5 Ways to Improve Your Store’s Scheduling Process

From letting employees swap shifts to using a shared spreadsheet, here's how to make scheduling easier — and employees happier.
Simple changes to scheduling, such as introducing an online schedule and sharing it earlier can make it easier for management and employees to be on the same page. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

For store managers, employee scheduling ranks up there with accounting and taxes on the list of dreaded tasks. Trying to juggle multiple requests for days off and last-minute emergencies means managers devote precious hours tinkering with the schedule to make sure the store isn’t understaffed.

In fact, according to a study by the employee management app WorkJam, 46 percent of companies say they are frequently or sometimes understaffed, and customer service takes the hit.

“An efficient employee scheduling process ensures everyone is on the same page, so your small business gets the most out of every available man hour,” said Brian Westfall, senior market researcher for Software Advice, an employee scheduling software consultancy.

Make these five changes to improve your store’s scheduling process.

Share the schedule earlier

Because scheduling can be so tedious for managers, 56 percent of employees surveyed by WorkJam find out what shifts they’re working a week or less in advance. The result? Employees have less time to make adjustments, resulting in more last-minute sick days and costly absences, according to Westfall.

“The most common mistake we see is small business owners not setting schedules early enough,” Westfall said. “Small business owners should aim to have schedules shared with their workers two weeks or more in advance.”

Posting work schedules this far out has the added benefit of creating a better work environment, according to Tricia Gustin, senior manager for marketing and research at the Parker Avery Group, a retail strategy and management consulting group.

“We all know that life happens, and managers need to be nimble enough to accommodate sudden fluctuations,” she said. “These, of course, should be the exceptions, not the rule, but if managers want to keep their employees happy, advance schedule posting and flexibility is critical.”

Introduce an availability sheet


Have new hires fill out an availability sheet to avoid later confusion with scheduling. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

According to Gustin, one of the best scheduling tools managers can add in the hiring and scheduling process is an availability sheet.

On this document, new hires fill out the ideal times they’d like to work and black out days and hours when they absolutely won’t be available. Some managers include a section for employees to note when they can be available to be on call. “This avoids any confusion and calling around when a hole needs to be filled,” Gustin said.

Managers can request that staff update their availability when things change.

It’s smart to outline your store’s time-off and holiday policies, whether through an employee handbook or other documentation. A good time to share these policies is upon hire. Always have this information handy for when employees ask.

Related: Paid Sick Leave from the Business Owner’s Perspective

Standardize how employees request time off

When there’s not a dedicated process for requesting days off or letting managers know in advance of availability changes, things can quickly go awry. If you’re funneling requests through emails, voicemails and sticky notes, you’ll likely start making mistakes.

“For a small retailer doing the schedule on a spreadsheet, notification options are not as centralized.” -Tricia Gustin

Methods for requesting time off and changes to availability are specific to each workplace, but whatever method you use, make sure you communicate it and deploy it consistently. If you want all requests for schedule changes made by a certain date and by email, phone or a dedicated clipboard, enforce the rule.

Let employees swap shifts


Allow employees to swap shifts in order to lessen the load on managers. (Photo: Bakhtiar Zein/Shutterstock)

Take a tip from the healthcare and airline industries, which often allow workers to schedule themselves, with manager approval, and leave shift changes to your workers. By letting employees swap shifts, you can save yourself time spent calling around to fill an unexpected gap in the schedule, according to Westfall.

“It takes a huge burden off of management when workers are empowered to figure out their shifts themselves,” Westfall said.

Establish rules for shift swapping. At a minimum, employees should be swapping shifts only with peers who have the same level of training and skills, and managers should always sign off on proposed swaps.

Analyze data and metrics

Most store managers can see sales and traffic counts through their POS system. Use the info on when your store is busy and slow to write more optimized schedules.

If you see that your store is consistently busy on Saturdays and slow on Tuesdays but you’re scheduling the same number of employees on both days, perhaps you cut back on Tuesdays.

Also pay attention to the weather, holidays and local events, which may affect how busy your store is. This way you can ensure you’re not overstaffing or understaffing and wasting labor hours.

Introduce an online schedule

There are countless software programs to help managers schedule employees. Many require a monthly fee, but others are free for very basic services. Gustin and Westfall both recommend doing away with paper and using some sort of online tool if possible, so employees can access their schedules on their phones and computers away from the store.

“At the very least, small businesses should take advantage of shared spreadsheets, so that errors can be fixed quickly and workers can update their availability themselves.” -Brian Westfall

Whether you use a simple, free cloud-based spreadsheet like Google Sheets or pay for a scheduling tool, you’ll cut down on errors, improve communication and save time.

“Creating schedules free of conflict and ensuring your workers show up to their shifts on time are the last things a small business owner should be worrying about,” Westfall said. “Dedicated employee scheduling software takes these worries away.”

Related: 5 Types of Apps Every Small Business Owner Should Use

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