As a manager or owner-operator, one of your most important duties is scheduling your employees (and yourself!) in such a way that they're happy with their hours, your operating costs stay low, and you don't cause more harm than good in the process. One mistake in scheduling can quickly cascade out of control, causing an avalanche of expensive and time-consuming problems that will need your swift attention. Ignore the problems for long, and it can spell disaster. Sometimes, even if you address issues right away, the damage is severe and costly in time, money, and reputation, and employee engagement will drop dramatically.
Whether you run into overstaffing, understaffing, or simply mismanaging the schedules, so employees become annoyed, you want to avoid the stress and the groaning involved in scheduling. Our list of 9 awesome scheduling hacks will help you identify pitfalls, learn tricks to avoid them, and improve your scheduling skills to the point your employee engagement may increase exponentially. Get ready to find a place for your Best Boss Ever award.
When talking about awesome and effective scheduling hacks, it's vital to start with the basics. You may think you can skip this step—especially if you've been scheduling staff for years—but that would be a mistake. Even the most skilled managers need a refresher course now and then, especially with the changing times. Besides, if you're reading this article, you're already looking for ways to improve employee engagement, so you might as well get the most out of the article!
So, why do we need to start with the basics? Why not just skip to the cool hacks? Imagine a beautiful, luxury house built without a foundation. It may look great for a little while, but eventually, the house is going to crumble, and all that hard work of building it will be wasted. Worst case scenario, someone gets hurt in the process. Scheduling is the same way. You can apply our advanced hacks right now without revamping your scheduling system, but it won't last. Start with the basics now and build a solid foundation. That gives you something to rely on, a solid base to begin building a new system. Once you have the basics down, then move on to the more advanced scheduling hacks that help fine-tune your scheduling efforts for maximum employee engagement. When you have a stable foundation to build on, you can change all kinds of things as you go along without damaging the most important parts of your scheduling system.
1. Gather Your Information - To make all future employee scheduling smooth and simple, gather all your information now. That means talking to your employees. You need to know who is available on what days and times if they're willing to work overtime and extra shifts, if they can be counted on to cover call-outs and sick leave, and if they have any specific days they absolutely must have off. Gathering this information now will help all your scheduling efforts in the future. When you already know what your employees want and need and what they are capable of, as well as what they're willing to do, you've just killed two birds with one stone. First, you now have a complete list of employees and preferred schedules to work with. Second—and most important from an employee engagement standpoint—you've just showed your employees you could listen and that you care. When your staff members feel like you care, employee engagement will increase noticeably, but don't polish your Best Boss Ever award just yet. There's still work to do.
2. Look to the Past and Plan for the Future - Ideally, you'll already have a somewhat workable schedule that you can look back on and see what works and what doesn't. Check out past weeks and months, comparing the staff engagement and absenteeism with your productivity and sales logs. See if you can find any overlap. Does productivity drop on specific shifts? If so, look at your logs and your employee interviews to see if any of the less-happy staff members traditionally work those shifts. If so, it may be time to adjust their schedules to something they'll be happier with. You can also bring this up with your staff members, too. Show them the logs to help put things into perspective, and then ask if they might be happier on another shift. Just because you spoke to your staff in step one doesn't mean you can't talk to them again once you have all your information. This reinforces your efforts in step one, showing your staff you are trying to make things better for them by improving scheduling. That's a big boost to employee engagement.
3. Create New Templates - After you've gathered your employee feedback, looked at past schedules for issues and bright spots, it's time to create new templates. These templates will make scheduling pain-free and super-fast in the future, so it's well worth your efforts now to save time and money later. Also, with excellent templates, you can even hand off scheduling duties to a trusted staff member if need be, since all the important information will already be in place. Fewer mistakes, happier employees, better employee engagement—all because you took the time to make great templates for scheduling success. Your specific template will be unique for your restaurant's specific scheduling needs, but we can start you off with some basic ideas. Create a template that displays all shifts that need to be filled. Do one for weekly, if you have a fluctuating schedule, or do one for monthly use if your shifts are all fairly stable. For best results, switch to a digital scheduling solution—more on that in a bit. A note on employee engagement with scheduling Almost all staff members would prefer a set schedule over a fluctuating one, so if at all possible, try to keep scheduling changes to a minimum. This is another place where hack - 1 will shine—ask your employees what they prefer
4. Create a Backup Plan for Call-outs and Sick Days - One place managers often forget when scheduling is creating a backup plan. One call-out in the middle of the dinner rush is stressful for the employees already on the clock, stressful for you while you scramble to find a replacement, and irritating to the employees that get your awkward phone call asking if they can come in. Having a backup scheduling plan in place before the call-outs and before emergencies will go a long way in improving efficiency, productivity, and employee engagement. Remember that all-important hack -1 That's right—once again, - 1 saves the day. If you've already compiled a list of your staff members who are willing to work extra hours and be backups in case of callouts, you'll already have them in your template you made in hack - 3. It's as easy as contacting those willing backup people and getting them to the store as soon as possible. No more awkward phone calls, no more staff members grudgingly agreeing to more hours, and no more secret grumbles behind your back for making people come in on their days off. With a solid backup scheduling plan in place, you've once again shown your employees you care, and you can plan—hello employee engagement and happiness
5. Get the Right Tools for the Job - When it comes to scheduling, paper log books and charts have been the go-to tools. It's functional, that's true, but it's not pretty, and it's not the most efficient way to get your scheduling duties done. Not only are paper scheduling sheets cumbersome and prone to damage and loss, but it's also a real drag for employees to have to come into the office or wherever the scheduling sheet is, and check it every day. So, unfortunately, many only check it once a week. That means missed scheduling changes, over or understaffing, and big headaches. Employee engagement drops when you don't provide a fast, simple, and easy way for employees to check the schedule. So, what's the solution?
Not so much a hack as a requirement for success, it's worth mentioning the incredible flexibility of scheduling apps and other productivity software. All your notes from hack -1, your scheduling notes from -2, your templates from -3, and your backup plan from -4 can be kept in one place. With the right digital scheduling solutions, you can keep all that information in the cloud, easily accessible from any connected device, and even provide a way for employees to interact with the schedule, send notes, make requests, and check up on work anytime, anywhere. How's that for employee engagement?
But there's a lot more you can do to improve employee engagement, happiness, and productivity, and a lot of it has to do with harnessing the power of apps. Find a scheduling app that plays well with other productivity apps, offers a free trial and no contracts, and gives you awesome customer service. With modern productivity apps in your manager's toolbox, you can make the most of your staff's talents and efforts, and you can show them you're keeping up with the times. Employee engagement improves when managers pay attention to the changing times.
Below, we cover the more advanced scheduling hacks for use with productivity apps—the ones you'll use to fine-tune your scheduling efforts to match your unique needs. Don't let the advanced part of that sentence fool you, though. With the right scheduling app, these hacks are incredibly easy, and usually built right in
6. Offer Open Shifts and Let Employees Decide Who Takes Them - This hack relies on a scheduling app that allows managers to announce open shifts and empowers staff members by allowing them to pick and choose the shifts they wish to work. Employee engagement increases when staff members are allowed a say in their schedule, if they work extra hours, and if they have a way to control their time at work. This hack allows you to relax a little, too. By allowing employees to take control of their shifts, you're spending less time making phone calls or handling disgruntled employees. The right scheduling app will allow you to offer the open shifts only to suitable employees,too, further reducing stress, since you'll know for certain the right staff members will see the shift opening.
7. Encourage Employees to Download the App - To further improve employee engagement, consider utilizing a scheduling app that allows employees the option to download a simple app to their smart phones, tablets, or other mobile devices. They can check the schedule at any time, no matter where they are. This makes hack -6 even more powerful, because it keeps employee engagement up, even while they're not physically at work. This opens the lines of communication (hack -1) in new ways, helping to build a sense of community and belonging.
8. Utilize the Labor Rule Alerts - One of the nightmares of scheduling employees is making sure you are following all the local labor rules. In addition to expensive penalties and lost time and money fixing the issues, when you breach labor laws, you send a message to your employees that you're careless with their time, needs, and health. That's a great way to kill your staff's desire to work hard for you, lowers employee engagement and happiness, and risks your reputation. With the right productivity app, however, labor rules are built in, and you'll get alerts when a particular scheduling decision breaches those rules. No more looking up labor laws, no more long hours researching which employees are close to their limits, and no more stress over potential penalties. Employee engagement increases, happiness skyrockets, and your profits keep growing—all because of one little app.
9. Handle Employee Requests Immediately - Along with ease of scheduling, important labor rule alerts, and better communication with employees, a good scheduling app will give you the power to make changes to staff schedules on the fly and then deploy them in real-time. That cuts out the worry of employees missing a memo and makes sure every connected device is made aware of the changes. Along with last-minute scheduling changes, you have the ability to reply to, approve, or deny employee requests for time off or vacation days. Paper requests often pile up or get lost, and employees become disgruntled. Skip the upset, and handle requests and comments as they come in, in real-time. Or, if you can't do it right away, schedule a time to handle the requests right in the app
The following tips aren't hacks, but they're important enough to be mentioned here. Use these tips along with the hacks above, and you'll see immediate improvement in employee engagement, happiness, and productivity, all while taking the stress off of you. Once again, a great scheduling app will give you the tools you need to get a handle on labor costs with built-in budgeting tools. Bad scheduling can lead to spending more than you need to on labor, which eats away at your bottom line. Setup time and cost allowances and use those tools to better plan and schedule. A high turnover rate can destroy a hastily thrown-together schedule. Dodge that bullet with a strong scheduling plan (using our hacks above) and you'll also be ready to handle any staff turnover quickly and efficiently. If your scheduling solution doesn't include built-in tools to offer open shifts to the remaining employees and make it easy to remove past employee's information, you're using the wrong system.
Think about upgrading your scheduling system, but not sure where to start? Below, we've listed some of the most important things to look for when shopping around for your new scheduling solution. While every business has unique needs, there are some basic things to look for to be sure you're getting the most bang for your buck.
a. Free trial b. No contracts c. Excellent, dedicated customer service d. Low monthly payments e. Simple and fast setup f. Cloud storage and connection g. Free app for employees h. Built-in communication solution
Your goal is to save money, save time, improve profits, and increase employee engagement. We hope by now you realize that the best place to start is your scheduling system. Scheduling is where managers show employees they matter, that they are heard and that they are an important part of the business. When employees feel like they can communicate their needs, feel like their requests are taken seriously, and can see all of this reflected in the schedule, they will be more willing to work harder and stay engaged with the company. Even off the clock! Give them the tools to improve employee engagement, listen when they talk, and make the changes necessary to keep staff happy and profits flowing. We've got another great article on other ways to improve your experience as a manager or owner-operator of a small to medium business if you'd like to learn more.