Employees juggle school, families, or additional jobs, your job might even be their second job. You are trying to juggle all of that in your employee schedule. As a business owner you know that scheduling employee rota is never an easy thing and have as much vested interest in the process as anyone.
It doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are simple tips to help you schedule employee rota more effectively:
Identify scheduling abuse
There are two people scheduling abuse comes from: your employee, and you.
Let’s start with employees. Most of your employees are great. They want to do a good job and they aren’t there to cause problems. For the most part when they ask for a schedule change, they truly need it. They aren’t trying to get out of work or in any way manipulate you or other employees to get better shifts.
What is Schedule abuse?
🔺 Asking to leave early multiple times a week.
🔺 Avoiding shifts with boring admin tasks (stocking shelves, stock take, etc.)
🔺Not turning up when informed that you can’t find a replacement and they must come into work.
🔺Asking for last-minute changes to their schedule without a legitimate reason (e.g. family or medical emergency).
🔺Always having the same or similar emergencies that keep them from working their scheduled shifts.
If this is happening, you should be able to identify it with your rota scheduling software or employee notes. Additionally, use what you’ve (hopefully) laid out in your employee handbook regarding the handling of the matter. Talk to the employee in private to learn if there really is a crisis in their life or if they are abusing the schedule.
When you are the purveyor of scheduling abuse, it looks a little different.
On-call scheduling – This often takes the form of on-call scheduling, which means you schedule an employee to work at a certain time, but it is only potentially going to be used. If they aren’t needed, they aren’t called in. On-call scheduling prevents them from working elsewhere, but doesn’t guarantee them any work or income. On-call scheduling is super convenient for you, but is a terrible way to treat your staff.
Cancelling at the last minute – In a way, cancelling an employee’s scheduled shift at the last possible moment is a bit like on-call scheduling. They have no time to work elsewhere or make other plans, but you aren’t stuck paying them because you didn’t need them. Once in awhile, an employee might enjoy a day off here and there, but for most hourly employees, especially, they need that income. Last minute schedule cancellations hurt their finances in a big way.
Scheduling and updating schedules right down to the wire. Some employers only create the schedule for workers a few days in advance (and some, only hours, which is much worse). Doing this makes it impossible for your employees to make other plans, and their entire life, whether social or grabbing shifts for other jobs, is in limbo. If your business doesn’t already have a policy, consider one in which this is not an acceptable practice.
Extending employee shifts past their scheduled time. Forcing or expecting employees to stay past their scheduled time is unfair. While they may do it to grab the extra hours or because they are afraid to say no, you need to ask them if they are willing to do it instead of expecting that they’ll do it. If they can’t or won’t, they should not be penalised. This is an area where the scheduling abuses or behaviour of other employees can have an effect on your better employees. If someone isn’t showing up for their shift on time, others have to pick up the slack.
Business owners usually don’t mean to abuse how they schedule employees. You’re looking after the bottom line, after all, and you are trying to find the perfect balance between having enough employees working without paying for too many. You don’t want to be understaffed, nor do you want to be overstaffed. And you might have one-off scenarios that require you to make a last-minute adjustment, or ask a staff member if he/she could be on-call. But scheduling abuse as described above will cause employees to quit, and you shouldn’t make them a habit.
Once you know what scheduling abuse looks like, you know whether or not you’re dealing with a disciplinary problem or a true scheduling problem. Treating a scheduling problem as if it were a disciplinary problem, or vice versa, will cost you valuable employees.
Remember, you are trying to keep your employees, not drive them away. Abusive scheduling by you, or allowing scheduling abuses by other employees, will send your best and most valuable resource packing.
Know your business.
It is impossible to schedule employees well if you don’t know your own business. In order to create a successful schedule without veering into abusive techniques, you must know:
Build your schedule with more slots for when it is busiest. What hours, days, and months you are the busiest. Understand the seasons, the lunch hour rushes–whatever applies to your business.
Schedule the right kind of employees. You need employees to cover every task necessary. You don’t need all servers or all friers. Figure out what it takes to keep everything running smoothly.
Under-schedule, and you’ll get fed up out staff and frustrated customers. Over schedule and you’ll have employees standing around losing motivation to do anything while you lose money.
Know your employees.
Do you have mostly college or teenage employees? Do you have a lot of moms or dads who have to drop their kids off at school and pick them up? Would it be easier to change the shifts to account for this?
Knowing your employees’ life schedules is crucial for helping your schedule shifts accordingly. When you know your employee, you can schedule compassionately and not make them dread constantly asking for a schedule change. This requires asking the right questions.
Here are some questions to ask to get to know your staff better:
✅ Do you prefer morning, afternoons or evening shifts?
✅ Are you looking for part-time or full-time employment?
✅ What’s your class schedule like?
✅ Can you be flexible if needed?
✅ Do you have any holidays planned that we should know about?
Know how to communicate your schedule.
If your employees don’t understand the how and why behind the schedule they are told to work, resentment can grow. At your meetings or through regular employee communication, give them a heads-up on why, for example, the coming weekend you are scheduling more than usual, or why it’s so important to have three people on the morning shift even if it seems unnecessary.
Be able to explain why your rota is as it is, how it functions, and why the employee is allowed (or not allowed) to make a schedule change. Show them the bigger picture so they see how the work they do, and when they do it, affects the business.
Make it easy for employees to legitimately ask for schedule changes.
How difficult is it for an employee to ask for a change in their schedule? Do they have to go through 20 questions and the third degree and a lot of accusations? Again, unless you have an employee consistently abusing your schedule, you should want to work with him.
A system for asking for changes. Does the employee just call your business and tell whoever answers they can’t come in tomorrow and then hang up? Do they send a random text? Or do you have a specific procedure of who to call and how to get permission? It should be a part of your employee handbook, including who to call, how much notice to give, and what happens if you don’t follow the procedure.
A specific communication tool. Older employees might prefer the phone, while younger ones want to send a text message. It can be difficult to field all of the information across different communication platforms. Be sure your employees understand what method to use when communicating schedule changes. When I Work allows you to find replacements on the go. Once you are notified that someone can’t make a specific shift, you can turn around and notify eligible employees immediately that you are looking for a replacement.
A policy on behind-the-scenes changes. If an employee finds a shift replacement without your help, does that create a problem for you? If it does, make sure they know you must be aware of the schedule change. If it doesn’t, great. Some employees may find friends to work their shift when it arises. Still, you need to stay on top of this to know whether or not you have an employee who is abusing the schedule. It is easy for that “friend” to start to feel resentment, even if they keep taking the shift.
An understanding on what scheduling abuse is. Your employees need to know what you consider to be too much as far as schedule changes, and under what circumstances changes aren’t allowed. Be clear in the handbook about what you consider schedule abuse.
Basically, as long as employees know what you expect from them if they need to change the schedule, and that you won’t be giving them a hard time within the policy limits you’ve set, things will go smoothly.
If you notice a great employee struggling with a particular shift on a particular day, consider that you need to permanently adjust the schedule and avoid putting them there at all. The dread of asking for a schedule change can make an otherwise great job lose its lustre. Make it easy for your great employees, if you can, but taking note of times when they consistently can’t work and see if you can find a different scheduling arrangement.
Find employees who are interested in working additional shifts.
Some employees have lives that are complex and busy and they are not going to be interested in changed or extra shifts. They shouldn’t be penalised for this. Instead, find employees who are:
Willing – Not all employees want to pick up extra hours. You don’t want someone working who doesn’t want to be there; it will affect the other employees and customers. Ever been to a restaurant and had a server complaining about how much they had to work? It’s not a pretty experience.
Flexible – Some employees have more flexible lives and are able to take on shifts. Others may want to, but their flexibility is limited.
Qualified – You must know which employees are qualified to work in available slots in the schedule.