Commentary & Opinion

On-shift scheduling doesn’t have to be a headache for managers or employees

By Rick Bell

Jan. 22, 2020

Most hourly employees have dealt with shift scheduling problems at one time or another.

I’ve witnessed it first-hand with my kids. After a 10-hour Saturday night shift at a restaurant slinging beer and burgers until 2 a.m., I would hear one of them quietly creep into the house. OK, they were actually pretty noisy coming in and banging around in the kitchen. As I dozed back off I just prayed that they wouldn’t fall asleep after popping a frozen pizza in the oven.Rick Bell Workforce

The good thing was they got home safe and sound. And the kitchen was not charred to an ember when I woke up the next morning. After that kind of a late-night shift I expected them to sleep in late.

Nope. No sleep for the weary in the restaurant biz.

Somebody had to pull themselves out of bed and work brunch at 10 a.m., and guess who was on call? Yep, my sleep-deprived, bleary-eyed child. Not just once. Or twice. This insidious sleep deprivation technique was a regular occurrence.

I mean, who is doing this on-shift scheduling? What sadistic clown is shift scheduling an employee who closed at 2 a.m. the night before to be back on the clock to pour mimosas and serve bacon and two eggs over easy at 10 a.m. that same morning? Oh, right. A restaurant owner. Or the manager, who likely is on the same scheduled shift because, well, restaurant managers are just a different breed.

I know, restaurants and hospitality exist in the fast lane — fast cash, fast life for many employees. Seriously, how many industries lavish itself with weekly industry nights?

The cruel and unusual shift scheduling was a regular occurrence back in the day when I punched a time clock as a bellman at a resort hotel in San Diego. Work the late shift until the final check-in at midnight then back in at 6 a.m. for the early checkouts.

I’ve even heard the mad scramble to find replacement workers when I’m getting a roll of quarters at the service counter of my grocery store. The manager, who is a really kind, caring woman, is frantically on the phone to staff her Saturday evening shift because so-and-so just called off sick and two others are already on vacation. (Why am I getting quarters on a Saturday evening? Don’t ask.)

Unfortunately, it seems that pretty much every hourly employee short of a union pipefitter is subject to such short-sighted shift scheduling. Want to burn out your hourly employees and watch them leave for greener pastures? Give them a day’s notice, schedule them that evening and then tell them they need to be back in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed early the next morning.

We are finally seeing a groundswell of support from many states and municipalities for predictable shift, or fair workweek legislation but any sort of federal fair workweek law is unlikely for years to come.

Come on, people! This is not complicated! Your employees have lives. You have a life. Well, unless you’re a restaurant manager. Make the shift scheduling process as painless and humane as possible. For starters:

No on-call shift scheduling. Ever. Telling employees to call in before a shift to see if they are needed and then sending them home if the shift turns out to be slow is incredibly hard-hearted. Don’t be hard-hearted.

Provide your employees with work schedules well before they are supposed to show up. Like two weeks before. Minimum 10 days. That gives them time to switch shifts should an emergency or a really good party pop up.

And you know what? Go digital. Paper-based timekeeping? Really? I know, it’s hard to break a routine that’s been in place since, oh, the Bicentennial. But seriously, check your timekeeping software options.

One thing that I constantly harp on is engagement and communication. Engage your employees through sensible, predictable shift scheduling. Your workers are happier because they’ll have a predictable life. As predictable as life can be, I guess.

And it’s not a stretch to say that a happier workforce means a more engaged workforce, which cuts down on burnout and puts the clamps on the bane of all hourly employers – turnover.

It may not prevent your kid from torching the kitchen with that forgotten frozen pizza in the oven, but they won’t be nearly as bleary-eyed the next morning, either.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director.

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