The Complete Guide to Shift Scheduling

Josh Redford
May 4, 2021

Are you struggling with shift scheduling for your small business? Are you unsure where to start? Shift scheduling is a key part of any business that involves shift work, from restaurants to retail, to supermarkets and security.

Employers’ goals are to try and create shift work schedules that will reduce labor costs, improve the efficiency of their business, and also keep their staff happy.

This guide will help you understand what is means, and how you can use it to optimize your business. 

What is shift scheduling? 

In short, shift scheduling is when you schedule employees who do shift work for their weekly schedule. This could include employees who run the night shifts, long hours, or only work part-time. 

If your business operates more than 10 hours per day, breaking the traditional 9 to 5 work schedule, you will have to schedule shift work for your employees. 

In shift work, a workday is divided into several shifts, like day shift (e.g., 6 a.m to 2 p.m) and night shift (e.g., 2 p.m to 10 p.m). You can customize these shifts according to your business needs. 

We know that preparing the perfect shift schedule can be a challenge, and many factors must be considered when shift scheduling, from labor costs, to employee preference and availability.

You must also consider the different shift schedule types, like fixed shift, rotating shift, split shift, and on-call, shift.  The end goal of course is to find a shift schedule that best suits your business and staff members unique needs.

What are the pros and cons of a shift work schedule?

Like everything in life, Shift work will have some pro’s and cons.  However for many business owners who have business hours that are longer than 8 hours, or unpredictable revenue, shift work scheduling options are a real life saver.

Pros of shift work include:

  • Greater schedule flexibility
  • Lifestyle flexibility
  • Higher productivity during working hours
  • More time to learn new skills
  • Work life balance

Yet there are also some cons to consider.

Cons of shift work include: 

  • Health problems during night shif
  • Strains on employee personal relationships
  • More manager involvement in organizing the schedule every week
  • Less consistency in scheduling
  • Potentially unreliable staff

So as an employer you must consider these risk factors when creating your work schedule to keep your staff happy and healthy.

How can I create a great shift schedule?

To create a great shift schedule, you have to measure several factors, such as employee preference, employee ability, employee availability, employee wages as well as considering the business's short-term and long-term goals.

Other key factors to consider are the sales forecasting vs labor for that time of day, or on previous days.  If you run a goods and services based business, this is also known as reporting,  This will help you save time and money on scheduling and staff in the long run.

Keeping these things in mind will help you to manage business resources, improve operational efficiency, upgrade customer service, and generate more profit. 

In the end, a great rule of thumb is to have open communication with your staff check in with them often.

What types of jobs or industries entail shift scheduling?

Nowadays, numerous industries use work scheduling for workforce management, including manufacturing, restaurants and bars, medical, hospitality, retail, public services, media, constructions, and many more. 

Shift work is especially common when it comes to hourly employees who may have schedules that fluctuate throughout the week, or who don’t have set vacation or scheduled times every month.

How can I create a shift work schedule that will lower labor costs?

When you create shift schedules, focus on reducing overtime, and use scheduling software that integrates with your POS sales system - and give you overtime alerts to optimize operational margins.

Instead of guessing that more employees will be required for the Halloween season by yourself, this shift scheduling software can use a labor forecast feature that measures data pulled in from your integrated system. Scheduling software that integrates has been known to save companies who operate with hourly staff up to 3% on labor costs.

Software with an automated scheduler will show you the number of employees you need in rush hours or busy seasons. Moreover, it will reduce overstaffing and understaffing, lowering labor costs and increasing productivity. 

How can I create a shift work schedule that improves employee morale?

Because happy employees work efficiently and productively, while unhappy employees do the opposite, a lousy shift work schedule can affect the morale of  employees and your bottom line. 

Start off on the right foot by implementing a proper system that allows your employees to enter their availability data, including requests for time off.  That way you can provide them with their dream schedules before you even press publish.

Next, consider sharing the schedule among your employees and offering a shift customizable opportunity for them. Some software allows a forum feature where employees can make changes, or request shifts without the intervention of your HR team.

Keep in mind to create the shift schedule early without waiting for the last minute. This will give you more flexibility, allowing you to manage mistakes quickly. Plus, employees also can prepare themselves for scheduling conflicts. 

Finally, consider conducting surveys from time to time to get feedback from your employees. This will help you to understand the most effective shift schedule for each employee and many more important facts. For example, some employees’ productivity is maximum at early shifts, while some may perform best on nights.

In the end, personalized shift schedules that improve employee morale as well as productivity, avoiding burnout and decreasing absences.

How can I optimize my shift work schedule to improve company operations?

Analyzing your labor cost and sales data and planning your team members around it will help improve costs and operations. 

This can easily be achieved by integrating software with your POS system that can pull sales information and measure labor against it. 

These analyses will help you to identify the high volume and low volume sales shifts and best performing and low performing employees of each shift separately, so when you create shift schedules next time, you can assign your best players to the best sales days while assigning trainees to the other days, directing your business as well as your employees for success.

This helps you not only for optimizing work schedules but also for enhancing accountability among the employees. For example, if a supervisor does not perform well during a specific shift, you can find out why by having a private conversation with him.

Also, it is important to keep a backup of employees to call during rush hours. For example, there is a higher chance of getting more customers to your restaurant on the weekend. So keeping additional employees to call in the weekend is really helpful to handle the workload.

Once you created your first shift schedule, you have to review it periodically and do necessary modifications to optimize it. Apart from that, reviewing the whole scheduling process regularly is also really important to identify the problems.

These are only a few tips, but there are many more to consider for effective staff scheduling that will help you to save money, time, and a lot of disappointments.

What is the best software to write a shift work schedule?

The best way to write a shift work schedule is by using employee scheduling software.
These software solutions offer the option for staff to select their schedules, so when a manager writes it all their availability is already within the system. 

It also offers employees shift swap requests, and manager approval features that predict revenue, and warn when employees go into overtime.

That way your staff get what they want, and you don’t have any headaches when shift swap requests come in.

Using software like this saves your money, speeds up your work scheduling process, and increases the efficiency of business then traditional scheduling methods like pen and paper or spreadsheets.

What other factors should you consider when scheduling shift work?

There are numerous factors to consider when scheduling shift work you may not have considered, here are a couple to ponder.

  • Some Countries and States have their own regulation systems for shift scheduling
  • Making sure you are compliant with labor laws within your country
  • Consider the weather if you have outdoor seating
  • What to do if someone call sick or doesn't show up
  • Employee skills, satisfaction, and productivity.

How should I pick a shift scheduling software?

Finding the right shift scheduling software is a very important decision, so before purchasing a shift schedule maker tool for your business, one should carefully analyze the specific requirements of their business.

We recommend seeking software that has automated scheduling features, templates and drag and drop functionality, making your work as a manager that much easier. 

Other important features include drag and drop functionalities, and employee and manager mobile apps to allow for fast and easy shift swaps.

Scheduling software should also have compliance or time tracking features integrated with it, so you can save yourself from unwanted lawsuits, and save yourself from manual time calculations.

In the end, we recommend a solution that has all in one functionality.  Meaning you can streamline not just your scheduling, but also your time tracking, payroll, hr, compliance, as well as import sales data from a POS to run forecasts. 

You can do your research online by using software websites - we always recommend software that allows for a free trail.


Effective shift scheduling is essential to run a business smoothly. If you have no idea about when or where each of your employees is working, you will not be able to handle your workload properly. So if you still do not have a proper shift schedule, then it’s time to create one. Don’t worry, we're here to help!

free scheduling template


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