In a perfect world, you’d write a schedule, post it, and watch the customers and employees pour in. Of course, in the real world, writing schedules for hourly employees is more like that “whack-a-mole” game at carnivals — as soon as you bop one conflict on the head, another jumps out at you.

As you know, scheduling hourly employees is a balancing act. Over-schedule, and you risk outlandish labor costs and disgruntled employees. Under-schedule and you risk stressing out your team and providing bad customer service. Add in variables like working around your employees school schedules (or the demands of a second job) and it’s no wonder there are still no easy answers to creating perfect schedules.

Let’s take a look at the top three scheduling conflicts, and how to address them to ensure the profitability and good morale of your business.

Overlapping or double-scheduling

Whether an employee has a second job, attends college, or serves as more than one role in your business (cook and server, for example) overlapping scheduling is one of the most common scheduling conflicts. A related problem is simply over-scheduling, in which an employee works day and night shifts back to back with little room for a break. While this may sometimes be a result of human oversight, there are other factors at play that contribute to the frequency of this error.

To avoid it, try having one manager in charge of scheduling. Involving too many people in any process tends to convolute things, and scheduling is no different. Also, keep your employees’ availability records up to date. If Anya tells you in passing that she can’t work Fridays anymore, request the change in writing. You may think you can remember her request, but you never know what might derail you before you can write it down.

Here’s how to handle this conflict in the moment:

  • If an employee is double-scheduled at your location, determine which of their roles will benefit the business the most that day and place them there — even if it means you have to fill in the other position yourself.
  • Send a message to your staff using your employee communication system, if you have one. Alternately, consult your availability chart to see who might be able to fill in.
  • Offer a longer break to employees who are scheduled for double shifts, especially if you’re forecasted to be busy. It’ll build their trust and ensure they come back to their second shift refreshed.

Irregular scheduling

A number of conflicts can arise from irregular schedules. An employee who worked all night shifts last week may forget about the surprise morning shift this week. Worse, a disgruntled busser, sales associate, or cashier may quit on a whim after weeks of irregular scheduling, leaving you in a bind.

The proactive solution is to create a template and stick to it. Schedule templates, simply put, are good for your employees — meaning they’re good for business, too. A 2015 Economic Policy Institute Report revealed that irregular work schedules increase stress in the workplace and at home. Besides the obvious benefits to your employees, creating a template (or different templates for different seasons) you can work from will save you loads of time upfront.

The trick is creating a template that’s both realistic and flexible. As you’re probably aware by now, what looks good on paper may not be great in practice, which is why having a contingency plan for emergencies and no-call, no-shows is essential.

Here’s how to handle this conflict in the moment:

  • If an employee walks out or doesn’t show up for a busy shift, call your most reliable employees to see if anyone can pick up the slack. If it’s a slower shift, you may fill in for them or run with one less employee.
  • Most importantly, follow up to clarify the reason for the absence. The only way to avoid a hike in your unemployment tax, or a related lawsuit, is to obtain a written resignation within a designated number of days.

Incorrect forecasting

All of the signs pointed to today being a slow one — last year’s numbers, the sunny day outside, the day of the week. You scheduled accordingly, and now customers are pouring in and your staff can’t keep up. It’s every manager’s nightmare, and you wonder if you could have avoided this.

Some managers will opt for scheduling certain people as “on-call” employees, but the evidence warns against this, since it can be a major morale killer and contribute to high turnover. Instead, use technology. Technology leverages the power of 24-7 communication, and gives your employees the freedom to collaboratively plan their schedules.

Here’s how to handle this conflict in the moment:

  • When you’re in the heat of this type of disaster, it’s essential to breathe and keep a healthy dose of perspective. It won’t be rush hour forever, and your employees will often respond positively or negatively to your own attitude.
  • Consult your availability chart and work your way down the list to find additional people who can come fill in on a whim. Offer a free lunch or another incentive in exchange for the help.

Stopping Scheduling Conflicts Before They Start

Although you can’t predict every challenge that aims to thwart your perfect schedule, you can set certain motions in place to avoid conflicts. Here are the best practices for creating work schedules that help everyone to coexist peacefully.

  • Start with the big picture. Weather, events in the area, and last year’s sales will influence every other component of your schedule — from peak hours to gross sales, to your employees’ true availability and legal requirements for underage workers and overtime. Start with the big picture, so you know what you’re up against, before you get into the nitty-gritty of whether Alonso or Nina is a better cashier for the afternoon rush.
  • Plan around employee availability. It should be obvious, but if your best trainer is a student, you probably shouldn’t schedule a training shift during their 8:00 class. Keep an updated record of employee availability, and have a clear understanding of the difference between an employee’s preferred schedule and their absolute “cannot work” hours.
  • Provide schedules somewhere visible, and do it early. Whether you print a physical copy or use a digital system, don’t give your employees a reason to miss their shifts or show up late. The earlier you provide hourly shift information, the better your employees can plan their lives around work.
  • Make technology work for you. Scheduling software can take a significant amount of guesswork out of your scheduling process, highlighting the best combinations of team members, making shift-swapping easy and transparent, and notifying you of possible conflicts.

With the right combination of preparation, technology, and calm in the face of chaos, you can transform scheduling conflicts from stress-inducers to rarities.

Kyra Kuik
Kyra Kuik Head of Content
Kyra is Planday's Head of Content. When she's not busy spinning up blog posts or editing, you can find her with a big cup of coffee, running, or admiring the charming pups of Copenhagen.