Employee Work Scheduling: The Complete Guide For Managers

Woman working on employee schedule

Effective employee work scheduling is about more than just filling in time slots. If it were that simple, you could throw darts at a board and create a schedule that works.

Truly effective scheduling — the kind that benefits you, your employees, and your business — involves planning and organization. The result is a productive team that can handle anything that comes their way.

In this article, we discuss the best practices that can help you simplify your employee work scheduling and make it better than ever.

Why Getting Scheduling Right Matters

Good scheduling practices are valuable because they help your business make the most of its most important asset: your employees. When you utilize your employees poorly with inadequate scheduling practices, your business suffers.

Efficiency And Productivity

Failing to schedule effectively takes a real financial toll on your business. Poor scheduling practices end up reflected in your company’s bottom line as higher-than-necessary costs and lost revenue.

If you don’t have enough staff scheduled, you can be sure your customers will notice. Long wait times for orders and tasks that are improperly completed or simply forgotten entirely will tell the story.

Put simply, scheduling insufficient numbers of staff will lead to your company paying the price in lost business.

On the other hand, there are also pitfalls in overestimating the number of employees you need working at a given time. Paying employees to stand around with nothing to do is simply wasting payroll money.

Scheduling for optimum productivity and efficiency means having enough people to get the job done without spending more than what’s necessary on payroll.

Employee Morale And Retention

The consequences of poor scheduling practices go beyond the immediate financial impact it has on your business as a result of poor customer service or squandered payroll.

Your employees are human beings, and having to put up with poor scheduling has a big impact on their job satisfaction.

Understaffing will result in the few employees who are scheduled quickly feeling burnt out and unappreciated as they’re forced to juggle tasks and apologize to angry customers.

Your employees will come to dread every shift because their work has become so stressful and it feels impossible to perform any task well when they’re constantly being pulled in so many different directions.

Even if you schedule enough staff to handle the workload, disorganized scheduling practices can still have a serious negative impact on your employees’ morale.

People need consistency and predictability in their work schedule because they have to arrange the rest of their lives around work. If you constantly change the schedule or frequently ask employees to come in to work at the last minute, they’ll get frustrated fast.

Poor scheduling practices may even result in your employees moving on to other job opportunities that offer them less stress and more consistency.

Types Of Schedule

employee work scheduling

Before we go over the how-tos and best practices for employee scheduling, let’s take a look at some different types of scheduling systems.

While you’re certainly familiar with some of them, you might discover alternatives you weren’t aware of that could potentially be a good fit for your organization.

Traditional (First/Second/Third) Shifts

This model, or a partial implementation of it, is probably the most common scheduling system. The first shift works from 8 am until 4 pm, the second shift comes in at 4 pm and leaves at midnight, and the third shift works from midnight until 8 am.

In this model, businesses can maintain employee coverage 24 hours a day. However, businesses that don’t need to stay open or responsive to customers around the clock might use a modified version with only a first and second shift and adjusted starting and ending times.

In a two-shift model, there may be overlaps between the two shifts in the middle of the day if that’s when things are at their busiest. This is common in restaurants and retail stores.

Rotating Shifts

There are many different types of rotating shift systems, but the essential concept is that employees on a rotating shift schedule change the shift they work in a set pattern at set intervals.

For example, instead of always working the first shift, an individual employee might work first shift for one week, second shift the next week, and third shift the week after that.

Using rotating shifts can be a solution for equitably handling situations where few employees want to work a certain shift, and it allows all employees to become familiar with the tasks required in each shift so that they’re prepared if they ever need to cover a shift unexpectedly.

Split Shifts

Employees working a split shift work two or more periods during a day, with a gap of two or more hours in between the periods they spend at work.

Businesses that use split shifts typically do so to get “all hands on deck” for their busiest times of the day, such as the lunch and dinner rush periods at restaurants.

On-Call Shifts

Having employees on-call is a supplement to regular scheduling that allows a business to respond to emergencies. Certain employees are asked to be available to work during certain periods in case of unexpected circumstances that leave the business in need of additional staff.

4/10 Schedule

The 4/10 work schedule is an alternative model that is designed to give employees more days off each week while still putting in full-time hours.

On a 4/10 schedule, employees work ten hours a day for four days a week, with three days off. Some people find the 4/10 schedule convenient and less stressful, but the long work days can result in fatigue.

9/80 Schedule

The 9/80 schedule is another system designed to give employees more time away from the office without reducing the number of hours worked.

Employees on a 9/80 schedule are on a two-week cycle. In the first week, they work four nine-hour days and one eight-hour day. In the second week, they work four nine-hour days followed by an extra day off.

Over two weeks, they’ve worked 80 hours, the same number as employees on a traditional 40-hour-a-week full-time schedule, but with one more day out of the office.

2-2-3 Schedule

The 2-2-3 schedule is a system used by some businesses that require 24/7 employee coverage.

The staff are divided into multiple teams. Each team is on a 28-day rotation and works 12-hour shifts, with two days on, two days off, and three days on the first week, followed by two days off, two days on, and three days off the second week.

This pattern repeats the next two weeks, but with night shifts instead of day shifts.

Because the 2-2-3 schedule is somewhat complex and has multiple variations, we recommend reading our complete guide here to learn more.

Employee Work Scheduling Best Practices

Management discussing employee work scheduling best practices

1) Set Up A Routine For Employee Work Scheduling

Consistency is key when it comes to employee work scheduling. Posting the final plan should occur on the same day and by the same time every cycle.

So, for example, if you decide to release the schedule on Wednesday at noon, every draft thereafter should be posted on Wednesdays at or before noon. Such a routine helps both you and your team in several ways.

It helps you know when you have to start working on the schedule so you have enough time to allow for employee input, changes, and emergencies.

It helps your team know what to expect, when to expect it, and how they can plan their personal schedules accordingly.

2) Establish A Labor Budget

In addition to putting the right workers on the right shifts, effective employee scheduling also helps control costs and keep your business in the black.

Labor costs are one of the biggest expenses that most businesses contend with. Without a strong system in place, those expenses can quickly spiral out of control.

To keep labor costs as manageable as possible, establish a budget before you schedule, and then arrange who works when and for how long so that the total doesn’t exceed the numbers you set.

Common labor budget structures include the percentage of sales (e.g., payroll accounts for X percentage of sales for a set time period) or flat rate (e.g., X dollars per day, week, or month), but you can use whatever method works best for your business.

3) Build A Template

Build a template for employee work scheduling

Few tasks reduce the burden of employee work scheduling like building a template that you can use repeatedly without having to start from scratch every time.

It may take a while to get the template the way you want it, but with a finished product in place, you can begin scheduling your employees right away, rather than worrying about what goes where and what the form looks like first.

Start by establishing a place for essential pieces of information, including:

  • Business contact information
  • Manager contact information
  • Days the business is open
  • Business hours
  • Employee names
  • Date of each day
  • Shifts
  • A way to show each employee’s work hours

Whenever possible, arrange the overall template structure as a calendar or table. People are accustomed to this format and can usually decipher the information relatively quickly.

4) Abide By Labor Laws

Labor laws are the foundation on which all employee work scheduling practices are built. One major labor law component that affects all businesses is predictability.

Predictable scheduling practices — a.k.a. predictive scheduling — are regulations that protect employees from unfair policies that can make their work-life difficult.

For example, employees in some industries were once subject to on-call scheduling practices that made it extremely difficult for them to find childcare, arrange transportation, and plan their lives.

Predictable scheduling laws make such on-demand-with-short-notice practices illegal in many states.

If you have questions or concerns about labor laws, consult with an attorney who is familiar with your industry and the area in which it operates.

5) Make The Schedule Easy To Read

Filling your schedule with every conceivable piece of information may seem like a good idea at first. But in reality, too much clutter makes it difficult for your team to decipher the final product.

Even though you may make use of all kinds of extra information while creating the document, keep the employee-facing schedule clean, simple, and easy to read.

Anyone looking at the schedule — even for the first time — should be able to figure out the day and hours they will work and the job they will do in just a few seconds. Any more than that, and your schedule is too complicated.

To test whether your schedule is easy to read, try this exercise:

  1. Put the schedule in a drawer and step away from your desk for a while to clear your head.
  2. Come back to your desk.
  3. Before you look at the schedule again, pretend you’re one of your employees.
  4. Start a stopwatch.
  5. Take the schedule out of the drawer and try to figure out when “you” work next.

If it takes more than 30 seconds or if you have to read closely and really think about the information on the schedule, you may need to make some changes (e.g., reduce the amount of data displayed or simplify the appearance).

6) Distribute The Schedule With Plenty Of Lead Time

Desk with a wall calendar

Distributing your team’s schedule with plenty of lead time allows your employees to:

  • Plan their personal lives around their work schedule
  • Make the needed changes when activities conflict

If you release the first draft of the schedule the day before it goes into effect, your employees won’t have time to make accommodations for work and personal obligations.

That will lead to unhappy employees, abandoned shifts, and other difficulties within your business. You can avoid all of that by posting a rough draft of the schedule a few days or a week before you have to finalize the document.

7) Allow Changes

Every employee work scheduling process should include a period of time during which team members can make changes themselves or communicate those changes to you.

One of the best ways to allow changes is to give all employees the ability to adjust things themselves. Give everyone access to an early draft of the schedule and permission to alter the schedule accordingly.

In the process, encourage them to find their own substitutes, rather than just saying they can’t work.

That said, establish guidelines for this process so your employees don’t get carried away and the changes somehow negatively impact your business.

Make sure that everyone knows you will approve all trades, replacements, or substitutions before they take effect. This is to ensure that the right mix of skills is available during every shift.

8) Regularly Reevaluate Your Employee Work Scheduling

You may consider your scheduling process perfect right now, but no schedule — or process — should be set in stone.

At least once a quarter (i.e., every three months), set aside some time to reevaluate the finished product and the process you used to produce it, and look for ways you can improve.

Even relatively minor tweaks can significantly affect how your team works. Don’t be afraid to make changes for the better.

If you find yourself with tunnel vision when it comes to your schedule, get a different perspective on the process by asking your employees for suggestions. Ask how they would improve the schedule, the posting process, or any other aspect, and then implement the best ideas.

9) Use A Reliable Time Clock

Even if you get every aspect of your scheduling practices nailed down perfectly, your business won’t reap the full benefits if employees aren’t actually following the schedule. Good scheduling practices aren’t complete without a reliable time clock solution.

For a time clock to be “reliable,” it has to accurately record when employees clock in and out, ensure that employees can’t clock in and out for each other (“buddy punching”), and that the data can’t be intentionally or inadvertently altered.

Inch uses geofencing technology to ensure that employees can only clock in when they’re actually at work, eliminating the problem of “buddy punching.” Managers can set up warnings that are sent to employees’ devices if they try to clock in away from the job site or leave without clocking out.

All of the time clock data from Inch can be filtered by employee or location, and can be easily reported to Excel for analysis.

10) Implement Task Management

You’ve created the perfect schedule for your business. You even got all of your employees to buy into the system, and you’ve made sure everybody is showing up on time. But productivity still isn’t at the level you want it to be.

When it comes to scheduling practices that make your business more productive and efficient, telling people when to come to work is only part of the puzzle. You also need to keep everyone on-task, minimize downtime, and eliminate miscommunication.

Using task management tools, like Inch, will help make sure that every employee knows exactly what their tasks and goals are during every shift. Managers can assign any number of jobs to individual employees, teams, or the entire staff, and then monitor progress.

Efficient Employee Work Scheduling Every Time

Efficient employee work scheduling every time with inch

Efficient employee work scheduling every time is rather simple when you break it down into its basic elements:

  • Build the best schedule possible
  • Track numbers such as total time worked, time-on-task, overtime, and labor costs
  • Communicate with your team
  • Keep your employees organized and on task

Everything becomes more difficult, though, when you rely on tools that weren’t built with employee work scheduling in mind (e.g., Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc.).

Thankfully, there’s a tool that was built specifically for scheduling, time tracking, communication, and task management. That tool is Inch.

Inch gives you everything you need to simplify and streamline the way you schedule your team, including:

And to make it easier to use, Inch is a cloud-based app. That means you and your team can access your data anywhere, anytime. Never before has managing a distributed team or field service team been easier.

If you’re worried about the costs associated with leaving your 20th-century scheduling practices behind and upgrading to this 21st-century tool, rest easy. Inch gives you free access to everything you need to schedule your team.

By implementing our advanced technology and artificial intelligence into your workflow and using the best practices mentioned in this article to create your schedules, you can increase employee productivity and engagement to new heights.

For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and simplify payroll, visit TryInch.com today.

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