Deciding how to schedule employees requires you to be in tune with how your company operates, like knowing its busiest days and months and product sales trends. Having insight into your employees’ needs is also important. The best schedules are flexible, don’t underwork or overwork employees, maximize profits, and are published well in advance.
If you have less than 75 employees and need an easy-to-use employee scheduling software that’s free, consider When I Work. You can manage the entire schedule online using your mobile device. If you have a last-minute no show, you can offer the shift to available employees in seconds using its Shift Replacement feature, and When I Work will assign it to the first person who responds.
To start scheduling, you can follow a few simple steps. Definitely begin with your employees, since they are one of your company’s greatest assets. Figure out their availability, skills, and how they will best contribute to each shift. Then assess your business needs, and see how you can bring the two together. If you use employee scheduling software, the process will be less time consuming.
1. Make a Detailed List of Employees
Start with making a detailed list that includes all of your current employees. This will serve as your reference sheet when you begin assigning work times. Input as much information as possible that can help you create the best schedule. Data such as employee names, job titles, and shift preference (night vs day) are good examples.
When you input each employees’ name, be sure to include first and last names, at the minimum. Look out for duplicates. Employees with common first and last names are more likely to one day have at least one co-worker who shares their name. In cases like these, you’ll need to use a differentiator like a middle name or initial.
You might also be able to use a nickname for one worker and full name for the other (Michael vs Mike), if they approve. Inadvertently scheduling an employee for a double shift due to confusion about their names could lead to conflict and expensive overtime pay (along with higher taxes).
Employee Job Title or Job Role
You should also document any official job titles or roles that reflect the scope of your employees’ work. Later, when you start creating the schedule, you’ll need an easy way to match employees with the jobs you need to staff.
Depending on your business, some workers may have multiple job titles. For instance, many restaurant employees work as both servers and hosts, just on different days. Including this information in your employee list ensures you always know how to maximize your employees work time throughout each week.
There are some unique circumstances that may require you to document additional information about your employees. For instance, if you measure your productivity by client appointments vs consecutive hours on the job or if your business is in an industry with an unpredictable work schedule, you’ll need to account for this when preparing to schedule your employees.
On Call Work
Let’s face it. Some companies cannot function at all if they’re understaffed. A home healthcare business is one of them. You can’t cancel on a disabled elderly client who needs their caretaker to sit with them throughout the day. If your business is in an industry like this, some of the employees you hire should be available for on call work. Keep good records of who you can schedule for on call work and who you can’t.
Scheduling Employees Based on Client Appointments
If your business operates on client appointments, think salons and some other personal service companies, this will determine how you schedule employees. Unless you’re open for walk-in customers, you really only need hourly employees on the job when there will be work, otherwise, you’ll be spending more money than you’re bringing in. To help, look for a good appointment setting system so you can give your employees as much notice as possible about their schedule.
Additional information you can include in your employee list are the days each worker is generally available. If a client sets a sporadic appointment, this will save you time because you’ll already have a list of employees you can contact who are usually available to work on that particular day.
Scheduling Employees for Unpredictable Shift Work
If you operate a business that has unpredictable shift work, meaning you don’t know when you’ll need someone for a shift until shortly before they need to be clocked in, you have to be more diligent than other employers. It’s best if you know each shift everyone is willing to work in the beginning so you don’t waste time calling and asking the wrong employees to come to work during the heat of the moment.
Employee Schedules for Teams
If your employees primarily work on teams, you may need to coordinate schedules more closely so that projects can be completed efficiently. There may be days in which you need everyone on a particular team to work the same shift.
It’s also good to consider company needs when employees request paid time off (PTO). Depending on the type of business you have, approving PTO on the same week for an entire team could be disastrous. Be sure you always know to which team each employee belongs.
Scheduling Templates Make Scheduling Employees Easier
All of the information we suggest you include in your employee list can usually be organized more efficiently and quicker if you use an Excel scheduling template. All of the columns you need are already set up, including one for the employee’s name, job role, and shift start and end times. All you need to do is enter the information specific to your employees and business. If you have unique scheduling needs, it’s also easy to add new columns or remove those that don’t make sense for your business.
2. Use a Calendar
Scheduling is an activity that requires you to look ahead. That’s easiest if you’re using a calendar. Feel free to jot down notes on certain days or weeks to remind you of important considerations such as upcoming vacations for employees and high sale volume weeks when you’re ready to compile a schedule for that period.
Although you should request and document your employees’ general availability at the time of hire, you should also encourage them to communicate any deviations from that as soon as possible (at least a couple of weeks in advance, if possible). Suppose an employee schedules a doctor’s appointment Tuesday of the week after next. Ideally, they’d let you know immediately after scheduling it, so you can note this on your calendar and avoid scheduling them to work that day.
Company Scheduling Needs
Of course, to create a successful employee schedule, you also need to consider the needs of your business. Are some days busier than others? Are there weeks that always seem to be slower than others (such as around the holidays)? Are there certain products or services you sell more of that require you to schedule more workers in a particular position?
You may feel like you can use your instinct to gauge what trends to consider when scheduling, but we recommend you reference some sort of data, if possible. It’s more objective and precise. Review your company sales reports, year over year, if you have them. If you notice big jumps in business during certain months or weeks over the course of multiple years, you can more confidently increase the number of employees you schedule for that time frame.
If you have a service business and employ different employees for different services, like beauticians, nail techs, and estheticians, having data on service sales trends would be helpful. For example, if historically, customers don’t set many hair appointments during July but nail services increase, you should be able to schedule accordingly if you are aware.
3. Play the Matching Game
Once you have finished organizing and reviewing the information you need to schedule your employees for the upcoming period, you can start to assign shifts. Be sure to create a good mix of workers based on their skill level and performance. For instance, don’t schedule all of your newest employees at once. Be sure to sprinkle in some vets so your newbies have the chance to work with co-workers from which they can learn the ropes.
Decide Who Gets the Shift
You should know what your business’ typical staffing needs are on an average day. Ten waitstaff, four cooks, five hosts? Use this as a baseline each time you create an employee schedule; on higher sales volume days, increase the number and vice versa on slower days. You should always start the scheduling process knowing which and how many positions you need to fill each day.
Then move on to each person’s availability. You can easily start populating a schedule based on the details you have on your employee list and calendar. Another aspect to keep in mind is each employee’s proven performance level. You’ll inevitably have some workers who are more productive than others. It’s a good idea to schedule at least one high performer (more, depending on the size of your business) on each shift.
Unique Considerations That Affect Your Scheduling
There are other factors you might need to consider when scheduling like the legalities of employing minors and required certifications for certain types of work. Weather may also play a role, especially if you conduct your business outside (such as with an auto detailing business).
Minors on the Job
If you employ minors, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of federal regulations governing when they are allowed to work. State laws also come into play, so it’s a good idea to visit your state’s website to get specifics.
Federal law allows minors as young as 14 (not 13 or younger) to work; however, if you have 14- and 15-year-olds on staff, you must adhere to the following limitations:
- Three hours on a school day
- 18 hours in a school week
- Eight hours on a non-school day
- 40 hours in a non-school week
- between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when nighttime work hours are extended to 9 p.m.
You’ll need to follow any state and federal labor laws closely if you need to schedule minors. Child labor laws are serious business, and you can subject yourself to penalties and jail time if you break them.
Some work requires more than just skills, but official certifications. For instance, if you promise your customers they’ll be served by licensed cosmetologists or certified public accountants (CPAs), that’s what you must deliver. Keep this in mind if scheduling for certain services that require your employees be certified.
You should be able to refer to your employee list to easily find those who qualify for the work you need to schedule. If you use scheduling software like When I Work, you can easily program each employee’s certification into the software and attach the appropriate certification requirements for each position; the system will only populate with employees who are eligible to work that particular shift.
If the weather affects your business in any way, you should consider it when scheduling. You can see a forecast for the upcoming week with a quick Google search.
Also, simply being aware of weather trends in your location can make a world of difference. For instance, Florida’s rainy season runs from mid-May to mid-October; food truck and mobile auto detailing companies in this area would ideally keep this in mind, so they’re always prepared for fewer customers during that time frame (unless they make alternative arrangements to protect their business from the outside elements).
4. Get Employee Feedback
Once you finish the first draft of your schedule, it’s crucial to get employee feedback if you want to keep them happy over time. That’s because situations come up such as a sick child, forgotten doctor’s appointment, or an upcoming family event that an employee may have forgotten to tell you about. Accommodating your worker’s needs improves their on the job satisfaction and reduces the chance of no shows.
When to Share the Schedule and Get Feedback
When you’re comfortable with the schedule and have double-checked it for any discrepancies, you should share it with your employees. If you’re not using software, an Excel template will work, and it’s easy to distribute through a group message. You can even include a column for feedback so they have a foolproof way to let you know if they see any issues with the days or work hours that are assigned to them.
It’s a good idea to assign a deadline of when you need their feedback, if any. Schedule an official go-live day for each schedule you create. Maybe you could send the schedule out two weeks in advance on a Friday, and request all feedback be in by Tuesday at the latest. This would give everyone a weekend to review (along with an extra day).
Incorporating Employee Feedback Into the Schedule
Once you receive employee feedback, you’ll need to review it to see if you need to make any changes. If an employee wants to take off for a party but your PTO policy states they must submit an official request at least three weeks in advance, you have the right to disregard it. We do however recommend that you communicate about it with that employee directly so there’s no confusion later when the final schedule is published.
When you need to change the staffing lineup, use your employee detailed list to figure out which workers are more likely to be available on the date and time in question for which you need a replacement. You can also empower your employees to find their own replacements ahead of time; they can include that detail with their feedback so all you have to do is update the schedule. If you opt to use software like When I Work, this process can usually be automated. Employees can reject a workday and suggest a replacement for you to approve.
5. Finalize and Publish Your Schedule
After incorporating and/or responding to all schedule change requests, you can finalize and publish your schedule. If your draft is in Excel, consider publishing it to PDF and sending it to your team. They won’t be able to edit it, and it will prevent anyone from confusing the final version with the draft. If feasible, it’s also a good idea to post the schedule somewhere in the workplace like if you have a small coffee shop. If your team is more tech savvy and/or spread out, Google Drive may work better.
You may think that once you’ve published your schedule, there won’t be any more changes. In a perfect world that would be the case, but realistically you’ll need to monitor it daily so you can make any necessary revisions immediately. Employees get sick, car trouble happens, and the list goes on. Your schedule should be as realistic as possible and always reflect your current staffing plan, otherwise, employees can become confused and not show up to work when they should.
Other Employee Scheduling Considerations
Learning how to schedule employees in a way that works best for your company is essential. There are numerous labor laws to consider, but not all will apply to your business. The federal overtime rule, all hours worked over 40 in a seven-day period must be paid at the time and half rate, is a big one to consider; to keep costs down, schedule hourly employees for a maximum of 40 hours each week. You’ll also need to retain copies of all employee scheduling records for at least two years.
Employee Scheduling With Software
Although you can create and manage your employees’ work schedules manually, it isn’t the most efficient way to handle it. There are many free or low cost employee scheduling software you can use, and most have special features that help you avoid overtime costs, find shift replacements quickly, make changes from anywhere using a mobile device, and so on.
We’ve mentioned When I Work, but you should also consider Homebase—especially if you have one physical location because it will be free. If you’re in an industry with tight profit margins, try Humanity, because it has tools to help you manage your labor costs. If you have multiple locations and job sites however, Deputy would be a better option because of its facility scheduling features. And for larger restaurants, 7Shifts is ideal.
The quality of your employee schedules can make or break your business. Figuring out how to schedule employees so that you’re maximizing profits (by avoiding overtime, overstaffing, and losing business due to understaffing) and keeping your employees happy is a balancing act. It requires creating solid processes on the front end, gathering the most appropriate data to help you make the best scheduling decisions, and regularly evaluating the schedules you create.
If you’re tired of using pen and paper to schedule employees and don’t want to deal with Excel spreadsheets yet still want a free option, consider using When I Work. It’s free for employers with less than 75 employees, and you can manage it on your mobile device. Employees can also access the schedule and request changes or suggest replacements from anywhere.