The art of self-scheduling

Letting your team choose the shifts they want to work is a nice incentive for team morale and retention? That’s a very mild assessment of self-scheduling. Many managers say is the ultimate blessing that removes most scheduling headaches for everyone.

A colourful schedule

What is self-scheduling?

Self-scheduling means that employees can pick up their own work shifts, rather than having a manager or supervisor assign shifts manually. It is common practice for industries with high demand for flexible scheduling, for example field service, healthcare, retail, and hospitality.

What’s wrong with regular scheduling?

Generally speaking – nothing. At companies with regular 9-5 hours there’s not even much to schedule. Managers who want to provide flexibility may offer the option to choose alternative or flexible working hours, and some companies do not enforce hour tracking at all.

But in some industries it isn’t an option to let your employees get work done on random evenings and weekends. For example, retail, hospitality and the healthcare industry, services can only be provided at a certain time and place – and therefore require detailed schedule planning.

For these shift-based teams, calendar planning is usually a multi-step process.

  • Request employees to submit their availability or day off requests
  • Create a work schedule for each employee
  • Publish schedules to employees
  • Spend a lot of time re-scheduling when employees remember the personal commitments they forgot to report

Creating a schedule that works for everyone and covers the necessary demand is an intense job that managers tackle on a monthly basis. 

Employees can have many valid reasons for not sticking to their announced availability during the time it takes to publish the schedule.

  • They have family commitments that often appear last moment
  • They work multiple jobs, and juggle two or more schedules at the same time 
  • They have some personal agenda like school or hobbies that gets scheduled on the go

With the whole world moving towards a more impulsive lifestyle, regular scheduling is also becoming more and more exhausting for shift-based teams.

What is the advantage of self-scheduling?

Giving the employees a responsibility for their own schedules and productivity can solve most of the conflicts described above.

The autonomy to be more productive and in control of their schedule makes people more motivated to show up and get things done. After all, they’ve chosen to work these days, and it’s a different perspective from being assigned to a schedule made by someone else.

Of course it’s impossible to account for all emergencies that prevent people from showing up to the job, but selecting their very own schedule of shifts makes them much more likely to account for all the possible obstructions.

Managing a self-scheduled team also takes off a lot of administrative burden from the employers, as the employees fill in most of the schedule by themselves. There may be some leftover shifts that need to be assigned, but this is certainly much less work than piecing together a whole schedule. 

Even when companies use AI-based scheduling tools that do most of the work in terms of forecasting the staff demand and prescribing relevant working hours, the robot planner won’t be able to magically read the mind of all employees. It will still be the manager’s job to move shifts around until all workers confirm the schedule. Setting up a self-scheduling process only requires the manager for a final cleanup.

Self-scheduling and shift-bidding 

For companies with shift-based work it can be extremely worthwhile to establish a process for self-scheduling. Some managers delegate the whole scheduling to the employees, and some leave 25% of the schedule open as a flexibility perk. 

Either way, the open shifts need to be easily accessible for employee signup. Self-scheduling can be as simple as having a staff meeting where everyone collectively fills in their name on the whiteboard. The digital alternative for this is creating a public spreadsheet online. 

For more convenient and flexible scheduling, teams can use planning and self-scheduling software that supports a self-signup process. Some apps will also let employees do shift-bidding – allowing them to request suitable shifts but still leaving the final word of confirmation to the manager.

What kind of companies use self-scheduling?

  • Healthcare organizations match staffing levels to patient demand to improve efficiency and reduce the workload of managers and supervisors.
  • Retail stores match their staffing levels to customer traffic, which can improve efficiency and reduce the workload of managers and supervisors.
  • Hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses align their workforce size with customer demand to lighten the last minute stress and administrative workload.
  • Manufacturing companies align their staffing levels with production demand and optimize their delivery.
  • Non-profit organizations often match their staffing levels to demand for their services, making sure to avoid both volunteer and coordinator burnout.

How to start with self-scheduling

Don’t forget about practical issues when selecting a method for self-scheduling. Even with self-scheduling, your final calendar should comply with the relevant business rules and legislation.

  • What is your way for blocking employees from booking overtime
  • What is your way of checking schedule compatibility with local labor laws (Working Hours Act etc.)

Digital tools allow setting these data points as limitations, as well as certain qualifications or requirements for some shifts. For example, shift managers can have a separate schedule, but on some days a person with manager qualifications can still pick a shift from the regular operations calendar.

How to make sure unpopular shifts get picked up

Filling unpopular shifts requires a strategic approach. Offering incentives can be an effective way to encourage employees to pick up these less desirable shifts. You can provide higher pay rates or alternative rewards for those who opt for such shifts. Introducing flexible bonuses that accumulate over time can motivate employees to help balance the distribution of shifts.

A voluntary approach to filling unpopular shifts requires more work, but can also be successful. A rotating system where everyone takes turns covering unpopular shifts can foster a fair and equitable approach to shift distribution. This will prevent a small subset of employees from frequently shouldering the responsibility of manning unfilled shifts.

Discuss the dynamics of self-scheduling with your team. If you have a platform for employees to pick up and swap shifts, it can become a collaborative environment to help each other. If you can, set up a priority system that offers unpopular shifts to employees who haven’t worked them recently.

How we can help

See our recommendations for self-scheduling tools in this blog post – or jump straight to our self-scheduling app and create a free account to get started. Our super simple and free team scheduling app has both self-signup and shift-bidding capabilities!