The Complete Guide To Shift Planning For Managers

Manager working on shift planning for his team

Managers and supervisors wear several hats to ensure things run smoothly, but one of their most important roles begins before the workday even starts. When it comes to shift planning, organizing schedules the wrong way can yield unfortunate consequences.

In this article, we’ll discuss the overall importance of effective shift planning and how to create an exceptional method that will work every time.

Table Of Contents

What Is Shift Planning?

Very basically, shift planning entails making and organizing a schedule that fits with the given roles and responsibilities of employees. Aside from roles and hours, this schedule might often include things such as:

  • Employee vacation time
  • Holiday PTO
  • Dedicated training time
  • Shift overlap consideration
  • And more, depending on the industry

A consistently manageable schedule keeps business operations running at an ideal pace and helps keep staff morale high. However, on the opposite end of this spectrum, regular changes and a poorly organized schedule can have a long list of undesirable impacts.

Results Of Poor Shift Planning

Manager stressing due to poor shift planning

It’s important to remember that poor shift planning is not necessarily the result of poor planning in general. A highly skilled manager can still experience schedule backlash with the wrong tools — more on this in a bit.

Below are just a few of the ways that poor shift planning results in negative outcomes.

Overstaffing And Understaffing

When determining how many employees to have for a certain shift, it’s easy to end up with too many bodies or not enough. The former will result in an unnecessary loss of income, while the latter means the quality of customer service decreases.

To understand the perfect amount of employees to work a certain shift, predictive analyses can take out most of the guesswork. These models take into account schedules and revenue from previous years so you can schedule more or fewer individuals when needed.

To do this, it’s helpful to have all of the necessary information in one place. While some managers might opt for programs like Excel to document such data, this can take countless hours, be calculated incorrectly, or ultimately be changed.

All-in-one solutions, like Inch, make it easy to keep track of important data and schedule the right amount of people every time.

Limited Availability

A nightmare for many managers is when the number of people asking for specific days off outweighs the number of employees needed for the shift. This is especially common around the holidays, and the issue is only further fueled by poor shift planning.

Whether it’s forgetting which employees asked off for which date or asking for submitted time-off requests at the last minute, not having enough employees can put you in a difficult and unpredictable position.

High Turnover Rate

Staff wanted sign

When poor shift planning remains consistent and nothing is done to fix it, the impact will begin to show in the bottom line. Soon enough, employees start to seek out new opportunities where organization is not an issue.

Along with hurting staff morale, high turnover rates require more training and other investments such as time. After a while, this will turn into an expensive dilemma.

Benefits Of Good Shift Planning

Keeps Your Business Compliant

Compliance is a broad term that refers to the way your business adheres to the set rules, policies, standards, specifications, and laws put forth by your local, state, and federal government.

In many cases, these regulations differ from city to city, county to county, and state to state.

What’s more, many of these compliance issues have to do with how you manage and schedule your employees and can have a dramatic effect on the way you do business.

If your business is somehow not in compliance — either intentionally or accidentally — governments can levy serious penalties, fines, and even legal action against individuals and the company as a whole.

In fact, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates everything from minimum wage and employment standards to overtime eligibility and recordkeeping.

And that’s just the federal standards. You also have to contend with state and local standards that may be slightly different than those set down by the FLSA (minimum wage standards, for example).

A good shift planning program that incorporates scheduling software into the mix can help you abide by all the different local, state, and federal compliance issues, including:

With the right software in place, you may even receive notifications when some aspect of your scheduling falls outside your particular compliance standards. That’s peace of mind for you and your business.

Saves Time

One of the most important benefits of good shift planning is that it saves time — time you can spend working on the business itself and making it more successful.

It doesn’t matter if you run a small pressure washing business with two or three employees or a large lawn care business with 20 or more employees, setting up a comprehensive scheduling program can dramatically reduce the time it takes to get everything and everyone organized.

Workforce management software, like Inch, can help immensely in this regard.

This type of scheduling software makes it easy for you to set all the fundamental details of the shift schedule one time so you don’t have to wrestle with the margins, cell sizes, color schemes, and a whole host of other variables every time you want to build a shift plan.

No more recreating the wheel every few weeks — everything will be set just the way you like it when you return. If you do need to make a change to the formatting or underlying architecture, it’s usually no more difficult than a few clicks or taps.

This type of scheduling software also puts all the information you need to plan the perfect shift schedule every time.

You won’t have to hunt down employee documents, availability, and hours worked (just to name a few) because all the information you need to make informed decisions about who works when is stored within the app itself.

And then there’s the actual act of assigning employees to a shift. With a good shift planning program in place — and the right software to support it — scheduling becomes little more than dragging and dropping names into shifts or choosing from a drop-down list.

That can dramatically reduce the time it takes to set up a shift plan and may help free up time that you can then devote to making your business run better.

Automates Much Of The Work

shift planning with the inch app

A good shift planning program (and the software that supports it) often includes automation of one kind or another that can make your job — and your employees’ jobs — much easier.

Advanced apps use data from your business, user-defined parameters, and artificial intelligence to help you select the best employee for a particular task or shift based on a variety of variables, including:

Automation like this may be able to help you produce a better employee schedule with less effort and time.

Tips For Ideal Shift Planning

Ideal shift planning and creating a schedule that makes everyone happy is the result of team communication and access to the right tools. Even the most highly qualified manager can make mistakes, so it’s important to have systems and programs in place that reduce human error.

Read on for how to be successful in any shift planning circumstances and the tools needed to do so.

Hire The Right Employees

This one might seem obvious, but hiring a person who excels at their job does not always mean they will be a terrific communicator.

Once the search has been narrowed down to a few candidates, a great way to better understand each person’s communication style and skills is to reach out to their previous employers.

Knowing that candidates check off the following is a good sign that you have the right employees:

  • Meets the job requirements
  • Can be independently successful in their role
  • Can clearly and effectively communicate

Having employees that communicate effectively right away makes shift planning easier for you as a manager. And rather than having to mediate, you can shift their focus toward other work priorities.

Make Communication Seamless

Man checking his schedule from his phone

Without the right tools, proper communication can be a problem for managers and employees alike.

The solution is to ensure that everyone has the same resources when it comes to knowing the distribution of work and the process of determining employee hours.

Today, the quickest and most convenient tool to accomplish this is work management software. This will help regulate schedules and provide a simple way to submit work preferences, time-off requests, and any shift swaps.

When deciding which software to use, start by checking whether they have necessities, including:

  • Task management for scheduling employees
  • Labor cost management for optimizing finances
  • Streamlined team communication
  • Time tracking
  • Notifications

Clarify Your Shift-Swapping Policy

Having clearly stated guidelines when it comes to employees changing shifts will help avoid a mess of confusion. A lack of structure can lead to employees not knowing their new schedules or working on tasks not suited to their strengths.

This policy will change depending on the type of business, but a good rule of thumb is to have requests be timely (as soon as the respective schedule is available if possible) and to explain any consequences that come with an employee failing to commit to their swapped shift.

Keep Things Organized

Organization is key when it comes to shift planning. Once everything is in one easy-to-access space, be sure to define the roles and responsibilities of the workforce so everyone knows who has which task and what the expectations are.

One of the many reasons that spreadsheets do not work, especially with larger companies, is that you risk the possibility of multiple schedules being shared or changes being made that were not approved.

A single online schedule that can be changed accordingly with a supervisor’s consent removes this issue entirely to avoid confusion and keep everything organized.

The Sooner, The Better

Team doing shift planning

On the note of organization, planning ahead when it comes to workforce scheduling is a great way to maintain a healthy workflow and quickly spot and resolve any issues.

An employee who expects their schedule to be visible two weeks in advance is more prepared for their work and their life outside of it as well. Being able to provide this balance is critical for maintaining talent.

The earlier the shifts are set, the less likely someone will request off at the last minute or not show up. Falling into the habit of publishing schedules a day or two before a workweek begins can result in no-show employees, frustrated workers, and unhappy customers.

Of course, there is such a thing as planning too far ahead. Employees shouldn’t have to take into account several months’ worth of schedules in one sitting. Two weeks is ideal for most workers, and any more than three can do more harm than good.

Shift For The Seasons

Whether the industry is construction, catering, cleaning, or the like, there are going to be times of the year when business slows down and other times when it picks up.

Retail workers, for example, experience the most foot traffic around the holidays, and managers need to shift for the influx of customers. This often means hiring seasonal workers or asking part-time employees if they are interested in additional seasonal hours.

Establishing seasonal labor should be done well in advance to avoid being short-staffed once the holiday season hits. This allows extra time to coordinate the schedule layout with added employees.

And hiring the right employees applies to seasonal workers as well. Although they might only be there for a short time, these individuals are a key part of business.

Be Flexible

Man worker fixing the flexible tube and preparing the cargo for loading

Following these tips will help ensure that you have a successful shift planning experience, regardless of shift swaps or holiday seasons. But sometimes, things can happen that are outside of anyone’s control.

Requests for time off can be managed in advance by adding available employee hours to the schedule. Still, what happens when an employee is in an accident on their way to work or a sudden emergency arises that needs their immediate attention? How can this be planned for?

Depending on the industry, some managers might allow for this flexibility anyway if a job does not have to be completed on that particular day. Others have someone on call for situations like this or have a list of employees who have stated they are willing to work on short notice.

If no one is available, then it is often up to the shift manager to make sure the responsibilities of the position are completed. This should only be a seldom occurrence, but accounting for that flexibility is essential.

Start Shift Planning With A Template

We touched on this issue several times earlier in this article, but starting the shift planning process with a template is so important that it’s worth discussing further.

Take the time to set all the fundamental details you want to keep in each schedule — margins, color codes, shift times, logos, and anything else that might be useful.

Doing so can save you hours when it comes time to schedule the next few weeks of activity.

With a shift-planning template saved on your device, you can sit down and get right to the important part of the job — deciding who works when.

Workforce management software, such as Inch, is the perfect tool for this activity. You can customize any number of variables to produce the perfect template for your team.

And you can save different versions of the template to use on different occasions. This can help simplify things when it comes time to plan team activities, special events, and any other workday or workweek that is outside the norm.

Once you’ve settled on a template, review it every few months to see if there’s any way to make it better. You might even consider asking your team members what they would change in order to get a different perspective.

Keep in mind that even small changes to the template can make a huge difference in the final schedule.

Use The Right Format

A calendar for shift planning

With enough time and effort, you can shoehorn a staff schedule into pretty much any format you see fit.

That said, not all formats are effective at communicating the important and necessary information to those who read them.

A Gantt chart, for example, is a great way to display what needs to be done for a specific project or task.

But it’s not a very good choice for your staff planning template because employees probably aren’t used to reading it to find the information they need about when they work next. That makes everything more difficult for them.

A schedule is, after all, about communication. You want to make that communication as efficient and straightforward as possible by using the right format for the job.

Perhaps the most familiar format is the calendar. There’s an extremely high chance that your employees have been looking at calendars to obtain dates and times for most of their lives.

That means they’ll be more efficient at reading a schedule that comes in that format. As a result, they’ll be less prone to mistakes if you communicate the information in this way.

That’s not to say that you have to format your schedule so that it looks exactly like a calendar, but, at the very least, arranging the information in a table (with rows and columns) is a good start.

Rank Successful Shifts

To paraphrase an old saying, “You can’t improve what you don’t track.”

Tracking and ranking which shifts work well and which shifts don’t can provide the insight you need to improve the scheduling process by leaps and bounds.

Of course, you can’t control every variable that might affect how your team works, but it’s worth noting when things do go well because the combination of employees on the job at the time has a lot to do with it.

Once you identify a shift that has gone well, you can then reuse it the next time you build your schedule.

If you’re using an app like Inch to manage your team, try tagging the successful shift with a grade or a ranking to distinguish it from others.

To do that, you’ll first have to develop a rating system of some sort.

There are many to choose from, but common options include:

  • Simple grade-based ranking (e.g., A, B, C, D, F)
  • Complex grade-based ranking (e.g., A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, etc.)
  • Three-tier, star-based ranking (e.g., ***, **, *)
  • Five-tier, star-based ranking (e.g., *, ****, ***, **, *)
  • Word-based ranking (e.g., Excellent, Average, Poor)
  • Number-based ranking (e.g., 5, 4, 3, 2, 1)

Once you’ve got a rating system in place, take a few minutes after each shift to talk to one of the employees on that shift and get their opinion on how things went (if you were there at the time, you can contribute your own thoughts as well).

As you rate each shift, be sure to include the reasons why things went well or poorly.

Then, when it’s time to start shift planning for the next schedule, you can use your rankings and notes to make assignments that can help your team and your business excel.

Successfully Shift Plan With Inch

Team using Inch for Shift Planning

Shift planning can either be a simple task that fosters a team’s effective communication or a painstaking chore that requires constant revisions and leads to high turnover rates. Choosing functional and innovative management software will turn the guesswork into your best work.

If you’re looking for a better way to create schedules and give your team a quality experience whether they’re on the clock or planning the weeks ahead, you can trust Inch for ideal results every time.

As a voice-operated workforce management software, Inch seamlessly combines communication, task management, and time tracking to ensure the most efficient and enjoyable work environment for every industry.

To find out how you can save countless hours each week managing your employees and streamline internal communication, visit and get started for free today!

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