Scheduling is the act of assigning, or designating people for a fixed time in a schedule.
It is a fundamental function that involves simple problems — usually lots of them. Too often employee scheduling is all about putting out fires, and never having time to be proactive. Without the right tools, low-cost employee scheduling is almost impossible to achieve, even for the smallest companies.
With an average of 70% of a company’s costs relating to the workforce in one way or another, managers come to realize that scheduling needs to be seen as more than simply a cost: it is the most critical investment area of all.
Who is available? How do I pay less? Am I giving people enough rest so the staff will do an adequate job the next day? Am I carrying too many employees? Too few? Am I paying out too much overtime? These are the questions a schedule manager starts with. The list goes on. In fact, the benefits of a good employee scheduling solution reach far beyond the organization’s immediate task coverage problems.
Employee scheduling is intrinsically difficult to solve because of situational issues. There are new hires one week; senior people are away the next; there is a site closure or contract cancellation the next; scheduled staff are sick the next. Because there are potentially a large number of potential disruptions to the schedule, the practical difficulty at arriving at a cost-effective scheduling solution is easily explained away on a case-by-case basis. However, over time we see an obvious pattern and we come to realize that this key function is impossible to effectively manage with rudimentary tools.
The Business Case
When the company incurs extra overtime charges because of limited employee scheduling tools, the financial consequences are obvious. In fact, a good employee scheduling solution is an investment that pays off in the short, mid- and long-term. Beyond reducing and controlling costs, it can increase productivity, improve employee retention, and enhance future revenue.
Employee scheduling is the mainstay of workforce management. In their report, investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. made the case that workforce management tools can “achieve the elusive and seemingly contradictory goal of lower labor costs combined with higher levels of customer service.” Not surprisingly, it is predicted that the adoption of workforce management systems will increase.
The Knock-On Effects of Flaws in the Schedule
The financial impacts of an inefficient schedule are felt throughout the entire organization. The problems that stem from an inadequate scheduling solution extend far beyond overtime costs or time wasted performing manual scheduling and re-scheduling.
Types of Solutions on the Market
The need for scheduling is common to all companies and has led to specialized providers. The problems of scheduling employees are fundamentally different from, say, hotel room usage, or factory processing. To reflect this, scheduling systems generally fall within Employee, Resource or Production categories. They are further specialized to suit specific vertical markets.
No two companies are alike; each company brings different system requirements to the table. Buyers must shop for solutions designed to fit within their market category, opting for features that give them the visibility and functionality that matches their specific set of problems.
Within their industry category, buyers need to consider the features they want, given their budgetary restrictions. The suitability of a system is also influenced by where the complexity lies in the schedule — be it the size of staff, the exacting nature of regulations, or how quickly the schedule may change. As a basic starting point, here is a list of features commonly required in a scheduling system:
- Flexible, configurable views into the problem that suit your line of work
- Ease of use
- Automated payroll data capture and cost forecasting
- Ability to quickly adjust employee levels to reflect changes in demand
- Ability to easily assign and remove shifts from rosters
- Qualifications tracking & enforcement
- Automated rule checking and alerts
- Automation of routine communications
- Allowance accrual tracking
- Elimination of pay & compensation errors
- Integration with external systems
The right scheduling system will enable a manageable solution that results in lower labor costs and better customer service. Providing familiar views onto relevant problems, user friendly tools that can solve them, and time-saving automation, it is a key investment in operational integrity.