How to Use Employee Availability Forms Efficiently
With head in your hand, you’re trying to schedule upcoming shifts. You’ve had a problem with scheduling employees who inform you, at the last minute, that they can’t work a shift. You’ve also noticed employees swapping shifts.
Basically, scheduling has become a headache.
How long has it been since you’ve had your employees fill out availability forms? Do you even refer to them when you’re scheduling?
Employee availability forms are your key to reducing shift scheduling headaches, but they’re just another form in the file if you aren’t using them the right way.
What are employee availability forms?
Employee availability forms are simply your employees telling you when they can work. These forms are used as a reference when it comes time to planning work shifts.
Employee availability forms should include some basic information requirements:
- Employee contact information.
- General availability: Which days of the week, and which times during those days, the employee is available.
- Preferences: Employee work preferences that indicate their preferred schedule (optional).
- Time when unavailable: For some employees, there are absolutes when it comes to times they cannot work.
- On call availability: On call time, should your business require employees who are on call.
- Future adjustments: Sections that allow you to add in future availability changes. Keeping them on the same form helps you see a pattern (or a problem).
- Notes: Area for explanations and notes.
- Signatures: Employee signature and date, and manager signature and date.
The easiest way for your employees to fill out their availability is with an employee time clock app, which saves time and money by eliminating human error and the need for manual data entry. If you want to require a paper form with this process, we suggest having your availability form mimic the information you need for the program to work.
Availability Isn’t “Set It And Forget It”
Employee availability forms are filled out during the hiring process. For too many employers, that’s the extent of it; they leave it at that and never revisit them. People’s personal lives and schedules change, however, and that means their availability changes as well.
How often should employee availability forms be filled out?
Your employee policies should have employee availability issues built into it. Making the right policy means knowing and observing your employees.
- Keep school schedules in mind. If you have many high school or college students working for you, they should fill out employee availability forms at the change of each quarter or semester. Their class schedules will be changing, and so will their availability. You may also need to consider extracurricular or sports season schedules, which also affect availability.
- Make use of employee reviews. Take advantage of employee review time by discussing availability changes or issues, and having employees fill out a new form at that time.
- Watch for repetitive shift conflicts or changes. If you notice that employees are juggling shifts with each other or seem to be unavailable or late during particular time slots, revisit employe availability first before taking punitive action. You likely still have a good employee, but his or her availability has changed.
- If your business changes, it could affect shifts. Any time you make a change in your business, your shifts could change. You might need more availability for some shifts and need to find employees who can take that on. This includes during holidays or regular sales events, or even a change in management or store hours.
Planning for employee availability changes outside of your policy.
Your policy probably can’t account for every situation that might affect your employee’s availability. To account for that, you’ll make a “change of availability” form available to your employees should their schedules dramatically change outside of the time frame you have set out in your employee policies.
How you want to handle these forms is up to you. You may want to require a few things of your employees when they use these forms:
- Limits on how many can be filled out in a set time frame. This keeps you from employees who might fill a change of availability on a whim, which would be a huge headache for you when it comes time to scheduling workers.
- Requirements on discussing the new availability. Rather than having employees drop a form off without a word, it might be a good idea to ask employees to come in and talk to you about why their availability has changed will help you keep tabs on changes, but also gives you a chance to find out why there’s a change and if there’s a problem.
If you have a small team of employees, you might not need much fuss. Simply having them fill out the form and leaving it on your desk would suffice because you’re in closer contact with them. But if you’re running a larger team or more complicated shifts, it’s a good idea to have some conversation to ward off availability issues.
Make sure you actually use the forms.
What good are availability forms if you don’t use them?
- Use them when you’re creating your shift schedules. The more employees you have, the trickier it can be to juggle this availability. Find a system to use that relies on the information employees have given you, whether it’s a spreadsheet or a specialized employee scheduling that can automatically assign shifts to your employees for you. You don’t want to have to crack open employee files every time you sit down to schedule, so don’t leave the information locked on a “dead” form.
- Use them to hire more effectively. Knowing what kind of availability coverage you have will help you when it comes time to hiring. You’ll know what you’re looking for in new hires. Having ten great employees who can’t work evening shifts won’t help you much. If you know where your availability coverage is weak, you can factor that in your job advertisements.
It’s not just about getting employees to fill out availability forms and making sure they’re current. You have to actually use them.
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Scheduling Outside Of Available Times
It’s tempting, especially when faced with a tricky schedule in which no employee combination seems to fill the shifts, to drop an employee name in a time slot even if it’s outside of the boundaries they indicated on their employee availability forms. Shift scheduling is often done under a time crunch, so the thought of verifying whether or not the employee can work those hours seems onerous.
Don’t do it. Don’t schedule an employee without knowing if they can work it.
You should always check with people before scheduling them outside the hours they’ve indicated they are available, and here is why:
- This is courteous. If you said nothing about their availability when they gave you the form originally, it isn’t right to demand more out of the blue. Their assumption will be that their ability was acceptable and not a problem.
- You will cause less stress. Some employees have no problem telling you “no” but others will feel tremendous pressure to readjust their non-work life in order to avoid any job threats. You’ll think you have hard working employees you can rely on when what you actually end up doing is overworking those who are unable to insist that their availability has not changed.
- You avoid creating a bad habit. After a while it’s easy to get into the habit of scheduling employees when they said they weren’t available “just this one time.” What will happen is your employees will probably find different employment if they’re able.
- You learn when it’s time to have employees fill out the forms again. If you find, upon asking, that your employees are available to cover these shifts when their forms say they aren’t, that’s a good indicator it might be time to have your employees fill out availability forms again.
It’s easy to focus on employee skills and other positive qualities, both in seeking new hires and in managing your current team. Availability is often forgotten until it comes time to meet shift requirements.
Having employe availability forms, and policies to keep revisiting them, keeps the availability issue from straying too far from the forefront of both hiring and management considerations.