Planning employee shifts: Tips and best practices

by Rotageek on 31 May 2022

Nobody ever said planning employee shifts was easy. It can be a long, complicated, and thankless task. And when you make a mistake, you’re probably going to hear about it – either from disgruntled employees or from your fellow managers who want to know why there aren’t enough (or are too many) staff on the shift.

Rotageek, as always, is ready to help. Whether you choose our AI-powered, supercharged staff scheduling solutions, or you read this post, we’re here with the tools you need to master employee shift planning.

So, let’s just dive straight into the tips and best practices, shall we?

1. Build on past shift schedules and other data

An effective shift schedule places the right number of the right staff on every shift. The way to do that is to accurately forecast labour demand for the coming weeks.

It’s not a moment for guesswork, and intuition will only take you so far. What you need is data on:

  • Labour demand – by hour, weekday, and season
  • Employee availability and preferences – so you don’t hand out shifts your staff can’t work
  • Employee skills – having the most suitably-skilled staff for each shift can help you provide better customer experiences

Archive your past shift schedules and track your busy and quiet times. You can analyse this data to forecast future labour demand. Taking a data-driven approach like this will help you plan better schedules. It could even help you save on labour costs, by reducing over-staffing.

Did you know? Rotageek software records labour demand and employee information for you, and creates ideal schedules based on analysis of all of your data. Learn more.

2. Brush up on your legal knowledge

We know – nobody wants to spend their time reading dry legal documents. But the alternative could be a fine for your business.

So, get to know the Working Time Regulations and make sure your rotas follow them. The basics include requirements such as:

  • Providing shift schedules within reasonable time
  • Not scheduling workers with more than 48 hours of work per week, unless they’re exempt from this rule
  • Give workers at least 11 hours’ rest per day and a full day off per week
  • Schedule 20-minute breaks as part shifts of six hours or more

There’s more to learn, and you can find it on the UK Government and Health and Safety Executive websites.

3. Brace yourself for change

We all want to plan for perfect shift schedule, and sometimes we really believe we’ve done it. And after all the hard work of planning a schedule, nobody really wants to hear about problems and change requests.

But like it or not, change is part of the job. Planning shifts is a balancing act, and you always need to consider your workers’ rights and needs.

So, be flexible. Be gracious. Be smart enough to know that even the “perfect” shift schedule might need to change, and be ready to roll with it.

Did you know? Rotageek’s Autoscheduling software creates ideal shift schedules for you with a few clicks – and when a schedule needs to change, you can simply adjust a few things and create a new one just as quick.

4. Publish shift schedules early

The sooner you publish your employee shift schedule – that is, the sooner you give it to your staff – the sooner they can tell you about any problems they have with it.

If an employee has a dentist appointment, or they want to request a shift swap or take annual leave, or they spotted a mistake in the schedule that you didn’t, you want to know about it early.

The sooner you know about shift schedule problems, the more time you have to fix them. Publish early – and keep time on your side!

5. Make good communication a top priority

It’s not enough to have a perfect shift schedule, or even to publish it early. You need to be 100% certain that staff have seen it, or things are going to go badly wrong.

Use the best communication tools you have. Even better, use a combination of the best tools you have. It could be a noticeboard, although not every staff member is guaranteed to see that. It could be a web page or email. Some companies even use a WhatsApp group.

Whatever you choose, make sure you:

  • Consult with staff about the communication methods that work for them. Make sure everyone is able to receive their schedule.
  • Inform staff about how they will receive their schedule once you’ve chosen your methods.
  • Give staff an official channel to respond to their schedule, for example to request a change or shift swap.

Good communication is likely to mean a happier workplace, because staff will feel valued. Make it a top scheduling priority!

Did you know? Rotageek solutions provide a built-in communication platform, including a mobile app staff can use to receive and respond to schedules. 

Ready to leave manual scheduling behind?

There’s a lot to think about when planning staff shifts. If you want to simplify legal scheduling, compliance, and communication – and optimise labour costs – we believe digital or auto-scheduling software is the best way to value.

If you’d like to know more, read our ultimate guide to shift planning software: The definitive guide to employee scheduling.

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