Three Ways to Respond to Unpredictable Staffing Demands

Managing hourly employees in the service industry has never been easy. But over the last few years, it’s become employers’ Achilles heel.

Tight profit margins and competition from online and sharing economy brands (not to mention the current holiday shopping rush), push employers to make the most of their workforce. With staffing needs subject to change at a moment’s notice, striking the right labor balance is no small feat.

To cope with this reality, many employers have turned to contentious practices like “clopenings”, on-call and last minute scheduling. In the short term, these tactics serve as stop-gap solutions to employers’ fluctuating needs. These practices have already set off a wave of employee frustration, turnover and government scrutiny.

Here, we take a look at three different unfair scheduling practices (on-call isn’t the only one) that interfere with employees’ work-life balance, deplete staff morale, lead to negative publicity and brand erosion:

  • On-call scheduling: With on-call (or “just-in-time”) scheduling, employers wait until hours or minutes before an employee shift is slated to start to let them know whether or not to clock in. Last minute decision-making makes it impossible for employees to plan around personal commitments, whether it’s finding child or eldercare, attending class or accommodating part-time jobs. For staff who depend on working a certain number of hours per week to make ends meet, on-call scheduling creates income instability that forces many to quit. Pervasive use of this practice, however, has caused the public sector to take note. Government officials in eight states including California, Illinois and New York have investigated major brands from Gap to Uniqlo in hopes of putting a stop to on-call tactics.
  • Late schedule release: Another option employers turn to is late schedule release – posting shifts on a weekly basis, rather than biweekly or monthly. A few days advanced notice can seem better than hours, but it still puts strain on employees’ time. Delayed shift assignments may not even solve the problem – if store traffic fluctuates suddenly, a schedule set five days ago can still lead to over or understaffing. In many cases, late schedule release puts an additional burden on managers to churn out shift assignments more frequently. Scheduling already accounts for a significant portion of managers’ time: 70 percent clock extra hours to handle tasks like reassigning and swapping shifts.
  • Required shift extensions: Asking an associate to stay for an extra hour or two is a tempting way to fill in the gaps when you’re dealing with no-shows, unplanned absences or a sudden uptick in traffic – but it’s far from a sustainable solution. The request alone puts hourly employees in a tough spot: many may not want to say no to their supervisor, even if other personal or professional commitments require them to be elsewhere during that time. Staff who face regular shift extensions will inevitably burn out and start looking for another position with more schedule consistency.

Business leaders wrestling with variable labor needs have to think about the long game. Rather than rotate through these questionable practices, employers should look to employee engagement solutions as a way to address the root causes of scheduling frustration.

A digital engagement platform alleviates shift management pains for both employers and associates. For starters, they eliminate the need for paper charts and schedules, making it easier and faster to adjust shifts and communicate changes internally.

These tools also help managers capture all employees’ availability in one place, minimizing the hassle of culling through notes, texts and past conversations to create a schedule that meets the entire team’s needs. Most importantly, an engagement solution gives employees control over their hours – from access to open shifts they can claim, to the ability to swap shifts directly with colleagues.

Unpredictable staffing demands may always be a hallmark of the service industry, but with the right technology, unfair scheduling practices don’t have to be.