Employee Scheduling Guide for all SMEs and Rota Managers

Does your scheduling plan give you stress and pressure on your team? Well, we have compiled a simple guide to help you prepare a stress-free rota plan and make it enjoyable for your team.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: April 26, 2022
  • 15 Minutes
employee scheduling guide by Papershift

As a business manager, you have a lot of responsibilities. These can include planning projects, implementing marketing, coordinating deliveries, and organizing workers. On top of this, you also have the primary task of ensuring the smooth operation of your company. But with so many tasks to juggle and so many things that can go wrong, keeping on top of things can prove difficult.

Without a doubt, one of the more difficult management tasks is scheduling employees. Trying to create the perfect work rota can often feel like juggling flaming swords while somebody tickles your feet.

Setting up a shift pattern that works for both the business, its customers, and the staff themselves is difficult. Making sure that staff cover is good and you have the right skills at the right time is almost impossible. Doing this and keeping everybody happy can be even harder.

But never fear because we are here to help. In this article, we will look at employee scheduling in great detail. We will dissect its main talking points and provide insight into how you can make the task easier. Let’s get started.

Who is Responsible for Employee Scheduling?

In most companies, scheduling employees is often the manager’s responsibility. However, in larger organizations, the task may be completed by a specialist worker or the human resource manager and his team.

What is the Purpose of Employee Scheduling?

The goal of employee scheduling is to assign tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible. This may require a distribution of hours or skills that suit the businesses needs as well as providing a fulfilling role for the employee.

From a business standpoint, the purpose of employee scheduling is to ensure the company has adequate staff cover in terms of numbers and skill types at all times.

From an employee standpoint, scheduling is a way to distribute their working hours fairly over a week. This will allow them to adhere to their contract whilst giving them quality time away from the workplace.

What Types of Employee Scheduling Are There?

There are two kinds of schedules in the workplace:

  • Fixed schedule

This is where an employee works at the same time or on the same shift pattern every week. This could be, for example, from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday–Friday. Shifts rarely change with a fixed pattern, and both employees and employers know exactly when work will take place every week.

  • A rotating schedule

This is where an employee works shifts on a rotating basis. For example, they may work 7 am to 3 pm one week, then 2 pm to 10 pm the next.

Fixed schedules are becoming increasingly uncommon in the modern workplace. With businesses operating longer hours, including weekends, the need for good staff coverage is greater than ever. Research shows that 2.5% of employees (that’s over 3.5 million people in the UK) across all sectors work on rotating shifts. In the retail industry, this number is even higher, with 12% of workers having rotating shift patterns, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The long and short of it is, fixing staff to specific patterns, especially if they are unsociable, can lead to unhappy staff and inflexible schedules. Therefore, many businesses have taken to rotating staff schedules to provide flexibility and keep staff happy.

What Laws Cover Scheduling in the UK?

There are many rules, laws, and regulations pertaining to the workplace. And while many of them do not specifically refer to scheduling, their reach can affect how businesses create rotas.

If a workplace requires a rota or schedule, it is contractually obliged to provide one in good time. The law does not specify how long this time is other than to say it must be reasonable. Because of the vague nature of this law, the length of notice can change from business to business.

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees have the right to a rest period of 11 uninterrupted hours each day. On top of this, they must have 24 uninterrupted hours’ rest and cannot work over 48 hours in a week. Keeping compliance with these rules can present a massive headache to schedules.

The Working Time Regulations also entitle employees to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when they work over six hours. Many businesses will increase this to either half an hour or a full hour. There may also be other breaks at the employer’s discretion. These will need to be factored into any schedule created by a business.

What Are the Benefits of Good Employee Scheduling?

Good employee scheduling allows businesses to reap a variety of benefits. These include:

  • Reduced wage costs

Effective employee scheduling can help a business reduce wage costs. Getting the right worker in the right place at the right time is key to productivity and happy customers. And by doing so, you also reduce the risk of under, or, more importantly from a cost perspective, over staffing at key times.

  • Legal and regulatory compliance

In the UK, there are a variety of laws that govern when an employee can work and how many hours they do so. The most important regulation is the Working Time Regulations 1998. This specifies limits on the number of hours an employer can ask an employee to work each week. Good scheduling can allow an employer to stay the right side of the law and prevent issues with tribunals down the line.

  • Happy employees

Good scheduling is vital to staff morale. Forcing employees to work long, unsociable hours is a sure-fire route to worker discontent. This can snowball if staff see the scheduling system as favouring other workers or being unfair to them.

  • Happy clients

It’s no surprise that good scheduling keeps employees happy. But did you know that effective schedule management is a great way to increase the happiness of your customers too? Every client wants to feel valued and like they are talking to somebody with knowledge. This requires the right staff to be available for their needs at the right time. Bad scheduling may lead to client neglect. It may also lead to poor customer service if the right employee isn’t available when needed.

What is the Key to Effective Employee Scheduling?

The key to effective employee scheduling is making sure it matches the business scheduling needs as well as the employee scheduling needs. Without balancing the two, achieving effective scheduling is nigh on impossible. If you focus on employees and neglect the needs of the business, the business will suffer. If you focus on the business but neglect the needs of the employees, you will have unhappy staff. For example, if you place too much emphasis on how happy your workers are with their rotas, business operations will suffer or even come to a standstill. If, on the other hand, you favour the scheduling needs of the business over the needs (and rights) of the workers, employee performance and morale will decrease. This can then affect the business negatively.

The key to effective employee scheduling, therefore, lies in balancing employee happiness with their schedules with the needs of the business.

What Exactly are Business Scheduling Needs?

The scheduling needs or requirements of any business will depend on the type of business and could vary from department to department.

In general terms, the scheduling needs of most businesses may include the following:

  • The number of hours the business is open and requires employee scheduling. For some businesses, this might be the standard 9 am to 5 pm. For others, it could be round-the-clock cover.
  • The times of day that are the busiest. This, again, can vary from business to business and may change on a weekly basis. For example, retail shops may need more staff cover over the holiday period and less during the slower summer months.
  • The need to provide exemplary customer service. For some businesses, having more bodies available is enough to keep customers happy (again, think retail). For others, it may be having the right skill sets available when they are needed by customers (medical and technical jobs, for example).
  • The need to keep staff happy. Some business sectors have higher staff turnover rates than others (retail, restaurant, etc.). This is often down to the long, unsociable hours staff are expected to work. Good scheduling is one way to control high turnover rates and keep staff morale high.
  • Costs and the wage bill. For most businesses, this is the key factor when creating schedules. Every member of staff placed on a rota costs money. This can be wasted money if the staff member isn’t needed. Good scheduling needs to make sure that staff levels are perfect to avoid wastage and losses in revenue.
  • The need to comply with employment laws and regulations. We speak about employment laws in more detail elsewhere in the article, but suffice to say the punishments for not complying can be high.

What Are the Main Employee Scheduling Needs?

Whereas the scheduling needs of a business can be quite complex and varied, the needs of an employee are often more straightforward and can include:

1. Enough advance notice of their working hours

This can help employees plan their out of work time more effectively and prevent last-minute disruptions to their work-life balance.

2. Shifts that align with their home needs and lifestyle

Every person is unique and will have different needs outside the workplace. Some may have a family. Some may have somebody they care for at certain times of the day. Others may have time commitments elsewhere–for example, a second job or civic duty.

Then there’re the practicalities of the shifts themselves. Some workers may find it hard to attend specific shifts because the timing doesn’t suit their mentality or lifestyle. For instance, a night shift is generally more suitable for an employee who is single, rather than a worker who is married and has a family to look after.

3. Having shifts that allow them to showcase their strengths

It’s important for most workers to utilise their skills effectively. Having the right shift patterns can help with this. For example, medical professionals who specialise in orthopaedics need their shifts to be targeted for daytime when they are needed the most.

4. The opportunity to self-manage shifts

For many employees, flexibility in their shift pattern is important so that they can deal with unforeseen issues and emergencies. Allowing staff to swap shifts, pick extra shifts, book holiday requests and other time-off requests without a lot of complications gives them this flexibility.

What Are the Challenges of Employee Scheduling and How Can a Business Combat Them?

There are many scheduling challenges faced by business owners, including:

1. Planning Issues

Pen and paper scheduling systems are still common and form the most basic work schedule system available today. As basic as this method is, it is also the most difficult to use and can make your life as a business owner or manager far more difficult. In all likelihood, pen-and-paper scheduling is the one of the main reasons the process has such an awful reputation in the first place.

One of the fundamental problems with pen-and-paper is that it is permanent. When you create a schedule on paper, you can’t alter it without creating an entirely new document. And then there’s the problem with potential errors. Did you forget a holiday request? Did you double book an employee? Did you factor in for an employee who is absent through sickness? One mistake can be disastrous and may require many working hours to correct.

Computers have made the scheduling process easier, but they present their own issues. Though word-processing documents and spreadsheets are computer-based, they still require a fair bit of manual effort to implement. Yes, they may be easier to correct when a mistake happens, but this still requires effort. And they do little in the way to prevent errors in the first place.

One of the best ways to combat planning issues is to implement dedicated scheduling software. This type of software can prevent many of the problems that come with planning by stopping things like double bookings or scheduling employees outside legal compliance. Often, they can also manage holiday leave and sickness too making them a great tool for ensuring scheduling issues don’t occur.

2. Sharing scheduling with staff issues

If creating employee schedules wasn’t difficult enough, getting them out to staff presents its own challenges.

Posting schedules on an office wall has long been a way of disseminating rota information. But old doesn’t mean best. Even if you post it in the most popular part of the office, you can’t guarantee all your employees will see it. This can make it hard for them to notify you of conflicts in time to avoid problems. And then what happens when changes need to be made? Do you expect your employees to check the schedule constantly for changes? How can you be sure that everyone sees it when you make a change?

Another option of sharing schedules is via email. Email will allow you to get rotas into everyone’s hands quickly. But there’s still the problem of redistribution when you make a change. Multiple versions of a schedule are likely to cause confusion.

Again, probably the best way to ensure schedules are shared effectively without confusion is to use a dedicated software solution. Dedicated scheduling software will notify every team member of a new rota and highlight the changes that affect them.

3. Over and under scheduling

Over-scheduling can cost a business thousands of pounds each year. But under scheduling can be just as costly in terms of monetary loss and customer dissatisfaction.

It’s important to get the scheduling balance right and the best way to do this is to analyse previous performance, staffing levels, and customer demand. Look for how well your workers performed at similar times of the year and compare this to the expected level of customer demand over the rota period. This can help you understand exactly how much staffing will be required over the period in question.

4. No Call, No Show Employees

When an employee doesn’t report for a scheduled shift and doesn’t give you advanced warning, it can throw your schedule into turmoil. You may suddenly find yourself understaffed and, in extreme cases, unable to perform the tasks required to be productive.

You can’t prevent no call, no shows from occurring. But you can plan to mitigate scheduling problems if they do. Always factor in a no-call no show contingency into rotas. And have a back-up plan of how you can get other staff into work at short notice if required.

Employee Scheduling Best Practices

As problematic as scheduling can be, using the right tools and following a few best practices can help keep staff happy and reduce issues.

1. Publish schedules early

Your employees need time to adjust to new schedules and look for issues. And you need time to make changes if necessary. Because of this, it’s important to get the schedules into employee hands as quickly as possible. We suggest posting schedules at least two weeks in advance. This will give your employees a chance to:

  1. Reschedule personal commitments.
  2. Swap conflicting shifts with another employee.
  3. Book leave or find a substitute worker.

2. Make sure you honour time-off requests and work preferences

Honouring time-off requests and work preferences creates goodwill with employees. It also increases employee satisfaction and can help you retain good workers.

You can streamline the process by keeping all time-off requests and work preferences in one place. This can be on paper in a folder or a file on your computer. You can then refer to them when making your schedule. You can even give your employees access to this documents so they can submit time-off requests and work preferences accordingly.

2. Define rules for employee requests

It’s important to define the rules for requesting time-off and work preferences for your employees. These rules should include how requests should be submitted, when employees can and can’t request time off, and how far in advance the request needs to be made. You should also define any rules that are specific to your business. This can be done in a policy document if required.

3. Schedule to your employees’ skills and strengths

It’s important for any business to harness the skills of their employees and schedule them where they can be the most productive.

Keep notes about employees’ strengths (and weaknesses) and be sure to factor those in when making up the schedule.

It’s also important that you schedule employees with your business goals in mind. You know better than anyone else what needs to be done to ensure a successful shift. That knowledge may mean you have to schedule specific employees during specific shifts.

4. Factor in for changes

Even the best schedule will need to be changed every now and again. Emergencies pop up and conflicts can happen. As such, it’s important to be flexible with changes to the schedule.

Allow employees to alter the schedule and encourage them to find substitutes, not just tell you they can’t work. Have a system in place for shift swaps and change requests. By giving employees the opportunity to shuffle things around, you take a big part of the stress of scheduling off your own shoulders.

5. Always have a backup

Even the most well thought out schedule can fall apart quickly if an emergency occurs. And while you can’t control these emergencies, you can prepare for them.

One way to deal with this is to have a contact system where you can quickly ring around your other employees to replace the missing worker. If none are available, it is often useful to have contacts at an employment agency who can send you a temporary worker to help out.

In Conclusion

Employee scheduling is never a straightforward task. And with so many problems that can arise, it’s important to have watertight procedures in place to keep your business running efficiently.

We hope you have enjoyed this article. For other workplace guides, check out the rest of our website.

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Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)