5 frequently made mistakes in workforce scheduling

5 frequently made mistakes in workforce scheduling

There are all kinds of things to take into account when creating a personnel planning. Just a handful of these issues include unexpected changes to the schedule, problems with materials, and over- or understaffing. Despite the fact that every planner works towards optimal planning and good schedules, things don’t always go as planned. What are the most common mistakes and how can you go about solving them? An alert and cautious planner is worth two who don’t go the extra mile.

1. Not starting on time 

This may be the most common mistake made among planners. It’s not uncommon for planners to become sucked into and consumed by the unexpected events that crop up on a daily basis. The result is that they are so busy extinguishing fires, that the personnel planning starts too late. Planners also often deliberately postpone drawing up the planning to create a buffer against ‘unforeseen circumstances’. Because the schedule is distributed too late, employees don’t know in time when they have to start work. This imposes time pressure on employees because they’re forced to plan their work tasks on an ad hoc basis. It goes without saying that this leads to frustration where employees are concerned.

How to solve the problem

Schedule a fixed time in your calendar to arrive at a ‘final’ version of the schedule. Select a specific day, or an hour of the day. Give yourself and your employees a deadline for planning shifts or tasks. This creates a routine where problems come to light more quickly.

2. Panicking about last-minute changes

You’ve drawn up the planning for the next day/period and have informed your employees about it. All of a sudden, an employee isn’t able to come in, important materials aren’t delivered on time, or an urgent call comes in from an important customer whose own schedule is set in stone. Your planning is falling apart! It’s at this point that your services, as a manager or planner, are relied on for coming up with a solution. The sweat begins to bead on your forehead. The pressure and stress skyrocket.

How to solve the problem

It seems too simple to be true, but: stay calm and plan! Take a step back and look at the problem from different angles to identify the potential solutions. What’s most important is that you don’t rush things. Don’t be afraid to rely on your manager or colleagues to tackle specific problems. There’s no point in panicking and exchanging countless messages and e-mails. It doesn’t just lose you time but can also create confusion.

3. Not enough (open) communication about personnel planning

For planners, communicating with employees, management and customers about decisions is often an area that could do with improvement. Are you always transparent about how decisions are made? Why, for example, is a single employee assigned to a difficult task, or to make an additional run? Frequently, there’s also a failure to (sufficiently) report to management. This, in turn, means that employee shortages and other problems are detected too late. Another issue that we’ve regularly seen crop up is that ‘planning stress’ results in the end customer not being informed (in good time) of any changes.

How to solve the problem

Start with open communication. Let employees know why you need more employees than usual this weekend, or why someone is assigned an additional task. If your employees understand how the schedule was drawn up and why, they’ll be more sympathetic. Involve them in the planning. Plan a meeting with the manager at regular intervals to discuss any planning issues or challenges and to find solutions. Finally, always act professionally when handling customers, no matter how difficult they may be at times. Show understanding when they have a problem and offer a tangible solution.

4. Communication related to planning changes

Work schedules change all the time. The more often the schedule changes, the more likely it is that an employee will overlook those changes. Employees are annoyed when they receive (notifications about) a new schedule when the changes have nothing to do with them. Employees find it at least as annoying to discover that the daily planning has completely changed overnight.

How to solve the problem

One significantly helpful step you can take is making the schedule available online. That way, everyone has easy access. A good online tool makes it possible to automatically send a message to individual employees with the most current schedule, even should that involve last-minute changes. Agree on a set time for closing the planning for the coming day or period.

5. Day-to-day issues

Focusing on short-term planning has all kinds of consequences. These include the following, among others: many temporary workers, peaks and troughs not adequately dealt with, hours of leave not taken, repairs or tasks put on hold, frustrations with personnel planning. A common approach shared by many planners – although obviously not all – is that they only address issues after they’ve reached a critical situation. By that time, it’s too late. Vacant shifts and tasks that haven’t been scheduled are clear signs that your personnel planning has gone wrong.

As a planner, you are constantly looking ahead and must anticipate issues on a daily basis. However, if you’re busy all-day answering questions from your colleagues and addressing customer issues or incidents within the team, you don’t have much time to plan ahead. Do you know how much work to expect for a certain period? Do you have an overview of employee availability? Have you come up with solutions for peaks and troughs during work activities? These are all questions that planners have to consider in advance.

How to solve the problem

Free up time for proactive planning and risk assessment. This will ensure a greater sense of calm and less stress in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Take stock of the employees you have available and how much work you expect will be necessary. For example, you could review the figures for the same week of the previous year. Are there peaks and troughs in the work? Are there specific tasks or activities that you could schedule in advance? Make sure the planning is clear and make agreements. Identify problems and propose well-substantiated solutions to the management.

Do you have any questions about effective workforce planning and management? Please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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