How To Make Employee Schedules That Stick

What you’re about to continue reading might surprise you.

The hardest part of making employee schedules is not scheduling. It’s not forecasting. And its not deciding how many shifts you need.

One things is clear. Making work schedules is tough work. Its repetitive work. And making employee work schedules is work that often goes unrewarded.

But that’s not going to surprise you.  You already knew that – or you wouldn’t be here, right?

I get to speak with a lot of owners about how to make employee schedules for small businesses.  Its a big part of my job.  The most interesting part is hearing about how to make employee work schedules, the tools used, and how employees are involved.

I usually ask a few questions to get started. You know, to get the conversation moving. I ask a few different – yet similar – questions to everyone.  And every time I talk to a small business about scheduling there is one question I always ask. Every single time. This is it:

“What is the hardest part of employee scheduling?”

When you make employee schedules you’re balancing the needs of your staff, their families, educational obligations, last minute requests, and so much more against the needs of your business.  Customers who need to be taken care of. Budgets to meet. Doors to lock up at night…

That’s why I’m always surprised when I hear the answer to my question.

And this is the surprise. Its not even about the scheduling.

The surprise is that the most common complaint is not about scheduling at all. It’s about re-scheduling. The hardest part of scheduling is making changes and keeping everyone up to date.

You schedule Joe for next week, 10am to 5pm.

Joe agrees.  All set, right?

Not so fast.  Monday morning Joe asks you for Thursday off. You want to give it to him – he has classes and of course you support your employees who are working on their education. You find Jill to replace the shift.  Mark up your calendar and you’re ready go to.

Jill tells you she can’t make the shift.  You call around, and no one else can make it either.  What do you do?

This is the hard part of re-scheduling.  Building the schedule the first time is not so bad. It’s managing and communicating all of the changes afterwards.

So what can be done?  Make schedules that stick.

  1. Respect Preferences. Start off by respecting employee preferences for shifts.  Respect availability, classes, and family obligations.  You’ll have fewer changes to deal with.
  2. Be consistent.  Absolutely consistent. Not necessarily in the number of hours or the start and end time, or days, or the shift.  Be consistent in when you publish your schedules.  If you start publishing on Wednesday afternoon two weeks ahead of time then stick with that.
  3. Involve your employees. The more involved your employees are in the process of making your work schedules the more likely they are to be committed to the schedule.  Fully committed employees will help you find someone to cover a shift if they can’t make it in.
  4. Remain flexible.  Last minute changes come up. Nothing will stop that.  It’s OK to be over or understaffed a tiny bit from time to time.  As long as its not an ongoing deal your employees will pick up the slack knowing that it is the result of your flexibility. Don’t aim for perfect utilization numbers every hour of every day.

Making employee schedules is tough, yes.  But you can make schedules that employees will stick to and everyone will be happier with.  Respect preferences, be consistent, involve your employees, and remain flexible.  Your customers will appreciate your business more if it is well-staffed with happy employees than if it is perfectly-staffed with annoyed employees.


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