As a manager, being pulled in every direction is basically your MO. The rigor of scheduling is no exception: as soon as you sit back with your freshly minted schedule, the objections start rolling in.
One employee requested off the whole week, another has a last-minute doctor appointment, and yet another is increasingly frustrated over her lack of busy dinner shifts. You’re at wits’ end trying to please everyone, while still meeting business demands.
A lack of quality scheduling can negatively impact employee morale, with one study citing an increase in work-family conflict when employees work irregular hours. Beyond employee morale, your customers can actually suffer from irregular scheduling, too — customer loyalty diminishes when guests don’t interact with the same employees regularly, and service may suffer if you don’t have strong workers scheduled on each shift. How can you satisfy your employees’ needs and retain your best workers without spending so much of your valuable time scheduling?
Know your employees
Crafting a schedule that satisfies both your business needs and the needs of your employees begins by knowing the people who work for you. Take time to sit down with each of your employees for a quick check-in to learn about their lives outside of work, and take notes. Ask them questions about which of their responsibilities could potentially interfere with arriving on time.
Pay close attention to the availability of students, parents and those who work additional jobs. Put your employees in the driver’s seat by asking them what their ideal schedule would look like. Although you probably won’t be able to match it exactly, you’ll gain better insight into your team dynamics — and you’ll cultivate loyalty by truly listening to your employees.
Plan for (inevitable) conflicts
Make a contingency plan for absentees and last-minute problems. Even your most reliable employees will call in sick sooner or later, so brainstorm what you can do to make these moments easier on you and your team. Make a phone list of employees who have open availability, and who have expressed the desire for more hours. Reach out to them as soon as a problem arises.
If you’re tempted to add these employees to your busiest shifts as “on call,” avoid it. Why? Irregular and on-call shifts are associated with higher work stress. Plus, it can feel like a lose-lose situation: the on-call employee can’t fully commit to anything outside of work. At the same time, if you do call them in, they won’t get the same sense of satisfaction for “helping out,” because they were technically scheduled to work.
Reevaluate your system
If you’re spending a quarter of your workweek wrangling a schedule together manually, it may be time to get technology on your side. If you’re already using scheduling software, take a close look to make sure it isn’t contributing to employee burnout and turnover in the form of split shifts and “clopenings”, where the employee closes and opens again the next morning.
Post it early
Try writing your schedule a month in advance. Even if a monthly schedule requires a significant investment of your time upfront, you’ll save time in later weeks — and your employees will appreciate having plenty of time to plan. One of the major causes of absenteeism and employee dissatisfaction at work is having to deal with the uncertainty of a schedule posted the day before their next shift. Eliminate this anxiety for them, and for you, by writing your schedules early.
Be flexible, but not irregular
Statistics are still rolling in about how flexible schedules positively affect managers, employees, and the business as a whole. When employees have control over how much time they put in, they tend to be more productive, punctual, and healthier.
The benefit for you is a happier workplace and a lower rate of turnover. Note, however, that flexible scheduling doesn’t mean irregular scheduling. For example, an employee who takes care of her child during the day may be happiest working four night shifts a week. However, if she rarely works the same four nights, she may feel more stress and uncertainty than if you scheduled her consistently Monday through Thursday.
Pay attention to absences and call-ins
While lateness can sometimes signify a problem with your schedule (availability conflicts, or frequent “clopenings”), other times, it’s an indicator that it’s time for a revised attendance policy or disciplinary action. Use your scheduling software to gain insights into who’s pulling extra weight, and who’s not. Develop a strategy for handling chronically late employees.
By addressing your scheduling challenges head-on, you won’t get stuck putting out fires and filling in for absent employees — freeing your time to focus on business. You’ll make your employees happier, meaning they’ll take more pride in their work. You can’t please everyone all of the time, but with a scheduling strategy in place, you’ll come exceptionally close.