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3 Scheduling Policies That Make Life Easier for Hourly Employees

Henry Updegrave

Henry Updegrave heads up marketing at Nowsta, a workforce management platform that makes it easier for businesses to schedule staff, track their hours, and run payroll faster.
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Every small business owner knows that scheduling employees for hourly shifts can be exhausting and stressful. Not just for you as the business owner, but your employees also feel the heat. A study done by DC Jobs with Justice found that practices such as keeping staff on call, providing schedules on short notice, and giving staff inconsistent hours each week were making it difficult for hourly employees to save money and manage their personal lives.

Lawmakers have taken notice as well. Several cities and states have either passed or have pending legislation addressing common scheduling practices, and Congress is debating a bill to do the same at the federal level.

As a business owner, you need flexibility in scheduling to manage fluctuations in customer demand, control labor costs, and ensure you’re always fielding the best team possible. But constantly shifting schedules makes life difficult for employees and can cause your very best hires to quit.  

Sure, implementing more predictable schedules may seem disruptive to your business, but the reality is it will make things easier for you while improving your employees’ quality of life. If you don’t know where to start, here are three scheduling policies you can adopt now to make life easier for your hourly employees.

Implement a Core Schedule

A core schedule means giving employees a consistent shift, set of shifts, or a number of hours they can count on each week. The specifics will vary depending on your business, but potential components include:

  • Designating a specific day or two each week you promise to schedule each employee
  • Promising each employee a specific shift at some point during each week (for example, “We’ll schedule you for at least one morning shift every week.”)
  • Giving employees a soft guarantee of, say, 10-20 hours every week

The core schedule doesn’t need to equate to a full work week, and you can add more shifts on top of it as your needs dictate. The main goal is to increase employees’ financial stability by giving them a minimum number of hours they can count on each week.

That’s a bigger deal than you might realize. A JP Morgan Chase study showed that 55% of people report experiencing income change of 30% or more each month, most of it driven by inconsistent hours at their primary job. These large fluctuations in monthly income make it difficult for cash-strapped workers to budget or plan for the future. A core schedule can go a long way toward alleviating these stressors, which can increase employee retention and help your employees perform better.

A core schedule might seem intimidating at first but with a bit of organization and a deliberate approach, it is incredibly easy to put into place.  

scheduling policies

Post Shifts Further in Advance

The reality is, most employees get their work schedules less than a week in advance. Such short notice makes it difficult for them to manage their lives outside of work. Crucial tasks like arranging for child care, working a second job, and going to the doctor are harder to do when staff don’t know their upcoming availability.

That’s why so many of the new laws on scheduling policies, such as those passed in San Francisco and Seattle, focus on increasing the amount of notice business have to provide employees. The magic number appears to be two weeks—this gives your employees enough time to schedule their lives, while still remaining flexible enough for days off.   

Publishing schedules earlier requires you to get a handle on your employees’ availability and staffing needs a bit further in advance. Talk to your employees about recurring availability limits, such as school or other jobs, and then check in with them every two weeks or so to learn of any new one-off conflicts, like doctor’s appointments.

As for staffing needs, you need to dig into your data and figure out what times of the day, week, and year are your busiest. From there, focus on when you need staff the most and schedule those days and hours first.

Implement a Shift-Swapping Policy

Of course, no matter how far in advance you schedule your staff, life can always get in the way. Family emergencies, medical issues, and other unforeseen conflicts can come up at any time and necessitate a scheduling change. That’s why you need a shift swap policy in place.

Your time as a manager is both valuable and limited, so you’ll want to have staff take the reins as much as possible. The Gap did this when it tested an app-based shift swapping system at a group of stores, allowing employees to post unwanted shifts and have their coworkers take them on a first-come, first-served basis.

The results were impressive: 62% of employees took advantage of the new system, and a whopping 95% said the ability to trade shifts gave them more control of their personal lives—all with minimal involvement from managers. Not only that, but 97% of staff who wanted more hours said they were able to get them, which shows that shift swapping can help address the issues around income fluctuation we discussed earlier.

The specifics of your shift swap policy will vary according to your business’s needs, so you need to answer a few questions before implementing:

  • Who can swap shifts with whom? Staff aren’t interchangeable—you need the right mix of individuals to ensure the business runs smoothly. You might want to limit staff to trading shifts only with other employees of the same position, skill set, and training level.
  • What should the deadline be? Managers need to know who’ll be working under them on any given shift in order to plan the day, so you need to give staff a deadline at which point they can no longer give up their shift.
  • What should the limits be? Unless your business can afford it, you might not want employees shift swapping their way into overtime territory. Likewise, you probably don’t want staff giving away entire weeks to use as vacation time.

Again, you’ll want to roll out your shift swap policy slowly and deliberately. But with some thinking and iteration, you’ll eventually have a low-bandwidth way of giving employees greater control over their schedules.

scheduling policies

Get Ahead of the Curve on Implementing These Scheduling Policies

Many of the scheduling policies considered standard for hourly employees can actually harm them in ways you may not even realize. And labor laws across the country are starting to catch up.

But the good news is it’s pretty easy to tell what problems you need to address. There’s ample time to start changing now and learn at your own pace what kind of scheduling system works for your business before you find yourself toiling over compliance issues in the future.

Henry Updegrave

Henry Updegrave heads up marketing at Nowsta, a workforce management platform that makes it easier for businesses to schedule staff, track their hours, and run payroll faster.

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