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Work Schedules – The Ultimate Guide for Managers

Work Schedules
Categories: Time & Attendance
17 minute read

Effective workforce management plays a huge role in the success of any business or company. And a key aspect of it is creating and setting employee work schedules, making it crucial for managers and employers to understand how to create and manage effective work schedules.  

Work schedules can optimize productivity, maintain and even improve employee job satisfaction while ensuring your business runs smoothly.

What Are Work Schedules?

Work schedules are the backbone of any professional's life. They outline how and when the employee is expected to allocate time for their tasks and other work obligations related to their job position. These timetables should follow the specificities in the employment contract.  

Work schedules can significantly vary between industries and depend on companies’ policies, the nature of the job an employee performs, and more.  

For example, in the healthcare industry, it’s not uncommon for a work schedule to include “on-call duty” (not a period of assigned work, but usually a 12-hour-long period during which a doctor needs to be available for emergencies). On the other hand, in a traditional office setting, employees usually have fixed and full-time work schedules.

Why Are Work Schedules Important?

Work schedules achieve so much more than organizing shifts and tracking job performances. Some of the benefits of well-planned work schedules include: 

  • Establishing routine and work consistency – A consistent work schedule will help employees develop a routine. This routine will allow team leads to manage their teams more efficiently. Additionally, according to some studies, routines and work consistency can positively impact employees’ focus, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.
  • Better financial management and cost control – Effective implementation of work schedules can help managers control labor costs leading to better financial management inside the company. By scheduling employees based on the current or predicted workload, businesses can avoid incurring additional costs associated with overtime or overstaffing.
  • Saving time – By implementing structured work schedules and procedures, employers or managers can save a lot of time they would otherwise spend on making various scheduling and logistics adjustments. With additional time, managers can focus on making high-level or leadership decisions instead of getting bogged down with the minutiae of administrative work.
  • Better client/customer relationships – Work schedules can be used to pair employees with customers or clients based on their strengths and skills. This may, in turn, help managers, team leads, and business leaders significantly improve the service they provide. And better service leads to overall better customer relationships.
  • Compliance with different legal obligations – Having work schedules that strictly adhere to the labor laws of a specific country, state, region, or city can help companies avoid any unnecessary legal problems or disputes. This can reduce the risk of a business incurring additional costs in the form of financial penalties and settlements, as well as a lawyer and various other court and legal expenses.

Types of Employee Work Schedules

Let’s talk about some of the most common types of work schedules you can implement in your business. Which one you choose will depend on the specific needs of your company, the industry, and the nature of your business, as well as your employees' general availability and overall workload.

1. Full-Time Work Schedules

A full-time work schedule, although not always defined explicitly in labor laws across the world, usually entails a 40 hours work week. It’s traditionally known as the 9-to-5 schedule with set working hours and days.  

Depending on the nature of a particular business, full-time employees can be paid hourly or receive a salary based on their performance. Additionally, many companies offer various benefits to full-time employees, such as sick days, health insurance, rest or vacation days, time off, and more. 

For instance, a typical full-time work schedule is from Monday to Friday, with 9 to 5 being the usual work hours.

2. Part-Time Work Schedules

A part-time work schedule is a type of work arrangement where employees work less than 40 hours per week (or less than the number of hours associated with full-time). This type of work schedule allows for greater flexibility to employees but most commonly comes with no or reduced work benefits compared to full-time employees.  

Additionally, part-time employees sometimes don’t have fixed schedules and might have to deal with their work schedules being changed each week. 

Part-time work schedules can be organized in many different ways. Some examples include: 

  • Part-time employees working Monday to Friday, but with a reduced number of hours per day (e.g., four instead of the regular eight);
  • Part-time employees working Monday to Wednesday, with a regular number of work hours per day (i.e., eight hours a day);
  • Part-time employees working on Saturday and Sunday (over the weekend), with a regular number of work hours a day (i.e., eight hours per day);

3. Flexible Work Schedules

With a flexible work schedule, employees have some leeway in determining their start and end times within certain core hours. They still have to spend a set number of hours at work, but the exact time they come and leave work is flexible.  

In some flexible work schedules, employees don’t even have to be at the office to perform their work. That is, they can do their tasks remotely or from home if the nature of their work allows for that.

4. Split Shift Work Schedules

Split shift work schedules divide an employee’s regular shift into two parts – an employee will only work a part of the typical shift duration (e.g., four hours), after which they will clock out. Then, they’ll return to work later (usually during the same work day) to finish the second part of their shift. These types of work schedules are prevalent in industries such as: 

  • Hospitality;
  • Transportation;
  • Security;
  • Retail;
  • Healthcare; 

The best example of a split shift work schedule is a hospitality worker (waitress or waiter, chef, etc.). They usually come in the morning to catch the breakfast rush. After the rush, they’ll clock out (leave their work) and return later in the day for lunch or dinner service.

5. Rotating Shift Work Schedules

A rotating shift work schedule is a type of work arrangement where employees perform their job duties in cycles by either working during the day or night (i.e., day or night shifts). The employer decides the rotation of the cycles, meaning when employees will work a particular shift.  

Rotating shift work schedules ensure that businesses run 24/7. The most common industries, businesses, and service providers that operate at a 24/7 capacity include: 

  • Healthcare providers;
  • Manufacturing companies;
  • Customer support;
  • Public transportation;
  • Emergency service providers;
  • Aviation and services associated with this field of work;
  • Energy production (i.e., power plants);

6. Compressed Work Schedules

A compressed work schedule, as the name would suggest, is a type of work arrangement where employees work longer hours in fewer days. For example, in the compressed work schedule, a full-time employee may work ten hours per day instead of the regular eight, but they will only work four days a week instead of the usual five.  

It’s also important to note that in many countries, laws and regulations stipulate the exact amount of hours an employee of a specific industry can work in a single day. So, not every company can put in place compressed work schedules.

7. Fixed Work Schedules

A fixed work schedule presupposes a set number of days and hours an employee has to put in each week, and that doesn’t change for the entire length of employment. Employees and managers will usually agree on the exact work hours and days, even before the employment contract is signed and implemented.  

It’s also important to note that full- and part-time schedules could be fixed depending on the original employment contract, the nature of a specific business, the overall workload, and more.

8. On-Call Work Schedules

On-call types of work schedules presuppose that employees need to be available to work in a predetermined time frame if services are needed. In practice, employees typically complete their regular shifts and then remain on-call.  

Most commonly, on-call employees will be called into work if a particular shift is short-staffed or in the case of an emergency. 

On-call shifts are usually rotated between employees and pervade in: 

  • Emergency services (e.g., firefighters);
  • Trade industries (e.g., electricians, plumbers, etc.)
  • IT-related industries;
  • Security service providers;
  • Police;

9. Seasonal Work Schedules

Seasonal work schedules are usually temporary, either full- or part-time, where employees work during certain parts of the year. Seasonal work typically lasts between two to four weeks. These types of work schedules are pretty common in businesses, such as: 

  • Retail (hiring additional staff during seasonal sales);
  • Businesses that rely heavily on specific weather conditions (ski centers or mountain resorts, pools, holiday destinations, etc.)
  • Package delivery business (usually during the gift-giving season);
  • Construction;

Tips and Steps to Create Employee Work Schedules

Creating an effective employee work schedule can be daunting for many managers and employers.  

To alleviate the difficulty of that task and to help you make the best possible work schedule, we’ve created a guide you should keep in mind when making your very own employee work schedule.

1. Determine All Available Resources

Start by figuring out your financial and human resources. Outline the entire payroll or wage budget by asserting how much you can pay your employees, how many hours, and how long.  

This will help you avoid one of the most common scheduling issues – employees working and getting paid for overtime hours that were not a part of the original calculations for the budget

To be successful in this aspect, take into account all work schedules, including part-time, seasonal, or contract employees, and see how these work arrangements affect your budget.

2. List the Requirements for Every Shift

The second and one of the most important steps in creating a work schedule is listing the resource and staff requirements for every shift. Consider whether you need the manager's presence on all shifts or if some shifts can operate efficiently without supervision.  

For instance, some retail businesses need to have at least one manager present to unlock the store in the morning, make deposits or payments, and lock in the evening. Additionally, in the hospitality industry, specifically in restaurants, employers usually have cooks, servers, and dishwashers available for every shift, regardless of the number of customers. 

Some of the questions you should try and answer in this part of the process include: 

  • Are employees allowed to switch shifts with each other?
  • What is the correct procedure employees should follow if they swap shifts?
  • How are time-off requests managed?
  • What are the exact protocols regarding time-off requests?
  • Is the schedule you’re making going to be flexible or strict?
  • What is the level of flexibility you’ll allow regarding employee scheduling?
  • What type of schedule is most in line with the nature of your business?

3. Try to Forecast Demand

Figure out what are the busiest hours for your company during the day. Or, simply put, what are the peak times of the day when you need more employees? You can do this by examining your sales history and discerning the busiest hours.  

If your business has more customers in the morning, you should schedule more employees for to that shift to meet the higher demand. Rely on past experiences and projections to anticipate the number of customers, clients, or demand when scheduling your employees.  

Experiment with different work schedules and see which work arrangement best suits your customer demands. Think about hiring freelancers, contractors, or seasonal employees if you can’t fulfill the demand with just your regular employees.

4. Gather and Record Employee Shift-Preferences

Communicate with your employees and ask them about their available hours and preferred shifts. Also, keep full records of the shifts they did work. Gather information about your employees’ preferences and abilities. Maybe some employees feel more comfortable with a morning shift over an evening one? Are there justified reasons behind this sentiment? 

Some employees may refuse to work night shifts (e.g., parents with a newborn). On the other hand, some employees are more flexible with scheduling and working tougher shifts if those shifts are paid better or come with other perks. 

After you’ve gathered the availability and preferred hours or shifts of all of your employees, write them all down to see if there are any gaps that you might need to fill in.  

Alternatively, you could hold a team meeting and have a discussion with your employees on how to best fill those gaps.

5. Analyze Past Work Schedules, if You Have Them

If you have them, collect past work schedules and analyze them to better understand what works and what doesn’t. Try and look for patterns in shift interchanges and how that affected your business.

Juxtapose the initial work schedule (i.e., the shifts and workers that were originally assigned to them) with who really worked during those shifts and try to discern the causes behind those changes.  

Analyzing work schedules from the past can help you identify what adjustments you need to make, which will further help you create the most effective schedule for the present.

6. Make a Shift Replacement Plan

As a good safety precaution, you should create a policy and protocol that allows employees to easily contact your business and inform you if they’re unable to come to work.  

Also, you should think about solutions to these inevitable situations. Do you want your employees to find someone from your staff to cover their shift, or will that be a managerial responsibility? And decide whether your employees need approval from higher-ups before officially swapping shifts or if it’s enough to just communicate with their co-workers before doing so.

7. Study Your National Labor Laws

Study and research national rules and regulations regarding different types of work schedules. By doing this, you can ensure that you’ll be in compliance with any and all labor laws and don’t end up paying expensive fines and court costs.

8. Use an Automatic Scheduling Tool

Employ a really good scheduling software tool that can help you automate the entire process of creating and managing work schedules.  

Most of those tools include automatic scheduling features and allow employees to view their schedules, swap shifts, and request off-time via the downloadable app or, in the case of a fully-online solution, directly online. 

Here’s an example of a free workforce scheduling app.

9. Publish or Post the Work Schedule

Last but not least, after all the previous steps have been covered, it’s time to publish your company’s work schedule. Make sure you post the schedule on specific days (each week or every month), so your employees will have enough time to plan and prepare for the work days to come. 

Properly inform your employees about the upcoming work schedule; that is almost as important as creating one. Allow them enough time to review it and give you their feedback or comments. And, lastly, after that’s been done, all that’s left to do is publish the final version of your company’s work schedule for the following week or month.

Some Additional Tips for Managers

The following tips and advice can be used to help you create work schedules that fully satisfy the requirements of your company and employees.

1. Encourage Employees to Give Feedback About the Work Schedule

A lot of managers and employers make the mistake of creating work schedules solely focused on fulfilling the requirements of their company or business without ever engaging with employees and asking them for input/feedback.  

By asking employees to share their opinions, you can promote engagement and positively impact their morale and job satisfaction. Also, your employees are the ones that will know for sure when they are short-staffed and when you should schedule an extra pair of hands (or two).  

Employees who participate in any aspect of the business, including the creation of work schedules, experience an increase in productivity, engagement levels, job satisfaction, and morale, according to some studies.

2. Create Scheduling Protocols

You should try to create protocols that will regulate work processes included in the scheduling procedures of your company. For instance, you might want to consider giving your loyal employees some “extra breeding room” with their schedules. This means that their schedules could be more flexible compared to those of new hires. 

Whatever you choose to do in the end, you should make sure that there are written rules and protocols around scheduling included in the employee handbook (and possibly each employment contract). This way, those employees who aren’t sure about certain aspects of scheduling will have somewhere to look for the answer.

3. Have Clear Expectations From the Beginning

Be clear about all scheduling prerequisites when hiring new people. You could also include the specific scheduling requirements in the job description to ensure you will only draw interest from candidates who can adhere to your specific work schedule. These requirements are most commonly written as follows: The job position will sometimes require working night shifts and weekends.

4. Ensure the Work Schedule Is Simple to Read

Overstuffing your company’s work schedule with every piece of data you can gather is one of the most common mistakes managers make (e.g., overtime hours, breaks, etc.). This practice might be good for management, as they will have more information to work with. But, on the employees’ side, complicated work schedules can make it more difficult for workers to engage with them. 

Your goal when making the final version of your business’ work schedule should be to ensure it is clean and easy to read and understand. Any employee looking at the schedule should not have to spend more than a few seconds figuring out their work hours, shifts, and so on.

5. Distribute Your Work Schedule Early

If you choose to distribute your company’s work schedule early (e.g., a week before the said schedule starts into effect), you will give more time to your employees to: 

  • Make necessary changes to their personal plans, appointments, and of commitments to fit everything with the new work schedule;
  • Ensure there are no conflicts in the schedule (meaning there are no extra people scheduled for shifts when they are not needed);
  • Plan and request shift swaps or time-off days promptly; 

If you post the work schedule a day or two before it starts, your employees will simply not have enough time to make all the necessary changes in their personal lives to fully adjust to the new reality. This can negatively affect their job satisfaction and morale and cause various other problems for your company.  

To circumvent all of that, including giving yourself an unnecessary headache, you should try posting the first draft of your company’s work schedule at least a few days (or even a week) in advance. 

We hope this guide has helped you get an overview of why work schedules are so important and given you some practical tips on how to manage them properly. 

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