One of the biggest challenges of a growing business and recruiting a bigger workforce can be managing workloads and schedules of this increasing number of people. Modern working practices can make creating a staffing schedule even more of a headache, with office staff operating on hybrid patterns, alternating between the office and home.

Even before the pandemic, a survey found that more than 50% of business owners were spending at least two hours a week building team schedules. That’s two hours that you can’t afford to be losing each week, and scheduling is a priority for staff too.

One survey of hourly shift workers found that 87% said that having control of their work schedules was ‘extremely important’ while 55% said they would leave if they lacked that control. And that’s no surprise when a study by the American Sociological Review found that: “exposure to routine instability in work schedules is associated with psychological distress, poor sleep quality, and unhappiness.”

Staffing and scheduling is clearly very important, especially in small businesses in sectors like retail where shift patterns need to be worked out to ensure the business runs smoothly and employees can plan their lives around their schedule.

In this guide to staffing schedules, we’ll cover everything you need to know to help your business run smoothly, including:

  • What is a staffing schedule
  • What are the legal requirements for drawing up staffing schedules?
  • What is a leadership role associated with staffing and scheduling?

What is a staffing schedule?

A staffing schedule is how a business works out a rota and can also refer to how a business assigns staff to tasks during a shift. Getting your scheduling right ensures that all tasks are done and employees understand their responsibilities. The benefits of these include:

  • Increased employee satisfaction and team morale
  • Higher rates of productivity and efficiency
  • Reduced safety risks
  • Improved customer service levels and satisfaction

Historically, this would have been done on a whiteboard or spreadsheet with a manual process. However, utilising staffing and scheduling software tools can improve the efficiency of the process, limiting mistakes made by human error and freeing up time.

What are the legal requirements for drawing up staffing schedules?

When you are drawing up staffing schedules, you need to be aware of the legal requirements, especially around rest breaks and rest periods. Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers have the right to a minimum daily rest period between each working day or shift and a minimum weekly rest period.

They also have the right to a minimum daily rest break in each working day lasting more than six hours. A worker who is denied their statutory right to these breaks can complain to an employment tribunal.

What is a leadership role associated with staffing and scheduling?

Staffing and scheduling is a role that can come under several people within a business, depending on its size and complexity. In a small business, it can be a role performed by the business owner themselves, as shown by the statistic mentioned earlier about the time spent each week on this task.

This could also be delegated to team leaders to manage within their individual teams, or it can equally be the responsibility of someone within an HR team. This fluidity can cause confusion when it comes to scheduling and is another reason why the process needs to be clear and easily accessible for everyone involved.

Forecasting staffing and scheduling

So now we’ve explained what staff scheduling is, let’s talk more about how to actually go about forecasting staffing and scheduling. Here are some best practices to help you get started or to optimise your processes:

  • Plan ahead - Scheduling should never be a last-minute consideration. Your business and your employees need the certainty of being able to plan ahead, so while some flexibility is important, the overall schedule needs to be firmed up in advance. When planning, using historical data to forecast the busiest and quietest times is crucial to avoid overstaffing or understaffing, both of which can be bad for productivity, customer service and employee morale. A study found that ⅔ of shift workers in the UK are given less than a week’s notice before their shifts which isn’t a great way to help them manage their lives around work.
  • Check availability - Scheduling needs to be a two-way conversation with your employees. The survey results above showed how important having control over their scheduling was to people, so before creating your schedule you need to know what their holiday requests are along with their working preferences. This will help to avoid needing to manage conflicts and clashes, but when these do arise they need to be dealt with quickly and with consideration for the needs of the business and the employee. It’s also a useful step to create a list of employees who are open to taking on extra shifts so you can fill gaps more swiftly. This will also help reward those who actively want more work without appearing to put pressure on those who are unable to work beyond their regular hours.
  • Integrate with other systems - Using an EPOS with integrated labour management software can help you automate your staffing schedule. It can be used to identify when your busiest times are so you can ramp up the staffing to cover these times appropriately and plan ahead for your staffing and scheduling needs. Using insights like these from transaction data to inform business decisions, like wholesale orders and staffing, will ensure you have the information and time to provide the best experience possible for customers. Integrated systems also make it easier to react to changing circumstances and to ensure everything runs smoothly and automatically.
  • Try to minimise disruptions - Emergencies happen and even the most organised staffing schedules can require short-term and long-term tweaks. However, you should still try to ensure that these are kept to a minimum because too many last-minute changes will affect the morale of employees.

A staffing schedule that follows these tips and regulations can be a powerful tool for ensuring your small business runs smoothly, keeping both employees and customers happy, boosting your productivity and setting you up to be able to grow with the right processes in place.