How to Make Scheduling Employees Easier and Headache-Free

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Jul 13, 2018

Jul 13, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

Most companies don't start with employees. In fact, 69% of companies are founded in the owner's home.

As your business grows and becomes more successful, however, you'll need additional help. In fact, a major cause of business failure is trying to do everything yourself for far too long. Don't be that business - embrace having employees.

Of course, when you have employees, you need to learn an entirely new set of skills. The things that helped you be a successful solo business are not the same as what will help you manage a team. The good news is that it doesn't have to be overwhelming.

Whether you are just now transitioning from a solo business to an employee business or you've had employees for a while, one skill you'll need to learn is scheduling. How do you schedule your staff effectively?

It's vital to have enough help, but not too much. It's important to be flexible, but not fall short on staffing. It can seem like a tough balancing act.

Here are some tips to make scheduling employees easier.

Know Your Business

This may seem obvious, but when you are scaling your business it is easy to lose track of what's actually going on.

To make an effective schedule, you first need to know when you're busiest. If you run a software firm that will be a lot different than if you run a retail location. Understanding busy times and slow times will help you schedule enough help, but not too much.

Secondly, understand the kind of help you need. What skills are currently missing? What areas are overworked?

Be sure you hire based on those needs, and then schedule employees accordingly. You don't want 20 cashiers and 5 stockers when you need 10 cashiers and 10 stockers.

If you under-schedule, you may save money but you'll burn out and frustrate your staff. If you over-schedule, there won't be enough work, and you'll be spending money you don't need to.

Know Who You're Hiring

Once you've determined what your business is about and who you need, make sure you get to know your employees.

What are their needs outside of work? Are you hiring part-time folks with other jobs, students on school breaks, or full-time workers that need to support their family? Each type of person will have specific expectations and scheduling needs.

If you are hiring students, for example, be sure you can work around their class schedules. Or if you hire a lot of parents, consider building shifts that allow them to be able to pick up and drop off children at school.

You may have some legal rules regarding how many hours minors can be scheduled, for instance, or laws around when overtime must be paid. Be sure you're aware of how these affect your staff.

When you take into account the needs of your employees, you'll be taking the first step toward building loyalty and a motivated team. They know you've done your best to accommodate them, and they are less likely to abuse the scheduling process.

Choose the Right Person for Scheduling Employees

Schedules have to be carefully built and well-communicated. If the person in your company who is in charge of scheduling employees is flighty, puts things off until the last minute, or isn't willing to consider schedule change requests vs. company needs, you have the wrong person in charge.

It's OK to admit that you aren't the right person to create the schedule. Many founders are great idea people and big thinkers, but aren't great with details.

No problem! Just assign the work to a capable detailed leader, or hire for that skill.

When you choose your scheduler, be sure to watch out for someone who isn't fair to employees. Some examples include:

  • Creating on-call shifts for employees who were not hired as on-call staff
  • Canceling scheduled shifts
  • Changing the schedule - or posting the schedule - at the last minute
  • Consistently asking employees to work past their normal ending time
  • Giving specific employees preferred shifts or preferred work - or terrible shifts or work

You want employees to have the ability to schedule their daily life, and possibly even other jobs, around your needs. So make sure needs are clearly communicated in advance.

Make it Easy to Ask For Schedule Changes

Some folks will abuse the schedule - and we'll discuss that in a minute - but most will not. You want to make it easy for employees to ask for schedule changes when they are truly needed.

First, you need a system for changes. You shouldn't have an employee just call and say they can't show up (unless they're sick, which should be rare.)

Instead, have a process documented in your employee handbook for how to ask for a schedule change, who reviews the request, and how long it may take to be approved. Also, have a process for folks who trade shifts and folks who simply need a replacement.

Having a specific communication procedure is important as well.

Is a text OK? Can you take a phone call? Do you have an online scheduling tool?

Whatever you decide to use, make the process very clear.

Finally, make sure employees understand where the line is for "too much" on schedule changes. This helps create a clear guideline to identify and address schedule abuse. When this is in place, other employees will be less resentful of someone gaming the system because they know there will be consequences.

Identify and Handle Schedule Abuse

One challenge in scheduling employees is that some employees will game the system to avoid doing work or to avoid certain types of work. This cannot be tolerated. Having someone who slacks off will cause other employees to become demotivated and can poison the whole team.

Make sure you clearly outline in the employee handbook that you will not tolerate:

  • Constantly trying to get Fridays or Mondays off
  • Leaving early multiple times a week
  • Making trades so they work higher-paying shifts (ie, more tips)
  • Avoiding shifts with tough work, like truck deliveries or inventory
  • Last-minute changes with no legitimate reason

As you work with your staff, you'll come across other issues that may be a problem in your specific industry or company. Stay on top of the concerns and be sure everyone is aware - in writing - what's not OK.

Your employees will be less likely to attempt to abuse the schedule if they know where the standards are, and your good employees will be more likely to stay motivated, loyal, and happy. It's a win-win!

Communicate the Schedule Effectively

Employees and managers both need to know who is scheduled and at what times. This should be communicated as far in advance as possible. Two weeks lead time is a good target.

When the schedule is published, make sure it doesn't come across as a simple dictator. Employees should understand why certain shifts are needed and what work needs to be done. Remember, these folks are on your team, they aren't your children!

If a specific shift needs extra help, employees should know why. You can make this a positive thing by creating a contest or other fun event for that day. Things like a holiday rush, major inventory delivery, or other event can be easily explained to your staff.

You can use regular employee meetings to communicate special events or major needs. That gives your staff time to ask questions and get clarification as well.

Make sure each employee knows the type of work they are scheduled to do and who they are "backing up" if things get busy. Right expectations will keep everything moving smoothly as you go through the workday.

Make it Easy to Access the Schedule

This is easily forgotten, but it's one of the most important tips for scheduling employees available. Employees should have easy access to their schedule!

Sometimes this means it's posted in a back room or break room. However, what if you don't have a physical location?

In that case, you'll need to research and purchase some scheduling software. You can read more here about one option.

Software will allow everyone to see their shifts and can often facilitate trades or time-off requests. You may want a solution that offers shift reminders as well.

If scheduling software is out of the budget, consider a Google Drive spreadsheet. You can grant employees "read-only" access, while your scheduling manager can edit it. You may want to create a way for shift trades and time off to be requested in the spreadsheet as well.

Employees Are a Major Asset

Great employees are essential for any growing company, and it's important to remember they are an asset. While scheduling employees may be a challenge, you ultimately benefit from following these tips.

Do you need more information about hiring great employees? Find the staff you need with the Washington Post today!