February 15, 2024

Learn how to create an employee schedule

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An employee schedule is the cornerstone of a well-run organization, but creating and communicating one can be time-consuming and difficult. Between ensuring proper coverage, remaining compliant with labor laws, and maintaining a positive employee experience, it can quickly become a logistical headache.

Many managers are looking for a reliable, efficient way to generate an accurate employee schedule that does more than specify staffing and shifts. It should also include backup plans and empower employees, all while adhering to labor regulations and staying within budget.

But how do you create an employee schedule that meets all of your organization’s and employees’ needs? Read on to learn how to make a great employee schedule and why employee scheduling is important for your organization.

How to make a schedule for employees

An efficient employee schedule functions in a few essential ways: It communicates shifts clearly to all employees, keeps costs within your labor budget, adapts to last-minute changes, and empowers employees by providing full access and visibility. Here are a few techniques and general best practices to help you create an accurate and effective employee schedule that keeps your organization compliant and boosts efficiency:

1. Get to know your team and their needs

The first step in creating an accurate employee schedule is to learn about all the members of your team. Start by gathering information necessary for determining when and in what capacity each employee can work, including:

  • Relevant certifications or licenses
  • Employment status (full-time versus part-time)
  • Overtime restrictions
  • Work preferences (for example, shift preferences)
  • Personality and work style
  • Availability

These details can help you make sure that when you schedule an employee, they’re not only available but are well-suited to that shift depending on their needs and preferences.

2. Evaluate demand

Now that you’ve recorded important information about each employee, it’s time to consider your staffing needs based on demand. Demand can fluctuate depending on a variety of factors. The season, time of day, day of the week, and even local events can all affect traffic. For instance, if you’re managing a coffee shop, you may need more baristas in the mornings and on weekends. Similarly, if you’re running a hotel in a downtown area, you might need more staff during high-travel periods or business conferences. You can then compare your organization’s demand against your employees’ availability so you can match workers’ preferences and availability to your staffing needs.

Finding the right balance between understaffing and overstaffing is tricky. With too little staff, customers may have a poor experience, and your employees might burn out. Too many staff may mean unnecessarily high labor costs. Make sure your employee schedule reflects these changes in demand over time so that you aren’t caught short-staffed for a high-traffic period or with too many employees during a lull. With employee scheduling software, you can use historical schedules to better predict demand and estimate how much staff you’ll need.

3. Schedule to your employees’ strengths, skills, and qualifications

A great employee schedule does more than align workload with availability; it plays to your employees’ strengths. For example, scheduling introverts during quieter periods and extroverts during busier times can help employees capitalize on their personalities.

Depending on your organization, you may need to account for specific certifications, licenses, or degrees. For instance, a restaurant may need to know which employees have a current license to serve alcohol, or a recreation center may need a certain number of certified lifeguards for shifts when the pool is open. Employee scheduling software can help you track which skills and qualifications you’ll need for each shift and which staff members have up-to-date licenses and certifications.

4. Honor scheduling preferences and time off requests when possible

Employee retention becomes easier when employees feel like managers are listening. To the extent possible, try to account for when employees want to work and when they’d like time off. Tracking overlapping time off requests and availability information for multiple employees can be challenging, but keeping scheduling preferences and time off requests in one place that you can refer to and incorporate into the schedule makes it a bit easier to navigate. Employee scheduling software allows you to store and access this data securely and easily.

5. Follow rules and legal requirements

An employee schedule is a crucial tool in remaining compliant with federal, state, and local laws as well as collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with unions. With varying and overlapping regulations, remaining compliant is challenging, especially when creating a schedule manually. Scheduling software can help you adhere to company policies, CBAs, and labor laws pertaining to specific circumstances, such as:

  • Meal break rules
  • Minor workers
  • Student workers
  • Minimum staffing requirements (for public safety agencies)
  • Right to rest

6. Create a schedule that aligns with your labor budget

An employee schedule should also help you stay within your labor budget. If you know how much you can spend on labor costs for a given time period, you can schedule employees based on their pay rate and keep costs in check. The right scheduling software can help you see each employee’s pay type and rate while creating the schedule so that you don’t accidentally overspend.

7. Consider all the details

Now that you’ve considered the factors essential to creating an effective schedule—including demand, labor budget, communication, and the employee experience—you have a strong foundation for making informed scheduling decisions. However, it’s important to consider other details that may be specific to your organization, such as:

  • What locations do I need to staff?
  • What positions will I need for each shift?
  • What’s the length of each shift, including meal breaks?
  • Do I need to incorporate rotations to make sure the demand on employees is balanced?

You may find it helpful to talk to other members of your management team or another colleague who has experience with scheduling. That way, when it’s time to create an employee schedule, you can do so knowing you have the information you need to inform and engage employees throughout the scheduling process. With the right employee scheduling software, you’ll have the tools you need, too.

8. Create an effective team communication system

Once you’ve created your schedule, you need a way to communicate it to your employees. In an era when employees may be balancing multiple jobs or working across locations, it’s more important than ever to make the schedule available to all employees as quickly as possible, regardless of where they are. Communicating the schedule through email or by posting a schedule on a wall will likely lead to scheduling mix-ups. Some employees might not see an email or notice the new schedule, and subsequent changes could easily become lost.

Using employee scheduling software that offers a mobile app is a great way to share schedules. Employees can receive notifications as soon as a schedule becomes available, and the app can alert them to any updates or new shifts to pick up.

9. Publish the schedule in advance

Sharing the schedule ahead of time is a key way to create a positive employee experience. In some states and cities, publishing the schedule in advance is a requirement under predictive scheduling laws. For example, San Francisco’s Formula Retail Employee Rights Ordinance (FRERO) requires employers to publish schedules at least two weeks in advance and provide additional pay if they change an employee’s schedule with less than seven days’ notice.

Short scheduling lead times are a negative but common employee experience: 55% of shift workers say they need more notice than what their employer usually provides. Giving employees less than a week’s notice means that they may have to scramble to juggle commitments like childcare or other jobs. As a result, employees can become burnt out, and over time, turnover is likely to increase. Publishing the schedule as early as possible also decreases the likelihood that employees will need to swap shifts or request changes, preventing last-minute coverage issues.

10. Empower staff to co-own their schedules

Including employees in the scheduling process is an important step in generating a schedule that will work for all employees—and a powerful method to give staff more agency. The Harvard Business Review found that 83% of employees said that if they had more control over their schedule, they’d be more likely to stay in their job.

Using employee scheduling software can allow employees to trade shifts through an app, enter their availability and shift preferences, request time off, and view updates to their schedules. When employees feel like they have a level of control and visibility into scheduling, they’re more likely to feel appreciated and respected at work.

11. Prepare early and have a backup plan

Once you’ve created and shared an accurate employee schedule, be ready for the unexpected. Illnesses, unplanned absences, and emergencies are par for the course, so the best employee schedule has backup plans—and backup plans for the backup plans.

Traditionally, covering shifts at the last minute required managers to use time-consuming and frustrating processes like phone trees and email chains. Between cross-referencing availability, reaching out to staff, and fielding return phone calls and messages, trying to solve a problem became a problem in itself. Scheduling software can keep a list of available and qualified workers if someone calls in and says they can’t make their shift. This reduces the potential issues associated with finding last-minute coverage and minimizes tedious administrative tasks by instead sending automated notifications to quickly fill the shift.

12. Use templates to make employee scheduling easier

When you’re ready to create an employee schedule, it’s important to establish an efficient method that allows you to repeat the task as needed without sacrificing accuracy. A key feature of reliable employee scheduling software is the ability to create templates for automated scheduling.

Using a template removes the upfront effort of creating a framework for which types of shifts you need to fill with what kinds of employees and on what cadence. It also enables you to incorporate data about the needs of your organization and employees, so the software can reference them each time it automates a schedule. Once you’ve customized the template to meet your organization’s needs, you can use it again and again, saving hours for each new schedule.

13. Use reporting to improve scheduling over time

Using software for your employee scheduling needs allows you to improve your scheduling practices over time. Reports show you important trends, such as which employees are accruing overtime and when employees are working more or less than their expected hours.

Most employee scheduling software offers reporting, but not all offer real-time, in-the-moment feedback. The difference is that standard reporting tells you what happened after it already occurred; with real-time feedback, you’ll be notified of potential overtime (or other conflicts) during the scheduling process. This allows you to prevent overtime issues before they arise and make scheduling changes as necessary. Then, if an employee goes into overtime, you can rest assured that it was planned and unavoidable.

That’s not to say that standard reporting doesn’t serve a purpose. Analyzing reports about completed shifts can give you crucial insight into scheduling trends so you can determine whether they’re effective. For example, determining how much overtime employees worked and which employees worked those shifts can tell you whether concerns like favoritism, burnout, and excessive spending should be on your radar. This gives you the data you need to start important conversations with organizational leaders around scheduling and hiring.

Why is employee scheduling important?

Employee scheduling can affect every facet of your organization, including customer satisfaction, labor costs, regulatory compliance, employee retention, and operational overhead. Here are some reasons effective employee scheduling is important to the success of any organization:

Ensures operational efficiency

A strong employee schedule ensures that you have the right number of people on the job with the right qualifications. These essential factors of adequate staffing contribute to operational efficiency by allowing organizations to meet their goals and the expectations of their employees and customers. Additionally, with backup plans built into the schedule, any last-minute changes or gaps in coverage won’t lead to scheduling disasters.

Decreases employee turnover rates

Employees leave jobs for many reasons, but a major factor is too little scheduling notice, which leads to burnout and poor work-life balance. Over time, employees are more likely to look for another role. High turnover rates increase the time spent on hiring and onboarding, which can quickly become expensive. High turnover may also hurt the company’s reputation, leading to recruiting challenges.

Increases employee productivity

Higher employee satisfaction often translates to high efficiency. When employees feel their managers respect them and that they can maintain a desirable work-life balance, they’re more likely to feel confident in their roles and engaged with their work. With adequate scheduling, employees are able to arrive at work on time feeling well-rested and ready to do their jobs effectively.

Systematic scheduling also promotes productivity, as it allows staff to focus on their work instead of scrambling to fill in the scheduling gaps during shifts. Empowering employees in this way can prevent common issues associated with inefficient scheduling, including poor staff and customer experiences.

Promotes work-life balance and employee empowerment

Employees want their managers to respect their personal and professional lives by taking their availability, preferences, and time off requests into account. Ideally, they even have some say and autonomy in schedule creation, such as initiating shift swaps and visibility into open shift opportunities. By empowering employees to co-own their schedules, you can create an environment in which staff members feel respected and valued.

Keeps labor budgets on track

Labor is often the biggest business expense with a huge impact on the bottom line, and common issues like overtime can cause labor budgets to spiral out of control. An effective employee schedule can help you avoid exceeding your labor budget by preventing overstaffing and unneeded overtime. Additionally, an employee schedule can serve as a reference point if you need to determine if someone is working more or less than their scheduled hours. This visibility is crucial when understanding why and how labor budgets are going off track.

Keeps organizations in compliance

Employee schedules serve an important legal purpose: helping companies remain compliant with regulations at the federal, state, and local level. Failing to comply can lead to hefty fines, legal penalties, and reputational damage. Employee scheduling is also critical to keeping companies in compliance with CBAs and internal policies, minimum staffing requirements, and safety rules. An automated employee scheduling platform can manage complex scheduling and compliance requirements to keep your organization safe from financial risks and establish you as an employer of choice.

Maximize productivity and efficiency with an automated employee scheduling solution from TCP Software

With so many critical details to consider, employee scheduling is a lot to manage. So many organizations are still using manual processes or unspecialized software to create, maintain, and communicate schedules, and it’s not working. Managers often find themselves sifting through shared spreadsheets with precise formulas and conditional formatting, which leaves plenty of room for human error and lost time. When last-minute changes get lost in emails and voicemails, scheduling mix-ups that can lead to financial penalties, reputational risks, and a poor employee experience are inevitable.

TCP’s employee scheduling solutions eliminate these inefficient and unsustainable tasks by automating your employee scheduling process based on the specific needs of your organization. We believe that organizations shouldn’t have to choose between meeting their goals and empowering employees, no matter how complex their requirements are. That’s why we offer configurable solutions designed to fit the unique needs of your organization—not the other way around.

To learn more about how employee scheduling is a critical component of the workforce management ecosystem, download our eBook. For a customized look into how TCP can meet your organization’s employee scheduling needs, talk to an expert today.