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Help Reduce the Headaches of Scheduling Employees

A few smart tips from small-business owners may help reduce stress and turnover—and potentially increase profits.
Journalist, freelance writer
September 14, 2017

It's hard enough managing your own time, let alone managing other people's time.

But that, of course, is exactly what you end up doing, the more employees you end up hiring. As you may already know if you have a heavy staff and a lot of hours and days to fill, scheduling hours can be a major undertaking. People get sick, or they may not always appreciate working odd hours.

Maybe you have a lot of turnover, meaning old hands work more to compensate for holes in the schedule. Family emergencies can throw off your workers' schedules. Scheduling poorly may create a poor business model.

"Overstaffed situations get boring for everyone. If understaffed, you're going to burn out your team members who pick up the slack, and those that pick up will be your best team members—the last ones you want to burn out," says Travis Doherty, a co-founder of TixTime.com, a comprehensive employee scheduling service.

Doherty adds, "It costs way more to find and train new staff than it does to take better care of the team you have."

If you're stressing over scheduling, consider trying the following.

Treat your employees the way you'd like to be treated.

As much as possible, try and give the hours and days that are best for your employees, suggests Dean Clarino, a Las Vegas-based franchisee of restaurant chain Teriyaki Madness. "If they're happy and get what they want, they will be more consistent and reliable," he says.

Consider making the schedules as far out in advance as possible. Many companies, especially those with a lot of part-timers and practically a round-the-clock workforce, only offer just-in-time scheduling, where employees get little advance notice of what the next week's shift will look like.

If understaffed, you're going to burn out your team members who pick up the slack, and those that pick up will be your best team members—the last ones you want to burn out.

–Travis Doherty, co-founder, TixTime.com 

Clarino, however, doesn't recommend that. "Never wait until Sunday to put up Monday's schedule," he says.

It may seem like it's a bad idea for your bottom line to plan out your schedule well in advance: What if you inadvertently overstaff or understaff due to factors out of your control, such as the weather or local events that affect the traffic in your place of business? But as a trade-off, you may make your employees happier, since they can plan their lives accordingly, which may mean less turnover. Employees may also be able to plan their finances more accordingly, since they'll know further ahead of time what their hours are going to be. Fluctuating paychecks may save you money in the short run, but that, too, may hasten your employee turnover.

But mapping out an employee's hours ahead of time may help you—it gives you days, not minutes, to make a contingency plan if the schedule doesn't work well for some of your staff.

Schedule strategically.

"When doing your schedule, make sure you're fully staffed on the busiest days first, then work on filling the slower days of the week," says Vasili Bykau, performance improvement consultant at Sarpino’s, an Italian pizza and gourmet cuisine restaurant franchise based in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Some other tips from Bykau:

  • "Monitor any special events, such as sporting events or promotions." In other words, if there's going to be any serious foot traffic coming your way due to a local festival or concert, you may want to be ready.
  • "Try to develop a schedule so you have a well-balanced team working each day." The last thing you need is to have your newest, untested employees manning the ship.

Master your scheduling communication skills.

In the old days, you may have had workers coming into a store or restaurant after the schedule was posted, only to have employees realize that they couldn't take a particular shift. But now, with the advent of technology, there's almost no reason for employees not to see the schedule immediately, assuming your employees are all plugged in.

Clarino says he takes a photo of the schedule and texts his employees in a group at one time. "This way, we can all see the responses," he says. If a worker needs a Saturday off, that worker can text the group, and often an employee will volunteer to switch days, instantly solving the scheduling problem for Clarino.

Some creative thinking has the potential to save someone who is always late. "Talk to them," Doherty advises, adding that maybe you shouldn't be starting everyone on the hour or half hour.

"Maybe starting the employee at 8:20 would be better for everyone," he says. "For example, if they drop their kids off at school at 8, then you don't have to wait until 9 to start their shift. Just move the start time forward a tiny bit."

Know the laws of scheduling.

If you just schedule for what's best for your business and not what's best for your employees, you may end up going afoul of the law. For more information on how to schedule employees and stay within the law, visit the U.S. Department of Labor's website.

Schedule to accommodate your growth. 

Since every business is different, there's no universal way of deciding if you need two people manning your store, or three, or 12. A lot of what you do may require guesswork, but it is possible to come up with a system for making educated guesses.

For instance, Knee Walker Central is a national company headquartered in New York City that rents knee walkers—a type of scooter that allows people with a leg injury to move around without using crutches. The company has eight full-time employees and one part-time employee, with hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. While everyone's schedules are fairly consistent, the company risks getting blown off course if it doesn't pay attention to how it schedules its employees. 

The company's rentals have been growing, according to CEO Mark Krassner, and he takes that into account when he schedules his employees to fill orders.

"What we do is calculate sales volume for the previous month as well as percentage of growth in that month, and apply that to the following month," Krassner says. "For example, if in March we took 10,000 orders and our percentage of growth was 20 percent, that would mean that we would expect to take 12,000 orders in April."

But because Krassner always wants to make sure the customer service is up to par, he assumes they'll sell another 15 percent, "meaning we would plan on having enough staff to handle 13,500 orders," he says. "Some months we can lose money because we're staffed too high, but we've found that over time we come out ahead, because we are always able to handle surges in our sales, and therefore capture more revenue during busy times." 

The information contained in this article is for generalized informational and educational purposes only and is not designed to substitute for, or replace, a professional opinion about any particular business or situation or judgment about the risks or appropriateness of any financial or business strategy or approach for any specific business or situation. THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. The views and opinions expressed in authored articles on OPEN Forum represent the opinion of their author and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions and/or judgments of American Express Company or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions (including, without limitation, American Express OPEN). American Express makes no representation as to, and is not responsible for, the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or reliability of any opinion, advice or statement made in this article.

A version of this article was originally published on March 16, 2015.

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Photo: Getty Images
Journalist, freelance writer