read.

4) Take Advantage Of Automated Employee Scheduling

Checking employee scheduling app

Automated employee scheduling is a process that uses data from your business, user-defined parameters, and artificial intelligence to select the best team member for a particular shift.

For example, imagine you need to schedule a field service technician for the morning shift on May 11. With automated scheduling, you can instruct your software to sort through relevant information, find a candidate, and insert them into the schedule.

But does this really save that much time?

Imagine that it takes you five minutes to find all the data you need to make an informed decision about who should work as a field service technician on May 11. That’s not bad, but you need 10 techs to cover that shift.

If it takes you five minutes to schedule one technician, it’s going to take you 50 minutes total for all 10 techs. And that’s just one position for one shift on one day. Multiply that by the number of positions, shifts, and days that you have to fill, and it could take hours to get everything done.

Automated scheduling does all the work for you — in a fraction of the time it would take you to do it manually.

5) Prepare For Things To Go Wrong With Employee Scheduling

Even the best schedule can fall apart if enough things go wrong. Emergencies will come up. Employees will forget their shifts. Team members will get sick. It’s inevitable, and you can’t always control it. But you can prepare for it.

Put a procedure in place to handle these emergencies (a plan B, if you will), and then take it one step further so that you have a plan C for your plan B.

An example of this preparation would be making a list of trusted and reliable part-time team members who are willing to work at a moment’s notice.

You can also put together a list of former employees who left on good terms, and even prospective employees whom you interviewed but didn’t hire, to serve as backups to your backups.

Preparing like this beforehand means that you won’t have to scramble around trying to come up with options to fill shifts. You’ll know where to look and what to do to find a replacement.

6) Provide Easy Access To The Schedule

A big part of effective employee scheduling is distribution and accessibility. Even the perfect schedule released with plenty of lead time is useless if it’s not easy to access.

Your employees need to be able to reference the schedule at work, at home, and on the go, so posting a paper copy in the break room no longer works as an effective means of distribution. It’s easily accessible to those at work, but it’s not accessible to those at home or on the go.

Similarly, handing out a paper copy of the schedule doesn’t work as well as it once did. Many employees have gone digital and would likely lose or forget to reference a paper copy.

And while you may think the digital solution is email, think again. Some of your employees may not use email as often as they once did anymore. Using this tool to distribute your schedule would just be a waste of time.

Storing your schedule in the cloud is the most convenient way to provide easy access for all your employees all the time. Employees can simply log on from their mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer to find out when they work next.

7) Set And Stick With A Time Off Policy

hour glass on rocks

An essential part of creating effective work scheduling policies for your business is putting policies in place for when your employees won’t be working. Every business needs proper, formalized policies for employee vacation and time-off requests.

These policies should cover things like:

  • The number of vacation days employees are entitled to
  • How far in advance employees must request time off
  • What happens if overlapping time off requests from multiple employees would leave the business too understaffed
  • Any specific times of the year when time off requests cannot be granted due to a high volume of business

This isn’t to say you should inflexibly adhere to a policy regardless of unusual circumstances, like a family emergency. You should use your discretion and remember the “golden rule” above any company policy: treat others the way you would want to be treated.

However, in ordinary circumstances, setting these policies, communicating them to all employees, and then sticking with them will not only help your business run more smoothly and ensure you have adequate staffing at all times but also be better for employee morale.

Handling vacation and time off requests on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis can lead to misunderstandings, unexpected understaffing situations, and some employees feeling that they’re being treated unfairly.

You should also make sure you have mechanisms in place to notify other employees about when staff members are going to be taking time off so that productivity isn’t affected.

“Flying by the seat of your pants” in handling vacation and time off requests just won’t cut it. Develop effective policies for submitting and approving requests, explain them to all employees, and abide by them.

8) Understand How Staffing Needs Change

Shopping center during holiday season

As we mentioned, effective scheduling depends on good labor forecasting. You need to be able to accurately predict how many staff you’ll need working at any given time to meet workload and customer demand.

Figuring that out isn’t a one-and-done task, though. Many businesses will find that their staff needs fluctuate. You might need all hands on deck at some times while you can get by with a skeleton crew at others.

The time of year is a major factor in the amount of business done for many companies. For example, an ice cream shop may not need as many people working during the winter as in the summer.

On the flip side, many types of retail stores need extra staff to keep up with the holiday season rush.

Experience from past years can help you make good predictions about staffing needs during particular seasons. However, don’t neglect to adjust for changes in your business. If you expect high demand for a new product or service you’re rolling out, adjust your schedule accordingly.

No amount of clever scheduling strategy can overcome a lack of staff. If you simply don’t have enough employees, you’ll only wear down the staff you have and probably compound your problem when they start job-hunting.

Be realistic about your staffing needs and hire when you need to hire.

Accurate labor forecasting to set schedules that match fluctuating staffing needs will make sure you’re not wasting money by scheduling employees who will have nothing to do at some times, and that your business won’t find itself understaffed and overwhelmed during busier periods.

9) Set Expectations And Communicate

Your business’s process and policies for scheduling should be communicated to all employees as soon as they are hired. In fact, it’s probably worth touching on the subject during the interview process.

Any company policy is only effective to the extent that everyone in the company understands it and follows it. If employees are blindsided by policies they were unaware of, or if some employees seem to get away with ignoring policies, it can lead to resentment.

In addition, if there’s a change from what employees are used to, be intentional in communicating it.

Shifts from the status quo, even ones that are beneficial, can still be alarming or annoying to your staff if they’re taken by surprise or the reasoning behind the changes isn’t explained.

Ensuring that all of your employees are aware of your formal scheduling policies and progress will prevent costly misunderstandings and give all of your staff confidence that they’re being treated fairly.

10) Iterate And Improve

Good employee scheduling practices aren’t a matter of “set it and forget it.” What works on paper doesn’t always work in practice.

No manager or business owner can be there personally to see how things go every shift. Keep lines of communication open with shift supervisors and other employees to find out what’s working and what’s not.

Take the feedback you get from your staff seriously and use it to inform your decisions as you improve your scheduling practices.

Also, avoid making hasty decisions. Constant changes to procedures can leave employees confused. However, don’t be afraid to accept a good suggestion or scrap a policy that didn’t work under real-world conditions.

Keep in mind that the growth of your business, changes in your products or services, changes in employee availability or performance, and even changes in labor laws can all create the need to revamp your scheduling practices.

Make it a priority to reassess scheduling on at least an annual basis. Great companies are always trying to improve and optimize every aspect of their operations. And your employee scheduling practices should be no exception.

Harness The Power Of Employee Scheduling Software

employee scheduling software

Want to incorporate these best practices in your business? Harness the power of employee scheduling software to get the job done right.

Business-focused apps such as Inch — a voice-operated workforce schedule and management app — offer a wide range of tools that simplify and streamline the employee scheduling process so you can create the best workflow possible.

And upgrading won’t cost an arm and a leg over the programs that you’re used to. Inch gives you free access to everything you need to schedule employees and handle internal communication for unlimited users and locations.

In addition, Inch incorporates task management and time tracking in one powerful solution and makes it easier for managers and employees to get aligned on their to-dos, ensuring that all tasks get completed on time.

Inch also simplifies communication. And employees can perform a wide variety of tasks from their tablet or phone, including:

  • Working from a shared task list
  • Getting clarity on work that needs to be done
  • Receiving voice-assisted reminder notifications
  • Clocking in and out of tasks at different locations
  • Completing work assigned to them
  • Communicating with managers and each other

All of that and more without having to touch a mobile screen or report back to the office.

For managers, Inch makes it easy to distribute tasks manually across teams or populate tasks automatically based on preset conditions. This feature ensures that all work is covered and keeps employees accountable for their responsibilities, expected outcomes, and deadlines.

Managers can also assign work to the employees that are closest to the job site or generate tasks automatically as the need arises and follow work progress and task completion in real time.

Inch helps eliminate frustration for employees, headaches for managers, and inefficiencies for the business.

Whether you need help setting up when each team member will work or what tasks they will perform, Inch gives you unprecedented control over an inherently complicated process and makes it easy to create the best scheduling process for your team.

For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit today.

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