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Running a business

11 employee scheduling best practices and tips for employers to know

Anyone who has ever held a shift job knows shift scheduling can be tough. Last-minute changes, back-to-back shifts, and unpredictable schedules take a toll on both employers and employees. The good news for employers: Over 70% of workers report being satisfied or very satisfied with their work schedules, according to our work schedule survey

However, this does not mean there isn’t room for scheduling errors. Effective employee scheduling can help you manage labour costs, improve efficiency among your business, decrease scheduling errors, and increase employee satisfaction. 

Looking for the best way to schedule employees? Below, we cover 11 employee scheduling best practices and tips that will help streamline your scheduling process, keep your business running smoothly, and keep you and your employees happy. 

1. Schedule shifts two weeks in advance 

According to a 2021 Shift Project survey, 64% of workers receive their schedule with less than two weeks notice. 

Scheduling in advance gives employees time to look over the schedule and request any changes should something come up. Even if the schedule ends up changing, a two-week notice will give you time to find shift coverage without having to wait until the last minute to resolve last-minute scheduling needs. 

2. Communicate shift changes and updates to employees promptly

Shift changes happen, but failure to effectively communicate changes to your employees in a timely manner can leave them stressed and scrambling to find coverage or make last-minute changes to their personal lives. The Shift Project survey found that 57% of workers experienced shift changes with only a one day or less notice. 

Schedules should be easy for employees to access with their employers sending notifications and reminders to them should any scheduling changes occur. If scheduling changes happen for a specific reason, keep your employees informed. For example, if you had to increase some team members' hours due to an employee quitting, make sure to communicate it. Stay transparent with your employees to avoid confusion and reduce stress. 

3. Streamline the process with employee scheduling software 

Employers could actually better manage their time and save money just by improving the way they plan and communicate employee shift schedules. Scheduling methods like paper schedules, excel spreadsheets, emails, and whiteboards are outdated and ineffective. 

These methods only make the already difficult task of building the schedule more difficult and time-consuming. Because these methods rely on the employees to check and correctly interpret the weekly schedule, they also leave employers extremely vulnerable to missed shifts and no-call and/or no-shows. 

QuickBooks Time’s shift scheduling software can help you build a better schedule and includes features that can help improve your workflow. Easily input employee availability, create scheduling templates for future use, and send real-time notifications to your employees on any scheduling changes.  

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4. Use employee skills and preferences to help you build the work schedule 

When building your employee’s schedules, availability is not the only factor you want to keep in mind. You will also want to think strategically and look at their unique skills and abilities. For example, maybe your best employees are better equipped during your busiest hours compared to more junior-level employees who are still being trained. There may be certain tasks that need to get done during a shift that only a few employees have qualifications for, so picking the right staff member will be essential to ensure the shift runs smoothly. 

Aside from that, considering employees’ work preferences can help keep employees happy. For example, maybe one of your employees prefers to work a morning shift so they can make it home to spend some time with their kids after school. While you cannot always meet these preferences, it is definitely something you should be keeping in mind as a small business owner.

Using this strategy for shift scheduling can help improve productivity and efficiency while maintaining a happy and satisfied work environment. 

5. Stay on top of employee availability and changes 

Employee availability is the first thing you should gather before you start to make a schedule. If you do not have accurate availability, you will run into more hiccups later down the line. To ensure scheduling runs smoothly, make sure you have employees’ availability for at least the next two weeks. Employee availability should always include: 

  • General availability: Their normal preferred working hours. 
  • Time off: Any days off outside of their normal working hours. 

If employees’ availability ever changes, make sure they communicate this to you. As a manager, it may even be smart to send out a monthly reminder to employees to update their availability, so you can ensure it always remains accurate and up to date. 

6. Prioritise employees’ happiness and work-life balance 

Due to the unpredictable nature of shift work, employees may find it hard to strike a healthy work-life balance. Shift work can prevent them from getting regular exercise (or sleep, for that matter), eating well-balanced meals, making time for hobbies, and spending important downtime with loved ones. Over time, those challenges can make for seriously unhappy employees. 

Our work schedule survey found that respondents who say their schedule has a negative impact on their health say the worst part of their work schedule is missing time with their loved ones, with over 10% report only being able to spend an hour or less with them on workdays. Though you cannot always satisfy every employee with the work schedule, keeping their happiness in mind and looking for ways to satisfy their needs will ultimately benefit your business. 

7. Implement a time-off policy 

Time off is essential for any business looking to keep its employees happy. Without the ability to take days off, your likelihood of retaining employees in the long term decreases. In our PTO survey, we found that 31% of employees were not offered paid time off at their job and out of the 69% who were, 60% said they had leftover unused paid time off (PTO) at the end of the year

Lack of days off can lead to an unhappy workforce ultimately affecting your business. Employees deserve time off, so implement a policy that allows them to do so while encouraging them to actually use the time they are given. 

In addition to scheduling PTO, make sure you have a proper PTO request policy in place. Similar to you sending out your employee work schedule two weeks in advance, your employees should be sending leave requests at least two weeks ahead of time, if not sooner. Most companies have this policy in place already, but this can help you stay on top of employee availability come time to make the schedule. 

8. Ask employees if they would like to work extra shifts  

As much as you can prepare by sending out a schedule two weeks in advance, things come up which may lead to having to make some last-minute schedule changes. Having a running list of employees who would volunteer to work extra or open shifts can help save you time trying to find a shift replacement. In most cases, there will be a few employees who are willing to take on additional shifts to make some extra cash. You can keep these employees on call during their days off should any emergencies or last-minute changes occur. 

When scheduling employees for extra shift work, make sure you’re staying compliant with the fair work week laws. For example, if your employee is working a long shift, make sure they have a lunch break added into their schedule. Or, if they are working a closing shift, make sure there is a 10-hour gap between their next shift.  

9. Involve employees in the scheduling process 

Without a doubt, building the weekly schedule is tough on employers - they have got to juggle employee availability and special requests with the shift needs of their business. But it is hard on employees too, especially on those who have little or no control over the hours or shifts they work. The Shift Project survey found that 42% of workers have no input into their work schedules. 

Though you cannot always please everyone with every schedule, leaning on employees' preferences and involving them in the scheduling process can make it known that you care about their input and well-being. In fact, some predictive scheduling laws actually require you to gather input from employees on their schedules. 

10. Look for ways to improve 

As a small business owner, you should always be open to new ways of improving the way you run your business. No matter how streamlined your staff scheduling process is, there are always ways you can improve. Though scheduling software helps keep your schedule organised, continue to monitor the schedule to see where you can make improvements that will benefit your business and your employees. 

When analysing your scheduling data and looking for ways to improve, ask yourself questions like: 

  • Is my staff satisfied with their schedules? 
  • Are my employees calling off or missing shifts more than normal?
  • Am I keeping employee preferences in mind while scheduling?
  • Has there been an influx in overtime recently? 
  • Am I communicating scheduling and business needs effectively with my team? 

11. Take full ownership of your scheduling process

When it comes to employee scheduling techniques, there are many factors you will want to consider, like employee availability, business and staffing needs, and employee satisfaction. However, remaining flexible and fair when it comes to scheduling can help decrease labour costs and increase employee retention. 

If you are ready to spend less time scheduling and put more time into your business, our employee scheduling software can streamline how you manage employee schedules while making scheduling communication effortless and instantaneous. The right solution can also help eliminate missed shifts and last-minute shift cancellations to put valuable time and money back where it belongs -your business. 

Our time tracking software allows you to schedule, track and manage your team and projects. QuickBooks Time (formerly TSheets) has many features including smarter team scheduling, accurate to the second timesheets and is customisable giving you the ability to use fields you are familiar with.

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