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Creating employee schedules can sometimes resemble a round of managerial Tetris for small business owners. A game of timing and anticipation, the objective feels like nothing more than a test of your professional patience.

Real talk, please. Can you say how much time you spend drafting up those tidy employee schedules every week? Every month? Do you ever find yourself hunched over a spreadsheet (or even worse, a whiteboard) late at night, scrambling to determine who is needed when for every shift in the coming week? When you’re a small business owner with shift workers, every minute counts.

Inefficient scheduling doesn’t exactly make the best use of your creative mind and entrepreneurial spirit.

If this scene sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone.

Facing the fact: Employers lose valuable time building employee schedules

A recent survey of 500 US business owners found half of employers spend at least two hours building employee schedules each week. Another 10 percent say they spend three hours a week on the task. Some respondents even claim to spend 12 hours on a single week’s schedule.

Unfortunately, that’s two, three and 12 hours that could have been spent on continued education, improving systems, marketing the business, or developing new products or services.

But the nature of shift work dictates that employees can’t always be available when you need them. They swap shifts, they call in, or they need to leave early. It’s normal. In fact, only 2 percent of employers say they have employees who never miss shifts, while 32 percent of employers say their employees rarely miss shifts.

That other 66 percent is bound to receive a call-in on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. And it’s in those moments you really need to think on your feet.

Predictive scheduling laws are on the rise

Not just for employers, shift schedules pose unique challenges for employees, too. When schedules are unpredictable, the need to rearrange childcare, doctor’s appointments, and personal time at the last minute becomes the norm. And these changes can be expensive and cause additional stress.

To counter the issue, some states and municipalities have enacted predictive scheduling laws that mandate employers provide employee schedules up to two weeks in advance. This is in addition to other requirements, like banning the infamous “clopen” shift (in which employees work a late or closing shift followed by a morning or opening shift) and “on-call” scheduling and requiring employers to compensate employees for shifts canceled within certain time frames. Each city and state has its own set of laws, so it’s smart to do your research and ensure your business is in compliance with local laws.

Three steps for easier employee scheduling

Unfortunately, adopting predictive scheduling laws is just the tip of the employee scheduling iceberg. Other common shift scheduling problems include hiring and retaining employees, finding employees to cover missed shifts, and planning weekly shift schedules. And these are not inexpensive hassles. Employers lose an average of $7,500 per year on missed shifts alone.

So here are a few tips to help you save money and reduce the stress associated with employee scheduling.

1. Prepare for laws coming to your city or state.
Predictable scheduling laws are sweeping the nation, so it’s important to be aware of where your city and state stand on the issue. If you don’t already have a labor law attorney, you might consider finding one or, at least, keeping track of legislation with the help of the Society for Human Resource Management.

2. Automate your scheduling processes.
Better communication between you and your employees is key to improving employee scheduling. Instead of writing and rewriting schedules on paper or spreadsheets, automate your process with a solution that features real-time updates and notifications for upcoming and changed shifts. Automation not only makes schedules easier to create, manage, and share, but it can cut down on the time it takes to send text reminders or leave voicemails for employees.

3. Be mindful of the time you spend creating schedules.
Keeping track of how much time you spend on making employee shift schedules each week can bring perspective to the challenge and help you set better goals for the weeks ahead. If you’re consistently spending an exorbitant amount of time on scheduling, or if the time you spend increases with every new hire, you’d be remiss not to start looking for alternatives. 

You have better things to do than spend 12 hours on a single week’s schedule. The time it takes to create shift schedules that are both consistent and delivered on time could be either more work or significantly less, depending on how you approach the challenge.

Since 47 percent of survey respondents say they will not be able to comply with new scheduling laws that will require them to give more notice of weekly schedules, all small business owners should get ahead of the curve as soon as they can. Whether new legislation is coming to a district near you or if laws are already in place, it’s important to stay informed, automate your scheduling processes, and be mindful of everyone’s time — yours and your employees’.

About the Author(s)

Kim Harris

Kim Harris is a copywriter and blogger based in Boise, Idaho, who has been putting her journalism background to good use telling true stories and helping businesses grow since 2008. When she’s not writing for TSheets by QuickBooks, you’ll find her queuing up entertainment and plotting her next escape.

Copywriter and blogger, TSheets by QuickBooks
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