Staffing Management

The most common scheduling problems for employers and how to address them

By Andie Burjek

Jun. 2, 2020

Hourly employees have common scheduling problems, which helped spur a series of fair workweek laws now in effect in the state of Oregon and in many cities across the United States. The impact of these laws on businesses should not be ignored, though.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also added another layer to the scheduling complexity environment. Industries like retail, food service and hospitality that have been greatly impacted by the pandemic are also the industries primarily affected by predictive scheduling laws. 

Depending on state or local laws, businesses all face scheduling challenges. Here are some of the most common scheduling problems and how to address them.

Also read: Shift scheduling strategies can be improved through technology 

The most common scheduling problems for employers

1. Overstaffing and understaffing

The clear problem for businesses with overstaffing is that they’re unnecessarily increasing their labor cost with no return on investment, said Ari Hersher, partner at law firm Seyfarth. And labor costs are already one of the biggest costs for businesses, along with real estate. 

Meanwhile, if a shift is understaffed, the business is not efficiently meeting demand. Its employees may be overworked and need to work extra hours, and the business may have to pay these workers unplanned overtime, Hersher said. Meanwhile, in jurisdictions with predictive scheduling laws, an employer may need to pay additional wage to staff that are added last minute, he added.  

2. TIme

Creating a schedule takes time, and managers already have busy jobs. Using technology solutions could help, yet the Sierra Cedar “2018-2019 HR Systems Survey” found that only 42 percent of organizations use labor scheduling applications.

Also read: 3 Steps to Navigating Effective Wage and Hour Compliance

3. The need for flexibility

Managers need flexibility to create schedules, Hersher said. Employees may quit, call in sick or simply not show up, and then managers must figure out how to quickly find a replacement. 

Employers in jurisdictions with predictive scheduling laws may have further responsibilities, he said. Some of these laws have employers document that someone called out of their shift, offer proof that they called and store the information for three years in case of audits. For managers who supervise a large number of employees, the number of call outs they get in a week may be substantial. 

Sometimes there are tech solutions, he said, but the patchwork landscape of predictive scheduling can complicate that. Employers with locations in cities or states with different laws need a way to take all laws that impact them into account.

Also read: Predictive Scheduling Laws What Are They, Where Do They Exist and Employers’ Reaction

4. Compliance

According to XpertHR’s survey “Top HR Compliance Challenges for 2020,” 10.1 percent of employers surveyed said that pay and scheduling issues is their top compliance concern, topped only by benefits (16.2 percent) and recruiting/hiring (28.3 percent). 

The most common scheduling problems for employees

1. Overstaffing and understaffing: 

Understaffing has an obvious impact on employees, leaving them overworked and with low morale, Hersher said. And industries like retail and food service with many hourly workers already see high turnover. 

Meanwhile, given the right context, overstaffing also may impact workers negatively. They may get sent home, therefore not getting paid for hours they expected to work. Employees who earn commission for sales or tips for service may also find this situation bad, Hersher added. If there are only six customers and seven servers or sales associates, they wouldn’t expect to earn a fair wage for their time.

2. Predictability and cost of living: 

Many hourly employees work in cities with high costs of living, and they could be working multiple jobs, Hersher said. A lot of these may be part-time jobs. For these workers, advance notice in what their schedules will be has a lot of value. 

As the Economic Policy Institute explained it in a 2018 article, “Volatile hours not only mean volatile incomes, but add to the strain working families face as they try to plan ahead for child care or juggle schedules in order to take classes, hold down a second job, or pursue other career opportunities.”

The power of analytics

Predictive analytics could help many of these issues, Hersher said. Retail has experienced an explosion of data studying people’s buying habits, how long they stay in a store and how much they purchase, which should allow employers to staff more efficiently. 

This could benefit employers and employees in a few ways. With predictive data, employers could still create schedules in advance, which means predictability for employees. And if employers are able to create more accurate schedules, their risk of either understaffing or overstaffing decreases, which could help deter some of the negative impacts that understaffing and overstaffing may have on both employers and employees.   

“The more you can spot trends, the better you can anticipate needs and the more you can reduce changes,” he said. 

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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