HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Shift Scheduling

There is nothing worse than scheduling a number of employees for a shift only to be hit with a massive rush and not have enough employees to cover the customers. Or perhaps you’re sending employees home because you have no customers coming in the door. Welcome to the balancing act of shift scheduling.

What Is Shift Scheduling?

Shift scheduling refers to the task of planning employees' work time so as to keep your business at optimum availability for any job that needs done during working hours. These schedules are most common for restaurants, hospitality, retail, manufacturing, and medical industries, to name a few.

Why Is Shift Scheduling Important?

Ensuring that the right employees are available during the right times is an integral part of keeping your business going. Let’s look at why effective shift scheduling is important.
  • Reduce labor costs and increase profits. With too many employees working a single shift and not enough revenue coming in, your business won’t see a profit. If your shift scheduling is effective, you’ll reduce labor costs and increase profits for your company overall.
  • Boost morale. There is nothing worse than having employees come to work and be sent home due to lack of customers, especially if they work on a commission or tip-based salary. Effectively managing shift schedules attempts to avoid these types of situations and allows your employees to come to work trusting they will be able to work and provide for their family.
  • Enhanced customer service and improved efficiency. Your employees make the business thrive, and your customers keep you in business. Making shift scheduling a priority protects both of those groups. If you have the right amount of employees on any given shift, your customer service will not suffer; if anything, your employees will be empowered to continually provide exceptional customer service because they are not overworked on any given day. You’ll notice things start working like a well-oiled-machine and see the benefits of appropriate shift scheduling first-hand.

Methods of Shift Scheduling

Putting pen to paper (or software to work) to schedule your employees can occur in a few methods.

Fixed Shifts

The most predictable and often most preferred type of shift schedule is the fixed-shift schedule. This is where employees work the same days and hours each week (unless there is a shift swap between employees or additional hours required from your employees during holidays or busy seasons). You’ll find this type of shift extremely beneficial in retaining employees, especially those with additional duties outside of work, such as students with class schedules, employees with more than one job, or parents with childcare duties.

Split Shifts

A split-shift schedule makes for a long day for your employees, but can be beneficial for those who work better in small bursts, have mid-day responsibilities, or simply need a break. These shifts typically equate to a few hours in the morning, then a break, and the rest of the shift in the afternoon, or the other way around, with a longer shift in the morning and a shorter one in the afternoon. The schedule can be fixed, as stated above, or can vary day by day. Consider both the organization's needs and the best interests of the employee when scheduling split shifts for your company.

Overtime Shifts

Depending on your organization, this may be an option; overtime is not allowed in some industries, while in others it is required. Be sure to evaluate the applicable overtime laws for your location before you move forward with this type of shift. In overtime shifts, you schedule employees to work more than the 40-hour work week and pay additional monetary compensation during that week. This can be an added bonus for employees when they are scheduled for this shift, but can also end in burnout if not managed appropriately.

Rotating Shifts

Perhaps one of the “fairest” shift-scheduling options is rotating shift schedules, where employees have schedule A one week and schedule B the next, then starting back at A and so on. This type of rotation can provide a fair distribution of busy and slower shifts. This can be especially helpful in industries where tips are earned or employees work on commission, as it ensures all employees are given the chance to make the same amount of money and avoids the appearance of favoritism.

On-Call Shifts

One of the best shifts to have in your back pocket is the on-call shift schedule. In this type of schedule, employees know they don’t need to be at work, but do need to be available to be called in at a moment's notice. This type of scheduling is typical in the medical industry. It’s an effective way to keep labor costs low but be prepared for a mad dash of unexpected customers at the same time. Should you require them to report to work within a certain time frame after the call or stay within a certain radius of the location while on-call, be sure those things are communicated to avoid confusion when the time comes.

No-Schedule Shifts

Don’t be fooled by the name; these shifts are scheduled but do not follow a specific pattern. This type of shift schedule is used to fill in gaps on the schedule and can range from short periods of time to fill in a gap to longer periods of time to establish coverage. Shifts may be substantial one week and nothing at all the next week. Be cautious with these types of shift schedules. While they may be beneficial and even necessary for your organization, they can increase burnout and decrease employee morale. When employees cannot count on the number of hours they will get in a week and cannot trust their work schedule to be consistent, it may present issues for employee retention.

Issues to Avoid When Scheduling Shifts

When it comes to scheduling shifts, there are two major areas to focus on. You must balance both ends of the spectrum to ensure you don’t encounter any issues on the upcoming shifts.

Employee Shortage

You cannot see the future. You cannot fully prepare your employees for a mad lunch rush when you’re normally dead mid-afternoon or for an abundance of croup patients flooding the ER right before the next shift starts. Some things are unavoidable, but employee shortage is a major issue to try to avoid when scheduling shifts. This is where your on-call or backup employees come into play. Use them to ensure that clients, patients, or customers do not suffer.


This isn’t so much about overscheduling a shift as it is about overscheduling an employee. Employees need breaks—not just the breaks that may be required by your state or local laws, but specific downtime away from work to recharge. It’s important to take special note of this if you’re scheduling an employee for a night shift and then an opening shift the next day. Consider the time they will actually leave work and when they will be expected to report the following day. Evaluate if this gives them enough time to drive home, eat dinner, complete their bedtime routine, and get to bed. Give employees ample time between shifts to recharge and avoid burnout. As long as you’re taking all these aspects into consideration, overscheduling shouldn’t be an issue for your organization.

Tips for Successful Shift Scheduling

If you’ve avoided the issues above, you’re on the right track, but here are a few tips to keep in mind in order to maintain optimum shift scheduling for your organization.

Tip 1: Understand Your Team

Take the time to understand your team. You may have employees who prefer a rotating schedule or those who truly cannot function without a fixed schedule. Sit down with your employees and ask about their scheduling needs. You may provide them with an example of shifts or shift schedules and allow them to select the ones that best suit their lifestyle. It’s important to let your employees know you may not be able to provide them with their desired shifts every time, but having the dialogue with them will set you up for success right away.

Tip 2: Analyze the Workload

Evaluating the workload of your organization is right up there with understanding your team. If you don't understand the days and times your business is busiest, you can't best staff your employees. Take the time to dig into the work that is being done on a Tuesday midday, compare it to that of a Saturday midday, and evaluate the workload between the two. Allow this to set the stage for how many employees you need to schedule for specific days and times and drive your shift schedule forward.

Tip 3: Treat All Employees Equally

You’ve had discussions with your employees about their shift desires and analyzed the workload needed to ensure your organization is at optimal efficiency. Now it’s time to make sure your employees feel they are being treated fairly. It only takes a few times of specific employees getting the “better shifts” for employees to feel devalued, and that can turn into negative morale quickly. Ensure all employees are treated fairly when scheduling, and offer a comparable shift schedule across the board for all employees when possible. It’s important to note here that some organizations may use tenure as a basis for which employees receive specific shifts. Should your organization use this method for shift scheduling, ensure it’s consistent and clearly communicated to your employees.

Tip 4: Provide Schedules In Advance

The best way to have fewer employees call in an absence is to provide schedules as far as possible in advance. Some organizations swear by giving the schedules at least a month in advance for the busy seasons so employees can schedule events with family and friends. Minimally, give schedules at least one week in advance so employees are aware of what’s to come next week and can plan their life outside of work accordingly.

Tip 5: Take Time-Off Requests Into Account

If your organization has an approval procedure for time-off requests and that procedure is followed by employees, be sure it’s followed by the organization, too. There is no faster way to ensure employee turnover than to schedule them for shifts on their days off. Do your best to honor their requests as much as you can to ensure your shift scheduling runs smoothly and you don’t have employees on a flight instead of at work.
Shalie Reich

Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department "of one", working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!
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