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10 Tips for Creating Perfect Employee Schedule

It’s fair to say that creating employee schedules is rarely thought of as an enjoyable task. It’s a juggling act that involves balancing business requirements, staff leave requests, customer demand and very often conflicting personalities. Without the right tools and information at hand, scheduling can take up hours of valuable time that managers should be spending with their staff on the shop floor.

Scheduling software, specifically software that is built into cloud-based workforce management systems, makes this dreaded task far easier (for reasons which will become clear soon), however, there is much more you can do to make this task more pleasant and fruitful.

We’ve put together 10 clever tips which can help you build a schedule that is optimized for productivity, cost and customer service.

1.      Purchase the right cloud-based scheduling software.

Purchasing a tool to automate scheduling is the most important thing you can do. You’ll get the best results and save the most time if the scheduling tool is built into an all-in-one workforce management system that includes an employee self-service app with shift swapping, online leave management, time and attendance and payroll. That way you’ll have all the data you need at your fingertips in the one system. Download our Quick Guide to Scheduling Software for helpful hints and checklists.

2.      Start with your budget.

Know what your staffing budget is daily and weekly, for both permanent and casual employees. Having a figure to work with gives you a starting point and puts your business’s financial health first. Having a budget, together with revenue projections, is also essential to monitor labour efficiency (which is much easier with scheduling software that does this calculation for you!).

Good scheduling software allows you to enter your budget and will work out labour costs as you fill the schedule, that way you can see in an instant if you are inside or outside your budget.

3.      Know what roles you need – then fill your shifts.

Rather than looking at staff names first, think about the types of roles you need to fill, and how many of each you need according to the projected demand that day. In a restaurant setting, on weekends you may need more kitchen staff and extra bar staff, in retail you may need both a manager and assistant manager on duty.  When you start filling your schedule, add in your permanent staff first, and then your casuals.

4.      Make schedule templates your best friend.

There really is no need to reinvent the proverbial wheel each week. Start by creating a template that already has shift patterns for your permanent staff in place. You can then use this as your basis each week so you can simply fill in the gaps or add roles and shifts during peak periods. You may wish to create several templates that help you deal with periods of high and low demand (e.g. Christmas schedules versus standard mid-week schedules) to speed the process up even more.

This can be done in Excel, however good scheduling software allows you to set shift patterns for each permanent member of staff and pre-fill your schedule at the click of a button saving you the need to remember them or cross-reference with different files.

5.      Match peak demand with experience.

There is nothing more frustrating for customers who need to purchase something quickly, or need to eat and run, than slow, inexperienced staff. Busy periods are critical to your business’s financial health and the protection of your reputation as a great place to shop or eat, so you need your best people on the floor.

We all understand that people need to train, however, if you are facing busy period, fill shifts with experienced staff and pair less experienced staff with an experienced manager during quiet periods. This way your new staff get the training and supervision they need, customers will be far more compassionate with staff wearing their “learners” badges, and you won’t have to compromise on productivity or customer service.

6.      Have a strict deadline for leave requests and unavailability notices.

Last-minute leave requests and unavailability notices elongate and already difficult task and can frustrate managers and the staff who must cover shifts at short notice. Sickness aside, set strict deadlines for the submission of leave and unavailability notices. Managers then have a much better chance at creating a great schedule and will spend less time amending it and sending out annoying revisions!

7.      Use POS and timesheet data to guide your scheduling decisions.

Using the ‘I think we need this many people’ method of scheduling usually results either in unnecessary and expensive use of overtime or customer service levels dropping due to under staffing.

Good data will take out the guesswork of scheduling. Scheduled versus actual worked times are often not the same and can tell you a great deal about whether staff are regularly being sent home early as they aren’t needed, or are working too much overtime. Take a glance at your sales data from your POS and look at accurate clock-in and out data (you’ll need an online timeclock for that) to give you an accurate idea of how many staff you need on, at what time, and on what day.

8.      Get rid of messaging apps.

They seem like such a great idea but, as our blog post on this very topic shows, they cause confusion, frustration and missed shifts. Choose a cloud-based scheduling software product that offers an employee app that allows you to publish schedules live to your employee’s smartphones. Then only allow schedule distribution, leave and unavailability requests and shift swaps via the app.

A courtesy call is obviously required if an employee is sick or running late, but by keeping all communications in the one place, messages can’t get lost and employees always have the latest schedule to hand.

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9.      Know who works well together.

Having all the roles filled and the correct number of staff on the one shift is only one part of creating a productive schedule.  Knowing which combinations of employees work best together as a productive team is important – particularly in hospitality where speed in busy periods is essential. Placing people with conflicting personalities and management styles together hinders how efficient the business can run, and the negativity is felt by customers as unfriendly service.

It’s a delicate subject but it is worthwhile talking to your supervisors and assistant managers about team dynamics and make confidential notes about who to pair together, and who to place on different shifts. It will make for a much happier workplace, higher staff retention and satisfied customers.

10.     Link up schedules for multiple sites.

It’s common practice for businesses with multiple stores or restaurants to share staff across locations. Managers run into trouble when the same person is scheduled on at two different locations at the same time, or too many staff are scheduleed at one location and not enough at another. This commonly happens when managers use a pen and paper or spreadsheet approach to scheduling and fail to communicate with each other.

Scheduling software that allows you to link multiple locations together on the one account eliminates these problems. Managers can simply tab between locations and you’ll be notified if a person is already on a shift.


Many of these tips may seem like common sense, but in a busy consumer-led industry like retail or hospitality, it’s easy to forget the basics. Why not distribute this list to your managers and make their next week’s scheduling task simpler?


Words by Katrina Strathearn


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