Staff Scheduling: How to Make Employee Work Schedules

employee showing customer where to find a product.

Employee scheduling is a never-ending task for managers and business owners. Even under normal circumstances, it can be difficult to accurately anticipate staffing needs and maximize productivity while staying fair to employees.

Because of COVID-19, your employee schedules and business needs are likely in flux. You now need to account for health and safety requirements like sanitizing and testing, along with capacity restrictions on your premises. Before the pandemic, over 50 percent of business owners said they spent at least two hours a week building their team’s schedules, according to research from TSheets. All of these factors underscore the importance of getting strategic and consistent with your staff scheduling.

Using a combination of employee scheduling software and strategic planning, you can give your team the flexibility they need and keep your business running smoothly.

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How to create an employee work schedule

Below are nine employee scheduling techniques to help you schedule employees fairly and fill your business needs.

Think about your scheduling needs ahead of time

When making a schedule for your employees, planning ahead is key.

Check historical sales data in your POS system to make sure you’re adequately staffed during your busiest and quietest times. Use this information to think about whether you’ll need more staff for weekends, late evenings, or the holiday period.

Evaluate your staffing levels and availability

To make employee scheduling work, you’ll need a handle on staff availability. Reviewing your time and attendance data can show you when your team typically works in a given period.

You also want to know when your team prefers to be scheduled. One approach is to let employees choose their regular shifts or apply for open ones through a scheduling app. Depending on their situations, your staff may prefer to work early in the day, at night, during weekdays, or on weekends. Sometimes employees won’t be available because of personal commitments outside work, like increased childcare responsibilities. If you use Square for your POS, the shift scheduling features in Square Team Management allow your team to update their availability directly in the Square Team app.

Having this information in advance also means avoiding two major pitfalls. Too few staff inevitably affects customer service. Too many employees on duty when you’re not busy affects the bottom line.

Create a list of employees who want extra shifts

While it’s essential to know who’s unavailable, having a system for tracking who is available for extra work is also essential. If you know who’s available, you can fill in the gaps whenever there are any last-minute schedule changes.

Some of your employees will appreciate the chance to make extra money, especially with many households affected by furloughs, layoffs, and unemployment. Prioritizing your team’s scheduling preferences means happier employees and higher retention rates.

Create and maintain a list of these employees and their availability so you can offer them extra shifts when work is available. This also makes it easy to know who to call if your planned schedule has to change suddenly because of illness or emergencies.

Follow local rules and regulations

Before you create your final schedule, make sure you’re aware of any local laws or regulations that affect how you can schedule staff. There are federal, state, and local laws for staff covering required breaks, overtime scheduling, overtime pay, and holidays. For example, in some jurisdictions, you have to pay employees double-time if they work more than a certain number of hours a day.

Another issue to pay attention to is predictive scheduling regulations. These are laws that require employers to give early notice of expected hours, and impose additional pay for late scheduling changes. They also cover shift patterns and breaks, and demand more detailed employee scheduling records.

Publish your schedule early

Predictive scheduling laws also require you to plan ahead. For example, you have to let employees know seven to 14 days in advance what their expected shifts will be.

Though situations evolve constantly, it’s ideal to publish your schedule in advance so everyone is aware, even if things change later. A scheduling app is an effective way to keep this information up to date and accessible to everyone. It also prevents you from having to manually print, post, or email schedules, which could increase the chance that an employee doesn’t see it. If you use Square for shift scheduling, employees are automatically notified through the Square Team app and email when schedules are published and changed.

Communicate your employee scheduling rationale effectively

If you want your employees to be happy, keep them informed about your rationale. Tell them when you’re scheduling extra staff because of an expected spike in sales — for the holidays, for instance — or when you’re cutting back because you know sales are going to dip.

And if you give existing employees first refusal on new shifts (which is expected under some predictive scheduling rules), your team needs to know that, too. This approach avoids confusion and allows you to schedule employees fairly and transparently. Plus, many shift workers have multiple jobs to make ends meet, which means they’re also juggling multiple schedules. Keeping them informed about how shifts are allocated can help reduce some of the stress.

Be prepared for changes

If recent world events have shown us anything, it’s that everything can change in seconds. That’s true for your business, and it’s true for employees. If a family member gets sick, a car breaks down, or there is an urgent home repair, employees may need to change gears quickly.

Allow even more flexibility for employees who suddenly need to deal with pandemic-related changes like staggered school schedules or homeschooling. It’s important to be aware that you might have to change your schedule without much notice, so create a process that allows you and your team to quickly find a backup.

Make it easy for employees to access and change schedules

When thinking about how to make a schedule for employees, there’s a lot less stress for everyone if employees can easily access and change their schedules.

As an employer, you don’t have to worry as much about whether shifts are covered, or the customer service issues that happen when they aren’t. And there’s no more confusion about who’s working when.

Give employees the option to alter their schedules, with some ground rules, of course. For example, you could require 24-hour notice for non-emergency schedule changes, like when employees want to trade shifts. In an emergency, you can fall back on your list of staff members who want extra shifts.

Taking this approach makes everyone feel in control of their time, and you don’t have to worry about late changes. In addition, some scheduling apps let employees make their own changes, so it’s one less thing for managers to worry about. For instance, you can allow your team to initiate shift trades with each other, pending your approval, with Square’s Shift Scheduling functionality.

Review your employee schedule regularly

When creating a staff schedule, it can be tempting to copy the schedule from the week before, but this assumes that nothing has changed. Your business is always changing, so review your schedule regularly to make sure it reflects the latest information about your work and your employees’ needs.

For example, if your opening hours are reduced because of the pandemic, or they’re extended because there’s a big holiday promotion, you’ll need to account for that in the schedule.

When it comes to optimizing your staff scheduling, strike a balance between fairness, consistency, and flexibility. With so much uncertainty in nearly every aspect of life, effective scheduling is more important than ever to increase your team’s efficiency and reduce stress.

Square can help you schedule, track, and pay your team, all from one place. Learn more about the new Shift Scheduling features in Square Team Management, and take the hassle out of managing your team.