Staffing Management

Proper shift coverage requires more communication and better technology

By Andie Burjek

Aug. 18, 2020

Creating a good schedule can be difficult, and laws in certain states and cities may place restrictions on things like how far in advance you create a schedule or if employees can work back-to-back shifts. Meanwhile, various trends of the 2010s and disruptions in 2020 have shifted some of the scheduling norms that managers used to rely on. 

David Kopsch, a principal at Mercer’s Atlanta office, discussed how managers can create well-staffed shifts. Whether in more stable or more uncertain economic times, this guidance can help managers. 

Communication is key

At the most fundamental level, there must be clear means of communication between managers and employees about the basics of the shifts like: What are the hours of operation? How early must workers arrive before doors open? How late should workers expect to stay after closing? 

Managers should also keep lines of communication open with employees, Kopsch said. They can learn the hours employees want to work and the hours they’re available. Listening to employee input when possible can help employees feel like they have a little more control over their schedules. 

An uptick in technology solutions 

There has been an increase in the adoption of technology that can help with determining staff coverage, especially in times of major disruptions, like COVID-19, Kopsch said. More organizations are either contracting with vendors or developing their own applications, which helps both managers and employees feel more confident that schedules are accurate and compliant with whatever scheduling regulations may apply to the worksite.

On-call shifts are getting a backlash

While employers may still be interested in on-call shifts to ensure that a shift is perfectly staffed, there’s been pushback recently on this practice, Kopsch said. And some new scheduling regulations have put restrictions on on-call shifts or require employers to pay an on-call employee even if they do not end up working. 

More accurate labor forecasting is one solution to make managers less dependent on on-call shifts by more accurately determining how many employees are needed for a given time and making understaffing or overstaffing less likely. 

You don’t need to rely on predetermined shift patterns

While there are shift patterns managers have historically relied on, they aren’t necessary for proper shift coverage, Kopsch said. Workers in general are requesting more flexibility with their schedules, when they’re available to work and when they want to work.

In the past employers may have offered an opening shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a closing shift from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. But such set-in-stone shifts may not work for an employee who has to take their children to school in the morning. They may be available for an 8 or 8:30 shift but not the 7 o’clock shift, which is doable if managers rely on a more flexible scheduling system.

The pivot toward more flexible scheduling began about five years ago, Kopsch said. The more rigid shift coverage structure meant employers had a more difficult time finding employees, especially if employees worked second jobs, took classes or had child care or elder care responsibilities. Flexibility allows employees the opportunity to work somewhere they otherwise couldn’t because of these other responsibilities. 

Proper Shift Coverage

Ultimately, flexibility makes employees feel more respected and strengthens the employee value proposition. 

This is especially true during times of disruption, like COVID-19. Businesses may now have different hours of operation and sanitation rules that impact an employee’s hours, and employers need to be even more flexible to employees in this new environment, Kopsch said. 

Stay competitive even in times of high unemployment 

Flexible scheduling is a competitive advantage for organizations interested in creating a high employee value proposition. This competitive advantage is important even when the unemployment rate is high, Kopsch said. While logic presumes that employees want to work more than ever in these times, the reality is that organizations still have to create a compelling experience and a positive environment for employees to want to work for them.

When someone is out of work, it may be because they have responsibilities like child care or parental care that inhibits them from finding a day job to pay the bills, Kopsch said. If an employer is competitive in how they schedule shifts and how much they take employee input into account when creating schedules, workers in situations like this may be able to take the job. 

Also, employees appreciate choice. They want to work somewhere they can be themselves, feel safe and, as a result of employment, meet their needs. Then they will feel committed to the job and go to work, Kopsch said. 

“But if they perceive that the employer’s brand does not resonate with them or the wages the employer pays are not going to meet their needs, then it’s likely the employer needs to take action on that,” he added.


Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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