Heard of ‘Just-in-time’ Predictive Scheduling Practice?

Predictive scheduling is the process of giving out employee schedules ahead of time. It is the opposite of using an on-call and “just-in-time” scheduling practices. Read on.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: December 8, 2022
  • 10 Minutes
predictive scheduling

To better protect employees and give better flexibility, many businesses are considering a new type of scheduling called predictive scheduling. But what exactly is it and how does it benefit employers and employees? To answer those questions, we’ve put together a quick guide on everything you need to know about predictive scheduling. Let’s begin.

What Is Predictive Scheduling?

Predictive scheduling is the process of giving out employee schedules ahead of time. It is the opposite of using an on-call and “just-in-time” scheduling practices. Often these can be difficult for employees and leave them with unmanageable work schedules as well as, sometimes, financial hardship. 

The majority of workers who experience unstable or irregular scheduling state that this often interferes with their ability to provide and support their families both financially and with their time. They can’t predict their day-to-day routines or their pay checks—a perfect recipe for high employee disengagement and staff turnover.

The process of predictive scheduling includes posting schedules well in advance allowing employees time to plan their lives around work. It also removes the danger of them finding a nasty surprise in their pay packet at the end of the month. Predictive scheduling is often referred to as “fair scheduling.” 

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. Scheduling can become complicated fast, especially when there are a lot of workers to manage. In many large businesses scheduling is a full-time job and a large 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. Demand may vary throughout the year and scheduling may have to be adapted to meet the needs of the business.

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. Late scheduling can leave staff unhappy and may make it hard for them to balance their home life with work.

What Are the Predictive Scheduling Laws in the UK?

The laws that apply to predictive scheduling outside the UK ensure that employees post rotas to their employees a number of days or weeks in advance. It also forces organisations to observe rest periods between shifts to reduce overworking and staff burnout. 

In the UK predictive scheduling laws are vague and unspecified but that doesn’t mean they aren’t covered in some form. While many regulations do not specifically refer to scheduling, their reach can affect how businesses rotate their staff.

If a workplace requires a schedule, it is contractually obliged to provide one in good time. While this seems to suggest predictive scheduling is a must, the law does not specify how long the notice period has to be other than to say it must be reasonable. In the UK, an employer can change shifts with as little as 12 hours notice. This seems far from fair to the employee—especially those on zero-hour contracts, or if the rota is not easily accessible, simple to share or confusing to use. Because of the vague nature of this law, the length of notice can also change from business to business meaning a lack of uniformity across sectors.

On top of this the Working Time Regulations 1998 dictate how long rest periods have to be. Employees have the right to a rest period of 11 uninterrupted hours each day. 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 scheduling.

How Far in Advance Does an Employer Have to Share Employee Schedules?

As mentioned above, this is a grey area legally, with no requirement other than to publish schedules in good time. But the key to predictive scheduling is advanced notice. Work schedules must be given to employees several days or weeks before shifts begin for them to be effective. 

While creating schedules weeks in advance might feel daunting, it doesn’t have to mean extra work. If you already know your employees’ availability, predictive scheduling makes it much easier to plan work around upcoming vacations, time off, or busy seasons. You can then find out which employees are comfortable taking on extra shifts and who might need a better work-life balance.

What If You Have to Change a Schedule?

Once schedules are posted, even small changes can have big implications and may often undo much of the goodwill that predictive scheduling affords. In many countries that enforce predictive scheduling laws employers are required to pay additional compensation if they add to or reduce hours from an employee’s schedule after sharing it. With no legal regulations covering predictive scheduling in the UK, there is no requirement to do this.

If a change does have to be made and a business is employing a predictive scheduling model, its best to relay adaptations at the earliest opportunity. Often, it can soften the blow considerably if those directly impacted are spoken to before the rest of the workforce with clear explanations as to why the change has to take place.

What are the Benefits of Predictive Scheduling?

There are many benefits to using predictive scheduling in the workplace. These include:

  • Happier Employees

Studies have shown that a lack of notice about scheduling is one of the most common factors of unhappy staff. When you don’t know what your schedule is going to be from one day to the next, there’s no way you can plan your life. You simply react to what your employer wants from you. This is especially true with on-call and just-in-time schedules where you can be called into work at short notice and then sent home again after a few hours. 

Without guaranteed shifts, workers can’t plan their personal lives, and they can’t plan their finances. This results in increased stress that ultimately affects employee morale. Predictive scheduling allows employees to see well in advance when they will be working. This allows them to plan their time accordingly as well as planning finances around a more stable pay packet.

  • Happier Employees = Happier Employers

When employee morale is low, it tends to result in performance drops, more sickness issues, and more errors. In turn, this makes it harder to run a business and, conversely, maintain an efficient schedule because you’re likely to have to cover more gaps with less motivated staff.

With predictive scheduling, you can break away from last-minute scheduling and help restore employee morale. Giving your employees certainty about when and how many hours they’ll work can improve performance and lead to increased revenue. Happy employees, at the end of the day, equal happy employers.

  • Manage Paid Time Off Efficiently

Another scheduling challenge is managing paid time off effectively. If you don’t have a clear time off policy or a system that makes time-off requests simple, then it’s going to lead to problems with your scheduling. Predictive scheduling allows employers and employees the opportunity to see schedules far in advance. This makes it easier for both to plan leave well in advance.  

  • Makes It Easier for People to Swap Shifts

Swift swapping can get messy. This is particularly true if you’re doing your scheduling manually or at the last minute. It’s much easier to make shift swapping work if you’re using one central platform for scheduling with shifts published well in advance. Everyone is able to see the schedule, communicate with each other in one place, and trade shifts with the approval of their managers. When done well, shift swapping can help employees gain extra flexibility without impacting on the needs of the business.

How do I Implement Predictive Scheduling?

You may be sold on the benefits of predictive scheduling but are unsure how to implement it. Scheduling is always challenging, which is why businesses rely on just-in-time and on-call schedules in the first place. But it’s not impossible. Here are a few things to think about when looking to implement predictive scheduling in your business.

  • Plan in Advance

Planning in advance is an implicit part of predictive scheduling. You’ve got to be able to look ahead and see what might happen in your business in the weeks and months ahead, as well as predicting what your staff needs will be.

Many businesses hold off scheduling until the last minute to help them understand demand. Others fail to schedule ahead of time simply because it has become a habit. But how many businesses can sit there and say they can’t schedule at least a couple of weeks in advance? 

There’s no reason why schedules can’t be published in advance if you’re taking the time to look ahead and plan. Demand might fluctuate, but you should have access to data that will help you predict the challenges you face. Analyse this data and see where pinch points are. Schedule staff so you can keep cover levels high and to mitigate absences and spikes in demand. Do all this a few weeks in advance and predictive scheduling should be far easier to manage.

  • Use Time Tracking Software

Time tracking software is a good way to better understand your business’s needs. If you can quickly see how many hours your staff are working, how they use their time and when they take their breaks, then you can use this date to help you plan and schedule better. It’s far harder to manage schedules when you’re not sure exactly how many resources you’ll need. Time tracking software can help give you this information.

Time tracking software can also help to ensure that employees are getting paid efficiently and it may even reduce administrative errors. Modern time tracking software makes it effortless for employees to clock in and out, allows managers to edit timesheets, and automatically syncs them with payroll.

  • Keep Old Schedules

Part of planning for the future is understanding the past. If you can access old employee schedules, then you have a good idea of how difficulties were managed last time. For instance, a restaurant can look to see how they coped with a busy period in the past, or a retailer can look at how they managed previous Black Friday schedules. Looking back at old schedules allows you to compare them to your predicted demand for this year. You may even be able to replicate schedules with little need to rewrite new ones. This makes predictive scheduling far easier to manage.

  • Get Input from Employees

One of the biggest parts of predictive scheduling is understanding employees’ preferences and keeping them in the loop. The more input you get from them, the greater the benefit of adopting a predictive scheduling model. When you understand employee’s preferences, it’s much easier to fill shifts, find out who is open to adaptation and who can work at the last minute. It will also give your employees a little bit more control over their work and home life.

In Conclusion

Predicting your workforce needs is never easy. If it was, businesses wouldn’t have to rely on last-minute scheduling and on-call shift patterns. That doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to create schedules ahead of time, so your employees are kept in the loop and are happy. Predictive scheduling is still pretty new in terms of implementation, even if the concepts behind it are as old as employment itself. 

We hope you found our guide informative. For more comprehensive workplace information, 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 :-)