What Is Shift Planning?

Shift planning involves creating a work schedule of employee hours. The plan considers vacation or PTO, customer demand, employee preferences and availability, the organization’s budget, and labor laws.

Healthcare, hospitality, and other industries that rely on shift work use shift planning. Adequate training is paramount as managers usually take care of shift planning and tracking employee hours. In a 2022 survey, almost half of managers with over a decade of experience said they had received only nine hours of training. The situation with training was even worse for managers with less than a year of experience, 43% of whom said they had had no training.

59% of managers with teams of two reported having received no training at all, and 41% of managers with teams of three to five employees claimed the same.

The good news is that technology has come to managers’ rescue. Shift planning has moved from handwritten schedules to automated apps that alleviate the process.

Look at Customer Demand, Preferred Shifts, and Skill Sets Required

Labor data will reveal the trends and customer demand. Check seasonal, weekly, or daily demand – more customers mean more employees on shift. As for the shifts preferred or hated by employees, you can tell without asking: it shows in shifts with the most swaps or no-shows.

Different shifts may require different skill sets. You might need qualified employees of a particular nature.

Structure the Shifts

Now that you have an idea of preferences and customer demand, you can start making a shift plan. Use that information to adjust your work shift structure if you already have one in place.

Some industries run around the clock, while others might only require a morning and afternoon shift over one or two weeks. Some might require overnight shifts, multi-day shifts, swing shifts, split shifts, or shift overlap.

Accommodate Changes 

No matter how well you structure the work shifts, adjustments will always be needed. Your best bet is to use a reliable time tracking app. The best ones allow your employees to swap shifts within the schedule. Another employee can volunteer to pick up a dropped shift. This gives employees a say in how their hours are scheduled, which makes them happier.

When you structure your shifts, consider the times of the most fluctuating demand. The schedules must be flexible enough to enable quick changes and ensure the right contingencies are in place.

To cope with changes more easily, you could maintain a list of on-call employees to cover sudden gaps, let employees exchange shifts with managers’ approval, and encourage feedback on the scheduling process.

Managing Employee Hours

Managing Employee HoursManagers should be instructed to maintain accurate records for payroll and reporting, which is another thing an automated tool can help with. They should be aware of the legal limits on daily and weekly working hours. Train them to enforce policies for authorizing and compensating overtime and make sure employees take legally mandated breaks.

Managers should conduct routine checks on working hours and overtime to ensure compliance and communicate policies on attendance, punctuality, and overtime.

Compliance with Predictive Scheduling Laws

Predictive scheduling is where managers give employees their schedules in advance. These laws are aimed at protecting employees from harmful scheduling practices. They address issues such as scheduling back-to-back shifts, adjusting or posting schedules without advanced notice, and using on-call scheduling to cope with unexpected customer demand. Laws on fair workweeks are increasing nationwide.

For example, the Fair Workweek Ordinance passed on January 12, 2024, in Berkeley, California, entitles employees to two weeks’ notice of their work schedules and to request flexible working arrangements.

Assessment and Monitoring

Assessment and MonitoringManager training should include instructions on assessment and monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of shift planning and scheduling practices, identify areas for improvement, and enhance overall operational efficiency. They should monitor overtime costs, absenteeism rates, and employee satisfaction using surveys and other forms of feedback.

Some effective assessment techniques include periodic reviews of scheduling practices and business performance data.


Michael Anderson

As a seasoned educator with an MA in History from Yale University, Michael Anderson has been a part of our team since 2021. His experience spans 22 years in secondary and higher education, emphasising interactive learning techniques. Michael’s articles often explore the intersection of technology and education. He is a passionate advocate for lifelong learning and frequently volunteers as a guest lecturer. Outside academia, he is an avid gardener and history buff.

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