5 Steps to Effective Employee Scheduling

Does employee scheduling feel like an arduous task where nobody wins? Try these tips and watch your morale and productivity improve.



When designing employee work schedules, the task seems simple: take a spreadsheet, organize the shifts, assign the person responsible for each shift, and trust that everyone will show up at the right time and place.

Sound too easy?

Unfortunately, many companies with variable shift requirements regularly deal with miscommunication woes and last-minute changes that make scheduling a burden. What can you do to make workplace scheduling work for everyone?

In addition to following fair workweek rules (giving 2-weeks' notice for schedules, making minimal changes, avoiding "clopenings," and maintaining records), implement the following steps to make your workplace scheduling more employee-friendly and effective.

1.   Include Employees in Scheduling

One major reason scheduling systems fail is because schedulers think about operations first and employees second. To be effective, your schedule must:

  • Include employee input about the best schedule for them. Start the assignments based on requested times to work and needed time off. 

  • Make the schedule visually easy to understand and digitally available for easy sharing.

  • Provide change windows with clear rules that allow employees to make schedule changes without negatively impacting operations or causing too much disarray.

  • Allow employees the mobility to trade shifts, request time off, or cover for each other.

If you do not already have it in place, create an online “trade board” where employees post shifts they are wanting to have covered. In some situations, you may be able to split a full-time shift into part-time shifts to help fill vacancies. This may reduce the uncomfortableness of nagging coworkers to help cover shifts while making it easy for everyone to see what is available. 

Keep in mind that some states and localities penalize employers for not providing work schedules with sufficient advance notice or for making last minute changes. Check your local predictive scheduling laws to ensure you are compliant with regulations.

2.   Prioritize roles and responsibilities

To help distribute responsibilities and ensure people are doing what they should be at the right time:

  • Assign responsibilities to each position. Each role should take care of its own duties and avoid unnecessary overlap.

  • Set expectations for each role. Determine how much time a task should take to be completed and ensure deadlines for a project match the level of responsibility.

  • Conduct regular performance evaluations. Assess performance to ensure employees are working effectively.

When every responsibility has a name and a face, it is much easier to start building a schedule.

3.   Consider rotation schedules

Some companies require multiple daily schedules to sustain operations, such as a gas station that is open 24 hours a day. Implementing schedule rotations may help improve morale while increasing productivity by:

  • Allowing employees flexibility to attend personal events during the week instead of being locked into a single shift each day.

  • Preventing fatigue and burnout from repeatedly working the same shift.

  • Experiencing the ebbs and flows of workloads at different times of day.

  • Stimulating creativity by changing up work groups and work times.

Overall, you may find that rotating schedules keeps your employees energized. To get started, use these rotating shift schedule examples to help map out your plan.

4.   Predict future patterns

Assigning responsibilities and worker rotations will be heavily determined by operational peaks and lows. Have you forecasted which times of year you need the most people working together?  

When planning ahead, predict the volume of work your company will receive in the coming days, weeks, and months, then adjust your team's workload. If you anticipate a decrease in demand at a particular time, schedule fewer people to work at that time to reduce costs and avoid overwork. 

5.   Go back to employees for input on changes

When changes are necessary, consider the needs of your employees to maintain a healthy and productive work environment. Warn your employees well in advance of anticipated schedule changes, offer them the opportunity to change shifts without negative consequences, and allow them to manage their own time off requests. 

Ultimately, the best way to create an effective schedule is to have open dialogue with employees, genuinely listen to them, and implement their feedback whenever possible. Understanding the business needs while also being compassionate on the human side will help keep things in balance. 

For more information, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus HR client? Book a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly.

Original content by Guillermo Navas, edited with permission.

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