By Daniel Lewis,
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With a rapidly shifting workforce, having an organized system for scheduling employees is more important than ever.

In a Workjam study, 62% of retail managers stated they had workers who quit their roles due to a scheduling conflict, with 89% of managers indicating their stores were understaffed.

Employee scheduling conflict can be a major problem for business owners. This is why we have listed 8 simple tips to help small business owners schedule employees in the most efficient manner possible.

#1 – Hire the Best Staff

One of the best ways to schedule employees is by getting the best staff that you can (though we understand that this is easier said than done). High-quality staffs are the ones who are likely to schedule their holidays long in advance and are the least likely to get into issues with other employees over the holiday time.

They tend to be more emphatic, responsible, diligent, hard-working, professional, and understanding. Of course, you can’t possibly know who the best staff are until you have hired them for a few months, and this is an unfortunate reality of hiring workers. However, you can make sure to have the best quality hiring procedures in place so that you get the best workers.

This will require having a strong HR team or, alternatively, using a top outsourcing agency to get exactly what you need. Ultimately, you will need to find people who place a high priority on the work that they are doing, instead of merely looking for a paycheck. An employee that is engaged with the work and really looking to move forward will put work first, and vacation second. According to T Sheets:

“It starts with the hiring process. Bringing people onto your team who are a good culture fit for the company is essential to success. There are lots of talented people out there with an amazing education, tremendous intellectual capacity, and technical aptitude. But not every person is the right fit for every team. Don’t forget to look at personality, passions, priorities, and drive. That’s what will take a team from good to unstoppable.”

#2 – Identify Problematic Employees & Scheduling Abuse

In many cases, problems can arise from one or two employees who abuse the schedule regularly. However, an employee might well want a day off for an emergency or even just for a badly needed vacation. And as long as there is somebody there to cover the shift, then there should be no real problem. Remember, as a business owner, you should have no issue with an employee taking a vacation to recharge, as long as an equally competent worker can take command in the interim period. 

What you need to be on the lookout for is when there is an employee that always wants to have days off. If you couple this with a poor productivity record then it is certainly time to have a chat. These same employees are often responsible for a toxic work environment, bringing down the efforts of the entire team. You will need to identify:

  • Poor employee performance
  • Multiple days off
  • Multiple run-ins with other employees

You can still prevent scheduling abuse with a good scheduling system. This way, the rules are the rules. If a problem employee has taken days or has not booked them in advance, then he or she is out of luck. Rules are rules.

#3 – Have Exceptional Communication Procedures

Strong communication is the lifeblood of a strong company. It is really important that employees can communicate with each other and with managers/owners. This is ideally started at the onboarding stage (covered below) but needs to continue throughout the time the worker spends at the business or corporation.

In the modern era, this frequently takes place through the use of more informal messaging systems, such as Slack, WhatsApp, or Telegram Chat. For larger businesses, this can take the form of a project management tool such as Asana or Trello. There are many internal communication systems or simply the basic email, but this can often have a rather formal and professional feel about it.

Employees and business owners need to be able to relate to one another in a more casual manner in certain instances. This is doubly true when it comes to time off and scheduling issues. Ensure that the business has a more informal messaging system in place as well as a professional employee scheduling tool. The better that everybody is able to communicate with one another, the easier it will be to schedule both works and play.

#4 – Have a Great Onboarding Process

The onboarding process refers to the initial procedure through which a new employee is integrated into the business. The business will need to collect all of the relevant information to satisfy the myriad of requirements from regulatory authorities. This includes tax and legal information. The worker will also need an email address, login credentials for internal and external systems, a unique identifier, and introductory documents. All of this can take a lot of time to get right.

You will likely need to have specialized employee onboarding software in order to complete this step properly. Typically, the payroll provider will have onboarding features that tie in neatly with the information needed for tax and accounting. Employee scheduling can potentially tie in (but not replace) tax/accounting software.

So the employee will be onboarded on a payroll system, and the employee scheduling system will feed into the payroll system how much the employee is to be paid. This will also take care of the taxes needed to be paid per employee. Ideally, the more functions a software can complete, the better. Interoperability between disparate systems is vital for a successful organization.

Most software allows employees to self-onboard, saving you a lot of effort. However, it is still a good idea to input essential employee details to the system a couple of weeks in advance. You really do not want to hire an employee only to have them waiting at their desks for login details. It happens more often than you would think, and really sends out the wrong message to the employee, costing you money in the meantime.

#5 – Increase Freelancer/Contractor Usage

There are many, many, many advantages of using freelancers/independent contractors. There are some disadvantages too, but not in the context of employee scheduling! A major benefit of using such workers is that you hire them for a specific job and see the results. If you like the results, everything is perfect. If you do not like the results, you ask for edits (unless you gave incorrect instructions to the freelancer, in which case the charges could be extra).

Freelancers will work off of sites such as UpWork, TopTal, and Freelancer.Com. On such sites, each freelancer is given a rating after each completed job. This means that they have a huge incentive to get the job done, on time, to the highest possible standard. One reason that scheduling abuse is a problem is due to the fact that employees simply get tired of their roles and unmotivated. This is probably why they are requesting the vacation in the first place.

But freelancers can take holidays or vacations when they wish, in one sense. They take on roles for shorter time periods, meaning they tend to be focused when they are doing their projects and afterward they enjoy the rewards of their leisure time on their own. Moreover, you are not responsible for their holiday pay, overtime, medical, pension, or any other benefits whatsoever.

If you create a profile on a top freelancer site, you could have the benefit of freelancing professionals without the need to worry so much about employee scheduling. Just bear in mind that you will need to find solid freelancers to rely on as you need. Freelancers cannot entirely replace in-house employees. A mix is best.

#6 – Outline Clear Holiday and Timetable Policies

This goes without saying. But you will most definitely need to ensure that you have a clear holiday and timetable policy in place. Otherwise, it will simply lead to confusion. Set out potential schedules at least one month in advance so everybody knows what they are doing.

However, this can largely depend on the nature of the industry. Corporate workers tend to operate from a standard yearly schedule and can book holidays months in advance. But many other types of workers operate from a much more open framework. People working in restaurants, bars, and hotels, tend to be far busier at particular intervals, such as when a concert or festival comes to town or on the holiday season.

Works are also needed to work odd shifts, perhaps at night or in four-hour intervals depending on the needs of the business. Office workers tend to work a more standardized shift with a 9-5 or per project completion.

But in either case, you will need to ensure that employees know when they are working and what they are entitled to. Employees will need to plan for things such as childcare and transportation, as well as holidays, birthdays, weddings, and far more. By publishing the schedule in advance along with the policies, it will clear away any confusion.

#7 – Do NOT Micro-Manage or Overanalyze

In many instances, employees will be able to work out difficulties amongst themselves. You ultimately have to learn to trust your employees to do the right thing. Because, at the end of the day, micro-management will tire you out and lead to an energy drain. One of the best things about hiring high-quality professionals is that you can trust them to operate on their own.

Once the system is in place, you will have to let go of the reigns and the employees will need to figure things out by themselves. This is the power of technology, in that it frees business owners (and also employees) up to work on higher aspirations. If an employee refuses to show up to work, this is a major no-no. And, in this instance, termination is a viable option, unless they have an exceptional reason for doing so.

But this is an extreme scenario and the last resort for an extreme lack of responsibility. The fact of the matter is that employees hate to be managed. They want to do things in their own way. And in many cases, this works very well, as long as you give them the right tools and the right introductory training. They like to be led by a strong manager, but free to work in their own way. This is the best mix that will ensure the most efficiency. 

Ultimately, you want to have a dynamic team that all work together towards a common goal. So you would have a series of objectives and a spreadsheet of metrics that need to be met and analyzed. As long as each individual employee provides results in their own area, there is no need for conflict. In the context of scheduling, then you would need to set down parameters for requests and scheduling and leave them to their own devices within those parameters.

#8 – Review the Schedule Regularly

Getting the employee scheduling correct is a bit like walking a tightrope in many regards. If you have your staff overloaded, the staff will actually complain that there is no need for them to be there. If you have too little staff, customers may not be satisfied and the work will not get done. The only way to remedy this situation is to review the schedule and ask employees what they think. You are never going to get it exactly perfect. But it should be relatively accurate.

By regularly reviewing the schedule, you can also identify who tends to work the most and whether or not this correlates with increased sales (though this might depend on your industry and business). Very often, the employees that are flexible enough to work the most tend to be the ones with the highest productivity levels, possibly because they like their job.

Remember to reward and praise these employees. It sets an example for other employees and will increase your chances of retaining the top talent. If you run an online business with a social review profile, be sure to check it. Customers that have a positive experience will often drop the name of the person who they dealt with in the customer service team.

Additional Tips to Schedule Employees

There are many more ways to schedule employees in the most effective manner. These include:

      1. Know your employees – You should take the time to know your employees personally. Marital status, age, and the number of children, interests, future aspirations, and more. This will help you to be more empathetic and understanding. A ‘problem’ employee might just be a single mother trying to pay for daycare for her child. Perhaps a person is asking for time off to take care of a dependent or to heal from an injury. Even outside of these situations, it is simply good practice to know your employees.
      2. Allow employees to switch shifts – You really should not have a problem with employees who want to swap shifts. In fact, you should encourage it. It is a win-win for both employees and your business, keeping everybody happy. This will increase your chances of always having somebody available to cover a given shift.
      3. Use employee scheduling software – This can make the entire process so much easier. Everything can be laid out in advance. If something comes up for an employee, then the shift will become available on the platform for another work to take. Holiday days can be requested in advance and everybody knows what they are doing. For a review of the top employee scheduling platform check out this in-depth post. Check out our detailed guide if you want to find out more about employee and appointment scheduling services. 

The Issues With On-Call Scheduling

‘On-Call’ or ‘Zero-Hour’ work is a situation where a worker is ‘on-call’ for work as it comes up, but may end up without any work at all! At first glance, this might seem like a great solution, especially from an employer’s perspective. However, you need to keep in mind that dissatisfied workers will ultimately end up leaving the business. 

To have an ‘on-call’ weekend, you will still need to stay near the place of work or a computer. So you cannot really book anything off without dreading a ‘call’ or email. For the work, it can be all of the disadvantages with few advantages! A study published in the Biomedical Research International Journal highlighted the problems of on-call work in the context of performance and worker fatigue.

To offset this, you could consider a base on-call wage with additional funds when there really is work to be completed. Many companies have undergone litigation for their on-call work practices, so you should really think about this first before implementation.


The best way to schedule employees is with high-quality scheduling software, which automates and streamlines everything. And you should definitely consider allowing employees to swap shifts, which has been shown in studies to increase retention, productivity, and satisfaction levels. A win-win for all parties!

Other than this, you need a system of checks and balances in place. You might also want to consider getting to know your employees personally, as much as possible. This will have benefits outside of the scheduling system itself.


How Do I Approach an Employee Who Is Abusing the Schedule?

With data and information. You should first have a solid reporting system in place with lots of metrics and data. You can then explain to the employee, with the associated data, why you are concerned. Ideally, you will have the first meeting when you explain the issue, and then that issue should go away. For repeat (and obvious) offenders, termination may be the only remaining option.

Should I Let My Employees Easily Swap Shifts?

YES! This is the single most important thing that you can do to clean up a messy scheduling system. High-quality software can help you to do this. However, you might consider a week-long approach, where the shifts have to be finalized the week before (things could get a little chaotic if everybody is swapping shifts like candy bars). You might implement a policy whereby employees can only change shifts within a week of work for extenuating circumstances.

What Do I Do if Two Employees Both Want the Same Days Off, Such As Thanksgiving?

This is a problem that practically all employers need to face, at one stage or another. In many corporate situations, it is done on a yearly basis, where you might get one Thanksgiving off but be expected to work during the next one. For small businesses, it can often be luck of the draw, though many will offer increased compensation for the party that has to work on the given holiday. There is no easy answer, certain holidays will have to be reviewed when the time comes.

Why Can’t I Just Use an Excel Spreadsheet for Employee Scheduling?

Because it is the slowest, most ineffective way to schedule employees. Once you do have such a system set up, it would not be very intuitive and each employee would have to learn how to use it. Employee scheduling software is often designed and updated with regulatory changes in mind. It is automatically updated. With an Excel spreadsheet, be prepared to shell out for a developer each and every year, for something that should be simple and streamlined.

How Do I Find the Right Scheduling Software for My Business?

As with all scheduling software, you will need to find the one that works for you. The first step is to identify what you are looking for. Otherwise, you will simply buy something that is not strictly essential. Identify your needs first and foremost, then look for something to fit them. As with all software, it is what you intend to use it for – there is no ultimate ‘best’ for every category of business.

Daniel Lewis
Daniel Lewis
Daniel Lewis is an MBA accredited investment professional who wants to assist small business owners to gain access to finance. After going through many channels for funding, Lewis has found that getting the first loan right is vitally important for future success.

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