Employee shift scheduling should be a breeze, right?! You don’t want scheduling to take up much of your time but it still does. Your average manager spends 3.14 hours a week making up the employee schedule. Even major brands and large corporations get massive scheduling migraines, and have been known to make million-dollar errors in their shift scheduling.
If the big guys, with all their experience and budgets make errors, then you would expect that for a small business employee scheduling and shift management would be a losing battle. But, it doesn’t have to be.
Think of your shift scheduling like a machine with a lot of moving parts that all have to work together for the machine to function properly and, for the most part, automatically. If one part fails, the others have to pick up the slack. If they fail, then your machine just needs some fixing.
As far as machines go, the good ones rarely require maintenance while some are barely held together with duct tape and good intentions. If your employee shift scheduling is one of those rusty old spreadsheet-based scheduling or (Gods forbid) manual scheduling, common glitches can cost you a pretty penny.
What happened at RyanAir and what does it mean?
In September 2017, the airline was forced to cancel 20,000 flights due to rostering problems, leaving Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers unable to staff pilots to planes. The result was a sh#* storm of epic proportions that the pilots used to their advantage and put the squeeze on management.
Unsurprisingly, RyanAir were caught with their safety belts unbuckled. Not a good flight plan for a company whose tagline is “Always Getting Better”.
Scheduling mistakes can cost you
I think we can all agree that scheduling mistakes can end up costing you. How much? Well, RyanAir was forced to promise pilots improved pay and conditions, which it claims to exceed those offered by rivals. However, that’s not going to be enough to avoid this happening in the future. That’s why the company is hiring hundreds of pilots hoping to bring its crewing ratio to 11.0 pilots per aircraft, from 10.5, in time for European summer vacations.
RyanAir also invested in the optimization of shift scheduling and absence logging, including a new crew control mobile phone app. Process optimization and adoption of mobile employee apps don’t make press release headlines but are just as integral to RyanAir’s plan to avoid costly pilot schedule management near-misses.
How not to be the next RyanAir and save a bit of money on shift scheduling
if you’re like our average manager from before you probably spend a good bit of time creating your shift rota. But, it doesn’t end there. What about swapping shifts? scheduling changes? Imagine what you and your team could do if you could make scheduling not suck! What if I told you that you can do that while dropping expenses associated with unplanned absences, as well as the costs of understaffing and overstaffing.
- Plan your shift schedules well in advance
- Just say no to on-call scheduling
- Keep your eye on overtime
- Respond in time
- Fair (and smart) shift distribution
- Simplify shift swapping
- How shift managers can benefit from predictive analytics
- Ditch the paper, switch to software
1. Plan your shift schedules well in advance
Timing is everything. For example, you can reduce absences and absence requests by simply providing employees with work schedules beforehand. More time to prepare and swap shifts provides employees with the flexibility they need to move things around to match their shift schedules.
Giving everyone plenty of room to plan and adjust is also bound to reduce the rate of last-minute scrambling to find replacements. You know which one – the one eating up those manager work-hours.
Easier said than done?
Sure, planning the employee rota two or three weeks in advance may sound like a daunting task. However, having a system in place to let employees enter their shift preferences in advance and view the planned and up-to-date schedules a few week ahead helps reduce the overall stress and tension associated with last-minute schedule postings.
It’s all about creating routines and improving the way you work. Like any good boy scout will tell you spending time on preparation now will save you time later and let you get into a groove where shifts are prepared way in advance. That way, even if changes come, and they will come, you’ll be ready for them.
Not to mention, a predictable schedule keeps your employees happy and engaged with your organization. They can maintain a life outside of work and for working parents that means a lot. A predictable schedule could mean your employees decide to stay with you for much longer, solving, what is probably, the greatest ailment of hourly labor – turnover.
According to a CAP study, the cost of replacing an employee is about 16% of their annual salary. Maintaining a predictable schedule could end up saving you more than just a chunk of change, it could be a game changer for your business.
2. Just say no to on-call scheduling
On-call scheduling is the practice of requesting employees to call in before their shift starts and verify they are actually needed. Scheduling employees for a shift and then sending them home if the shift is slow is a dubious practice at best and could actually cost you more money than it saves. Very much related to the above, schedules need to be predictable, not just for the manager’s sake but for the employee.
Until recently, most large retailers would practice on-call scheduling but due to strong regulatory and public pressure The Gap, A&F, Starbucks, and others have promised to end on-call scheduling. However, in my opinion, that’s only a small part of the story. What they’re not telling you is that they have stockholders to think of and if there were large profits to be had in on-call scheduling they would still be doing it.
The real deal is that on-call scheduling is not just bad for PR it’s a bad solution to a growing problem, which is unoptimized scheduling that ends up costing you money in overstaffing. There are better and more cost effective ways to solve this problem but it does require managers being very data oriented and keeping track of everything that happens in their business.
3. Keep your eye on overtime
An optimized schedule isn’t just for retailers, it’s also very important in other industries. When it comes to contractors OT is where the money’s at. There is a common misconception that overtime actually costs you nothing since all fixed overhead is already accounted for in a standard 40 hour work week. The additional pay and expenses is offset because you’ve already accounted for that as fixed overhead.
For that to work, you have to be very good at bidding your clients, on the one hand, and managing the productivity of your employees, on the other. Just doing one of the two can be challenging enough. If you can manage both on an ongoing basis then you’ve got this contracting thing figured out.
For all the rest of humans this is what usually happens (example courtesy of WoodWeb):
Let’s say you’re on a fixed price job and for whatever reason, you’re a day behind through no fault of your own and with no penalty (in other words, you were behind because of something like a rain delay and not just because something took longer than usual).
Would you work the weekend paying your people OT even though you figured the job at the regular time rate, just so that you can start another job you had previously scheduled to start on Monday and therefore put off it’s start until Tuesday? The answer is you work the weekend OT at the regular rate (it’s a wash), but because you are able to, then start the next job on time and you haven’t lost any throughput days.
A second example illustrates how you need to account for overtime as accurately as possible beforehand or it ends up costing you:
For example, your overhead is based on 320 man hours for the month (2 men at 40 hour weeks for 1 month), and you only utilize 240 of those hours, and 40 of those 240 are at overtime.
In other words, you work your two men for 60 hours each on week 1 based on a job deadline, then you send them home for lack of anything to do for weeks 2 and 3, then you work them for 60 hours each on week 4, again based on the job deadline, but possibly lacking materials and or information to start during the two weeks they have nothing to do (it would never be this obvious, but to illustrate my point, I chose this example for simplicity’s sake).
For businesses that provide their employees with overtime pay, overtime almost always becomes an issue. The solution is simple – Just say no to OT. if you have employees that need to work more than the regular 40 hours/week it may be worth your while to make them salaried employees. Shifting workers from being eligible to overtime to being salaried employees has been a tactic employed by companies such as Walgreens.
4. Respond in time
Nightmare scenario: Half of the employees scheduled to open shop tomorrow call in sick with that nasty flu that’s been going around. Or, imagine a happy and wonderful scenario where your business gets an unexpected positive review from some social media star, and clients are swarming in. What you would normally do is freak out, panic, and then proceed to call every single employee, possibly offering them extra pay for the last-minute shift change.
In both cases, you need to respond fast if you want to have the necessary manpower on the clock to keep things running smoothly. Frantic phone calls are hardly the most effective way to deal with unexpected changes in the planned rota. Ideally, when a shift becomes available for employees to “claim”, they are automatically notified and can choose to pick it up if they’re free and could use the extra shift.
In section 1 we already alluded to the benefits of engaging your employees and how it positively affects employee turnover. Technology is also your friend when it comes to communicating effectively with your workers. There are several tools that can turn a communication nightmare into an easy and effective process even if you need to reach backup staff beyond your current payrolled employees.
5. Fair (and smart) shift distribution
Humans have a hard time being objective. So when planning an employee shift schedule, we can be influenced by habits we’ve developed over time. Some employees get disgruntled because (they think) you’re playing favorites. Others get fewer shifts or scarcer overtime options.
In many cases, the reason is a difference in skill and experience. You need at least one employee who can close up shop on the evening shift but that can quickly lead to the same employees getting that role night after night, which could be a good thing or a bad thing.
Computers don’t play favorites. Just set up and go. You can assign employee “roles” and skills while setting up the perfect rota to consider employee preferences and the needs of your business as well.
If you haven’t yet, get yourself rota software, aka shift management software to help you optimize your shifts. There are a few good ones out there that won’t be huge pain to setup and won’t empty your pockets.
6. Simplify shift swapping
Manual shift changes and swaps add quite a bit of overhead for both employees and managers. We’ve all seen it happen, a shift change is requested or approved in person but somewhere along the way is forgotten or miscommunicated.
A quick and effective process for shift swaps and approvals can make things easier for everyone while ensuring every shift is staffed by the people with the necessary skills and “roles”.
7. How shift managers can benefit from predictive analytics
Details count, just ask Goldy Locks. Understaffing means your customers aren’t getting the service they deserve and your employees are overworking themselves. Overstaffing means you’re losing money on unnecessary wages to employees standing around dreaming of flying off on a vacation (if flights don’t get canceled because of understaffed airlines). You need to get it just right.
Being able to account for all costs and revenues per shift is what separates the good shift managers from the great ones. Before you start thinking about technology you need to know how you want to use it. Similarly to staffing, you don’t want to have an understocked inventory or overstocked inventory, everything needs to be optimized just right. But, and this is where you need to lean in, it needs to be optimized not for yesterday’s shift but for tomorrow’s and next week’ shift.
You and your shift managers, project managers or foremen need to be statistical wizs and predict your future costs and revenue.
What is predictive analytics?
Simply put, predictive modeling uses statistics, such as revenue history for an installation job or revenue for a lunch shift, to predict future outcomes.
For example, as an HVAC contractor, you can use a predictive model to analyze data from all your ductwork installation jobs in the past year, such as cost of parts, payroll, revenue per hour worked, and use this data to predict how to cost your next ductwork installation job.
What can you do with predictive models?
- Take on jobs in growing industry segments that will be more profitable in the future
- Staff your bust shifts with more and highly trained employees
- Staff down your slow shifts
- Accurately predict costs and revenues per job/shift
- Predict the performance of your employees
- Predict the cost of growing your business and the projected revenue
The 3 main predictive analytics models for shift optimization
There are three main predictive models relevant for sift optimization:
- Propensity models – Looks at existing variables to predict action
- Cluster models – Algorithmically sorts users into segments based on their behavior
- Collaborative filtering – Use Bayesian networks to analyze data, latent semantics, and other techniques to find commonalities (If you like The Godfather, you will like Scarface)
Most scheduling software that also offer an optimization model work with one of these models. However, predictive scheduling software can be very expensive so if you’d like to save some cash and learn something new you can learn more about how to use each model by clicking on the links above.
8. Ditch the paper, switch to software
The above steps to employee schedule optimization demand you embrace technology and move beyond outdated paper tables and unreliable spreadsheets. With flexible and user-friendly solutions available to businesses of all sizes, there’s really no reason for you to continue using antiquated methods for shift scheduling in 2018. In fact, switching to a software solution is bound to save you more money than the software is likely to cost.
And the paper? You can still make paper airplanes from it, and send it flying around the office without a pilot. Because unlike RyanAir you don’t need to manage a roster of thousands of pilots, all looking to take time off for the holidays. And, if your employees are not the techy kind, here’s a helpful guide that might help.