Common Scheduling Challenges and How to Fix Them

Addressing Common Employee Scheduling Problems

Every business owner and manager knows first-hand how hard it is to find the right employees. Once you find a good one, you want to do everything possible to retain them because finding new employees takes considerable time, resources, and effort. You want to be a problem solver.

One of the top reasons staff members quit is because of irregular work schedules, and understandably so. It can be stressful enough juggling home life and work-life balance when you have a good schedule, let alone when you do not.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, cloud-based employee scheduling software is one of the things that most managers and business owners dread, especially if it is in a larger company. There are a lot of moving parts to workforce management, and trying to migrate from one system to another is time-consuming, especially if you have to revert back by the end.

Even if you get lucky enough to find feasible solutions to most of your scheduling problems with an effective schedule system, there are always unplanned events in a workday, like no-call/no-shows, sudden burnouts, or illness. In short, management of team members can be a nightmare for everyone involved, even before you start considering optimization.

Unfortunately, this is also one issue that management can’t afford to just ignore and hope for the best. For any business to run effectively and profitably, a well-managed employee shift schedule is absolutely vital.

Bottom line: keeping your employees happy with their schedules while also running your business effectively is a juggling act, but it can be done. Using management software instead of manual scheduling can streamline the scheduling process – making staff scheduling easy, efficient, and less costly.

Woman sitting at computer using scheduling software to help her create employee schedules.

Beyond that, we’re going to dig into what some common scheduling issues are, and what solutions will help you address them.

Problem: No Official Schedule

A business’s scheduling needs can vary over the years as the business evolves or grows. While a hand-written schedule on a notecard may have been sufficient for a brand-new business with two employees, it is no longer adequate now that the business has fifty employees and multiple departments and has to dodge scheduling conflicts.

Solution: Use Scheduling Software

By this time, every business should have adopted some form of scheduling software in place. There are countless programs and apps available to help make scheduling easier and more effective for both management and employees. Even flexible scheduling becomes extremely doable – you can allow employees to initiate their own shift swaps in real-time, and send notifications as open shifts are taken.

Most modern software drastically improve scheduling practices, though it’s best to make your choice based on other functions you might like. Time clocks, spreadsheets, job and labor costs and more are just a few features that are often bundled with scheduling software.

Make sure the scheduling software you choose is easily accessible, and data can be quickly viewed in order to schedule, track, and evaluate your employees’ time. If your team members are going to make use of the same tool, make sure it’s not so difficult that it would hurt employee engagement. In other words, let a good employee scheduling solution take the guesswork out of scheduling.

Problem: Understaffing or Overstaffing

Especially in service-related industries, it is challenging to know what to expect from day-to-day. For example, a small business unexpectedly experiences a massive surge in customers due to an event happening in town. Only three employees were scheduled, which is usually perfectly adequate. However, now, long lines of customers have backed up, and potential customers are leaving because of the long wait to checkout. Not only are customers impatient and angry, but your staff is also stressed out and frantic. This is how mistakes – and business losses – happen.

Regardless of what industry you’re in, staffing is an issue you have to constantly re-calibrate your methods to address. Forecast based on events, releases, and news, and try to avoid under or overscheduling employees. By the way – if you can, avoid ever sticking an employee with the dreaded “clopen” shift – where they have to both close and open.

Solution: Hire Enough Employees

While this seems like stating the obvious, it is extremely important. Make sure you have hired enough employees to fill the positions without stretching your current staff too thin. Unexpected events and last-minute changes are going to happen – just plan on it! On the opposite hand, having too many employees on hand for a limited amount of work hours is a surefire way to make employees unhappy – some employees will not get enough hours, while others will get too many. Maybe the solution isn’t more full-time employees, but a few part-time options on the sidelines.

Solution: Do Your Homework

Research your industry in your specific location. You need to know if there are annual events or one-time events scheduled that affect your business. Study previous years and see if there are seasonal patterns of influx and schedule accordingly.

Problem: Unfair Scheduling

While there are U.S. labor laws that guide break and time off requirements for some industries, other industries are left to determine those for themselves. Then, there is the issue that one employee may be getting the more favorable shifts instead of night shifts, or that one employee gets all their time-off requests approved, while the other barely gets any.

Solution: Be Consistent

It is so very important for management to remain fair and impartial when it comes to efficient employee scheduling. Whatever your time off or schedule policies are, stick to them for every single employee – even management.

Solution: Know Your Laws

It is every business owner’s responsibility to remain abreast of what the current labor laws are for their industry and state. Not only can this help keep your employees happy, but it can also help you avoid expensive lawsuits in the future.

Solution: Be Upfront About Expected Hours

To avoid being accused of not giving an employee enough hours (or requiring too many), be clear about what shifts or how many hours they will receive before you even hire them. Do you use fixed shifts or rotating shifts? Compressed scheduling or standard scheduling? While schedules are generally subject to change, explicitly discussing it can save you a lot of headache and trouble down the road.

Man showing up late to work because  he was informed he needed to work last minute.

Without giving employees enough notice, they may end up coming into work late, be less productive or not even show up at all. Create schedules a few weeks in advance to ensure you have enough employee coverage and allow for your employees to plan accordingly.

Problem: Not Enough Notice

Yes, employees showing up late for a scheduled shift or not showing up at all can be a significant problem. Inadequate time to make arrangements can leave management racing to find a solution or replacement.

However, an employer not giving their employees enough notice about scheduled shifts or shift changes can lead to a host of other problems, like low employee morale, resentment, and reduced productivity. All of these are significant reasons for high employee turnover rates hurting talent retention.

Solution: Release An Early Schedule

In some industries – like retail, fast food, and the hospitality industry – there are actual laws requiring larger employers to give hourly-wage employees advanced notice of shifts. The average requirement is seven to fourteen days in advance. Depending on what type of service or business you operate, some employers can provide monthly schedules for their employees. This is even better because it gives plenty of time for employees and management to work together if employee availability becomes an issue.

Solution: Make Changes in the Correct Timeframe

Once again, know your labor laws. Some areas require employers to compensate employees extra for last-minute schedule changes due to predictive scheduling laws. At all costs, avoid making spur-of-the-moment scheduling changes. You would appreciate the same consideration from your employees. It may even be a good idea to have several employees who voluntarily agree to take on last-minute shift changes. Why not give the hours, or lack thereof, to someone who wants them? This is another way that modern time tracking equals greater productivity for your business overall.

Problem: Unexpected Absences

You finally have the perfect schedule set, and everyone has their schedules in hand with plenty of advanced notice. Then, an employee suddenly comes down with food poisoning, or one needs to pick their child up from daycare early. In addition to these unexpected everyday circumstances, there are always those employees who like to call off their shifts right before they are supposed to walk in the door or those who consistently show up late.

Solution: Have Policies in Place

Unfortunately, whenever dealing with people, always expect the unexpected. Last-minute emergencies, events, or illnesses are going to arise. While you do not want to appear heartless or unfair, you still have a business to run. Have policies in place to help ease the stress this has on everyone involved as much as possible.

Solution: Get Good Scheduling Software

This is where having a digital system, or scheduling software will prove to be an optimal solution. Once correctly set up, it is extremely simple to see who is available to fill in or cover in the event of an unexpected schedule change. There is no need to call around to dozens of employees to see who is off, first of all, and then to see who is available.

Employee left "I'm on vacation" note at their desk as they requested time off.

Employees will take time off and is an inevitable challenge you must overcome when it comes to scheduling. Make sure to keep accurate time off records and have policies in place for your employees to follow.

Problem: Planned Time Off

Having sufficient time off is directly related to employee morale and productivity. As an employer, you cannot expect your employees to never ask for time off. Employees who are overworked are overstressed and are prone to make a more significant number of mistakes on the job – costing you precious time, resources, and profits.

Everyone can agree that time off is necessary, but how do you work those days off into the running schedule? Or, what do you do if you have several employees requesting the same time off of work?

Solution: Streamline Vacation Days

It is imperative that you keep accurate records of how much paid (or unpaid) time off an employee has. Once again, a scheduling app will help you quickly see how many hours an employee has accrued and how many are available.

Solution: Set Priority Policies

Seniority often gets priority when numerous employees want the same time off, but as a business, you set your own guidelines for who has priority or who gets approved for time off over another. However, as expressed earlier, it is extremely important to remain consistent and fair. Whatever policy you have set up, stick to it.

While each industry has its own unique set of employee scheduling obstacles, applying these solutions will help eliminate many of them before they even arise. Through consistency, communication, and organization, you and your employee can easily navigate most of the issues that are unavoidable when it comes to scheduling.

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