Best Practices to Create Work Schedules
There may be no such thing as the perfect work schedule. However, you can make scheduling a fair process that makes most (if not all) of your employees happy.
Keep in mind: schedule flexibility is proven to increase both work productivity and retention. Likewise, 75% of shift workers would like a more stable and predictable schedule. With that in mind, these are our suggestions for winning schedule creation strategies.
1. Evaluate Employee Preferences
The first best practice of scheduling is to respect your employees’ preferences whenever possible. When someone is first hired, ask them to fill out a schedule availability form. (To make things easy, we’ve provided an example template in the next section.)
You should also audit employee availability frequently. Ask employees to update their availability on a quarterly basis. Encourage your employees to come to you immediately if a conflict arises.
2. Create a Fair Attendance Policy
Life happens. From time to time, your employees will need to miss work. They will also experience schedule conflicts that cause them to arrive late or leave early.
Some workplaces with shift schedules use a point system to punish employees for tardies and absences. However, such point systems can be problematic. They often don’t distinguish between causes for lateness or missed work, and can even be a violation of protected rights.
A fair attendance policy communicates that employees are expected to arrive on-time for scheduled shifts. It should also outline criteria for job abandonment (i.e., when failure to show up for work counts as a voluntary departure from the company), as well as disciplinary action (or what counts as “excessive absenteeism”). The Society for Human Resources Management is a good resource for creating an attendance policy.
3. Adhere to Labor Laws
When creating your schedule and absence policy, you should consult federal and state labor laws. As of 2023, 14 states require paid sick leave. Certain laws may also dictate how you go about creating schedules.
For example, in Michigan, the Employee Fair Scheduling Act states that schedules must be posted 14 days prior to the beginning of the workweek. Additionally, schedule modifications must take place more than 96 hours in advance of a given shift.
Other regulations may specify the amount of time between scheduled shifts. Regardless of law, it’s best practice to give employees at least 12 hours off between shifts. Research indicates that having less than 12 hours of rest before returning to work greatly increases the likelihood of occupational accidents.
4. Consider Workload
To create an effective schedule, you’ll need to determine when you’ll have the most staffing needs. Analyzing historical sales data will give insight into when you’ll have the most labor demand.
For example, if you’re writing schedules for a grocery store, you probably already know you’ll need extra staff around Thanksgiving. However, you might be surprised to learn that your shoppers tend to cause a rush on Saturdays at 2pm. By looking at your sales data, you’ll anticipate the crowd and know when you need all hands on deck.
Likewise, take project deadlines into account. This may reveal when schedules are tightest, like at the end of the month. With this insight, you can schedule to create workflows that optimize productivity and minimize disruption.
5. Publish Schedules Early
Publish schedules early and often. In fact, depending on where you live, this may even be required by law. A staggering 70% of shift workers report experiencing last-minute schedule changes. Unpredictable schedules hurt worker retention, and also can lead to under staffing.
Publish your new work schedule at least 2 weeks in advance. If possible, a month is even better. This will give employees ample time to anticipate potential conflicts and notify you of necessary changes.
6. Make Schedule Changes Easy
In addition to publishing your work schedule calendar as early as possible, make it easy for employees to swap shifts when needed. The option to conveniently alter their own schedules will not only improve your workforce’s availability. It also provides flexibility that will improve worker retention.
The best way to do this is to outline some ground rules for schedule changes. For example, for non-emergencies, employees should request changes a week in advance. You can also ask employees to coordinate their own shift changes by reaching out to co-workers who are available to swap.
Finally, you should create a system for documenting schedule changes, and update your official schedule to reflect the changes as soon as they’re final. We’ve provided a template for schedule change requests in the next section.
7. Avoid Common Schedule Errors
If you want to perfect your schedule writing technique, making them error-free is a no-brainer. Here are the 4 most common schedule errors to look out for:
- Double-scheduling occurs when a single employee is scheduled for overlapping shifts.
- Under scheduling occurs when employees aren’t scheduled for enough hours.
- Over scheduling occurs when an employee is scheduled for more hours than they've agreed to work
- Scheduling for the wrong position, like scheduling an entry-level employee as a shift leader.
Before publishing your schedule, double-check for these errors.
8. Note Who’s Willing to Work More
Want a win-win strategy for scheduling? Make a list of who’s willing to pick up extra work. If your shift is down a worker, you have a rolodex of employees to call on to fill the void.
This is especially helpful if you have part-time employees who work a shift schedule. A third of part-time workers would prefer to work more. Additionally, some full-time workers will gladly work longer hours in exchange for overtime pay.
We recommend polling your workers to see who’s open to extra shift every quarter. Encourage your workers to communicate with you about their evolving schedule preferences and availability.
9. Track Employee Time
Last but not least: use a time-tracking system to log employee time. For hourly employees and shift workers, a time clock is the most common solution.
A time clock will help you keep track of employee attendance, hours worked, and general productivity. This will help you optimize scheduling for business outcomes.
While a traditional punch clock might suit the needs of small businesses with one location, modern technology has given way to more advanced time clock software that can streamline multiple processes. For example, OnTheClock’s cloud-based time clock includes scheduling features, PTO tracking, and payroll integration.
In other words, time clock software with built-in scheduling can save you a lot of time.