Employee scheduling is an important part of business management. Bad scheduling can cause a lot of problems. Smart employers understand that effective scheduling can improve your business.

What are your goals for employee scheduling? 1. Schedules should ensure quality customer service. 2. Schedules should ensure profitability. 3. Schedules should help maintain high employee satisfaction and loyalty. 4. Schedules should comply with all applicable labor laws.

Schedule building is a skill. You can become better at it. Here are 6 easy tips to improve your schedule-building prowess.

1. Use Workforce Management for Employee Scheduling

I put this tip first because the techniques that follow depend on it. It doesn’t matter what type of business you have—you need the right tool for the job.

Workforce management systems help you make efficient schedules. And you can do it quickly with built-in templates. Customizable scheduling rules prevent coverage gaps or overstaffing. Enter employee profiles to guide your scheduling. The system will alert you to scheduling conflicts. It will ensure that you have employees with the necessary qualifications for each shift. Good scheduling software allows one manager to create schedules for many locations, teams, or projects.

2. Create Schedules Several Weeks (or Months) in Advance

Unless you are a start-up, you understand the staffing needs of your company. They may vary with the season and production demands. Some employers argue that “just-in-time” scheduling is more efficient. They require employees to be on call in case they are needed at the last minute. This practice does more harm than good. Employers who require on-call shifts end up with frustrated employees. Unpredictable schedules are responsible for high employee turnover. Create schedules as far in advance as possible. Make sure your employees understand that there may be last-minute changes. Most employees, however, won’t be affected. Studies have shown that there is far less schedule unpredictability than business owners realize. Employee scheduling software allows you to make standard schedules and copy forward. You can adjust them as needed, but you will find that they are fairly stable.

3. Understand Your Employees’ Needs and Wants

Ideally, this should begin with the first interview. Find out when an employee is available and how many hours they want to work. Availability and shift preferences should be important factors in the hiring decisions. Unless there is a severe labor shortage in your area, you should be able to hire people who want a variety of schedules. Take some time to put the shift preferences puzzle pieces together. As mentioned previously, use the employee profiles tool in your scheduling software. Enter every piece of information about each employee—even if you don’t think it’s necessary. Update as needed. You only need to enter this information one time but you will reap the benefits every time you build a schedule.

4. Think Outside the Box

Don’t assume that “because it’s always been done this way” is an excuse for failing to innovate. If you’ve never experimented with creative scheduling it’s probably because you use spreadsheets. If the busiest times during the day are mornings and afternoons, some of your employees might want a “midday workout” schedule. This is for people who like to exercise longer than a standard lunch break—or do errands when it’s not rush hour. Schedule the willing workers to have three hours off around lunchtime. You will meet staffing demands and not pay for unnecessary labor hours when it’s not busy.

Some full-time employees might prefer working four 10-hour shifts during the week. Line those up with your busiest days and the employees will have two extra hours to catch up on days they really need it.

5. Simplify Shift Trading With an Online Trade Board

Many managers are afraid of loosening up shift trading policies. They worry about short-handed shifts. They worry about miscommunication leading to no-shows. They worry about the balance of new and experienced employees on a shift.

Employee scheduling software with an online trade board has been a boon to many companies. If you set shift rules in your employee scheduling software, it will prevent the problems mentioned previously. An online trade board works great for businesses with a lot of part-time employees and many short shifts. The employees handle their own trades per manager approval. Employees are able to post a shift on the board when they have an unexpected conflict. Employees who want more hours can snap up more shifts. Schedule control is a valuable perk. Employees stay with companies that support their work/life balance.

6. Create an Absence Management Plan

An absence management plan is a set of policies that manage time off. It addresses planned time off like vacations and family leave. It also addresses unplanned absences like sick time. When employees follow the proper protocols, there is less impact on productivity and workflows. Workforce management software analytics help managers identify chronic absences. The manager can then work with the employee(s) to address the problem.

TimeSimplicity from SwipeClock has smart tools for easy, hassle-free scheduling. TimeSimplicity does more than schedule employees. It empowers your employees to engage in scheduling. This reduces the administrative burden on your managers and admin staff.

With TimeSimplicity, you can use nonstandard schedules. This helps you stay productive with your current staff. Save money by not having to hire more employees. Keep experienced employees by accommodating their schedule preferences.

TimeSimplicity identifies gaps in shift coverage and sends SMS alerts. Compliance tools help you follow minimum wage regulations, Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions, and Fair Work Week laws. Analytics reveal trends that allow you to optimize your shift scheduling for ongoing improvement.

By Liz Strikwerda

Liz Strikwerda