Overcoming Common Shift Scheduling Challenges

Shift scheduling is hard on employers and employees alike – new regulations could change everything

Jump to the section relevant to you.

Are you an employer or an employee?

I am an employer

I am an employee

Anyone who has ever held a "shift" job knows a shift schedule can be tough. Last-minute changes, back-to-back shifts, and unpredictable schedules take their toll on both the employee and their manager or employer.In September 2017, QuickBooks Time commissioned a survey to find shift workers lose an average $1,100 each year on shifts canceled at the last minute, and employers lose an average $7,500 annually on no-call, no-shows alone.1

New laws mandate predictive scheduling

In an effort to address the issue, several states — including Oregon, New York, California, and even some provinces in Canada — are adopting new laws that require employers to provide the employee shift schedule two weeks in advance.

These predictive scheduling laws will allow employees to better balance their work and their personal time, and prepare for upcoming shifts. But nearly half of employers admit they won’t be able to hold up their end of the bargain, which could land them in hot water when it comes to complying with city and statewide labor laws.

Shift Scheduling Challenges for Employers and How to Overcome Them

The top 5 challenges facing business owners who employ shift workers

  1. Retaining good employees
  2. Finding employees to cover missed shifts
  3. Hiring good employees
  4. Managing labor costs
  5. Planning weekly shift schedules

Shift work is hard on employees, but you can help them strike a better work-life balance

Due to the unpredictable nature of shift work, employees find it hard to strike a healthy work-life balance. Many claim shift work prevents them from getting regular exercise (or sleep, for that matter), eating well-balanced meals, and spending important downtime with friends.

Over time, those challenges can make for seriously unhappy employees. Wondering why that’s such a big deal? Consider this: Studies show that unhappy employees cost business owners $550 billion each year. And, chances are, unhappy employees won’t stick around for long and will leave their employers with additional recruitment and training costs, a reduced staff, and low employee morale.

Fortunately, there are some things employers can do to improve the shift work experience for employees.

Science says breaks are important — employers should too

Studies show taking a break can ramp up employee happiness and productivity. Yet, only 78 percent of employers allow their shift workers those oh-so-important breaks throughout the day.

In fact, nearly half of employers don’t even provide their employees with a break room or lounge area. Only 1 in 4 stocks their break rooms with healthy snacks, and even fewer provide the occasional free meal for workers. A measly 6 percent offer their employees a sleep or rest area, and only 1 in 10 has thought to provide sensitive lighting for night-shift workers.

Something as simple as a sunshine light bulb or a box of granola bars can go a long way when it comes to shift-worker happiness and retention. Employers everywhere should take note.

Missed shifts cost employers $7,500 each year

When employees miss shifts, employers lose money. Our research found missed shifts add an extra $633 to an employer’s operating costs each month — that’s over $7,500 each year. And missed shifts are happening more often than you might think.

One in 10 employers says they deal with "no-call, no-shows" each day. Another 18 percent say no-shows occur several times a week, and nearly 40 percent say it happens at least once a month or more. Only 2 percent of employers have never had to deal with a missed shift.

Employers spend up to 12 hours building the schedule each week

It’s true what they say: Time is money. And employers are losing a lot of both just building the shift schedule each week.

Over half of employers say they spend at least two hours per week working on the employee schedule, but many of them are spending more time than they’d like to admit. One in 10 says they spend three hours each week building the schedule. Another 8 percent say four hours (that’s half a day’s work!), and 9 percent spend five hours. Some say they’ve even spent as many as 12 hours on the task. That’s a day and a half of work, on one task, every week — time they could use to grow their business instead.

Building the weekly schedule is about to get even harder

Several states, provinces, and major cities (including New York City, Seattle, Ontario, and several cities throughout California) are adopting “Fair Workweek” or “predictive scheduling” laws.

These laws require employers to release the employee schedule two weeks in advance. In many cases, they eliminate last-minute shift changes, “clopen” shifts, and on-call scheduling. These laws also carry steep fines and penalties for employers who fail to comply.

That’s good news for shift workers and bad news for the 47 percent of employers who claim they won’t be able to comply with the new legislation.

Learn more about shift scheduling laws by city and state.

Half of all employers still use paper schedules

Employers could actually save time and money just by improving the way they plan and communicate employee shift schedules. After all, 45 percent of shift workers claim they still get their schedules on a piece of paper. Another 10 percent get their schedules from a spreadsheet tacked up in the breakroom, and 3 percent have schedules written on a whiteboard. Yikes.

These methods only make the already-difficult task of building the schedule more difficult. And 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, no-shows.

Shift Scheduling Challenges for Employees and How to Overcome Them

The top 5 challenges facing employees who work in shifts

  1. Pursuing hobbies
  2. Seeing friends
  3. Exercising
  4. Eating well
  5. Sleeping well

Shift scheduling causes employees to lose sleep and over 7% of their annual earnings

Many shift workers find it difficult to strike a balance between work and life. Working on-call, back-to-back shifts (also known as “clopens”) leaves little time for things like pursuing hobbies, eating well-balanced meals, and having a social life.

Only 36 percent of employees who work rotating shifts say they have a shift pattern that rotates forward (morning, afternoon, night), the least hazardous shift pattern for employee health. But our survey shows that shift work costs employees much more than sleep. It also costs them their hard-earned money — about $1,100 each year.

Our survey found canceled shifts and last-minute schedule changes cost shift workers an average $92 per month in lost income and additional expenses (including travel costs, childcare, and missed payments). That adds up to about 7 percent of a minimum wage worker’s annual salary.

Last-minute shift changes are common — should employees be compensated?

Over half of shift workers (about 60 percent) say they’ve had a shift canceled at the last minute. About 40 percent of them were notified of the canceled shift the night before. The other 48 percent were notified either on their way to work or after they arrived.

However, these workers have one thing in common: Over 95 percent believe they’re entitled to compensation for canceled shifts. And here’s why:

Nearly 1 in 6 employees admits to missing an important payment due to a canceled shift (and losing six to eight hours, or more, of income). Another 1 in 4 says they’ve wasted time and money commuting to work for a canceled shift or paid for unnecessary childcare.

On the flip side, 20 percent of employees have had to shell out for last-minute childcare after being called into work at the last minute. And yet, less than 37 percent of employees are compensated for their time when their schedules are changed. Those who are compensated for their canceled shifts are paid just $22 per shift, on average.

Only 50% of shift workers get their schedule two weeks in advance

Only 45 percent of employees say they get enough notice for their schedules from their employer. Twelve percent say they rarely get enough notice, and 5 percent admit they never get the notice they need to plan their week.

And it comes as no surprise. According to our research, only 1 in 2 employees gets their schedules two weeks in advance. Another 1 in 4 receives their schedules one week out, and 8 percent get just one day’s notice or less.

Shift workers at a disadvantage when it comes to building the schedule

Without a doubt, building the weekly schedule is tough on employers — some say it takes up to 12 hours to complete! They’ve got to juggle employee availability and special requests with the shift needs for their business. But it’s hard on employees too, especially on those who have little or no control over the hours or shifts they work.

Just 9 percent of employees say they can choose to decline a scheduled shift, and only 1 in 2 shift workers feels they have any influence over their schedule at all! Nearly 15 percent of employees admit their shift requests are often ignored, and over 27 percent agree they have no choice at all when it comes to their schedule.

Nearly half of all shift workers say they would actually like to work more hours if the option was available to them. And 38 percent of part-time employees would like a full-time schedule. But employers don’t always want to offer those workers more hours.

In cities where Fair Workweek laws apply, employers must offer part-time workers more shifts before hiring new employees, but 65 percent of employers want to make that call themselves. And only 35 percent of employers believe extra hours should always be offered to existing employees first.

New regulations mandate predictable scheduling and employee compensation

Fortunately for shift workers, new Fair Workweek laws — popping up in several states and major cities — will require employers to provide employee schedules at least two weeks in advance and compensate employees fairly for shifts canceled at the last minute. Most of the new regulations will even enforce increasing fines on employers, the shorter the shift notice becomes.

Some of the new regulations will also require employers to pay employees in entirety for scheduled on-call shifts — whether the employee is called in or not. And our survey results show 30 percent of employees who work on-call do not get paid if they are not called in. Only 21 percent of employees are currently paid in full for their on-call shifts. The remainder earns between two and four hours’ pay.

Finally, in many cases, the new regulations will define how many hours must pass between scheduled shifts. In New York City, employers will be required to give employees at least 11 hours between scheduled shifts (no more “clopens” for New Yorkers), and Oregon laws will require employers to grant 10 hours between shifts.

That means big changes are in store for shift workers. As it stands, only 4 percent of employees can say they have 10 or 11 hours between shifts. Three in 10 employees say they only get one hour.

Learn more about new and upcoming shift scheduling laws by state.

Smart scheduling software is a win-win

Smart employee scheduling software streamlines how employers build employee schedules and makes schedule communication effortless and instantaneous. The right solution can also help eliminate missed shifts and last-minute shift cancellations, and it can put valuable time and money back where it belongs.