Everything You Need to Know About Nurse Self Scheduling

An overburdened nursing department kills your nurses’ work-life balance.

This leads to nurse burnout, and it compromises patient care. But workforce flexibility holds the key to preventing all that.

In an August 2023 study, researchers found out that 87% of nurses consider self scheduling the main solution for creating a flexible work environment at healthcare facilities.

Although nurses, nurse managers, and healthcare executives agree that more flexibility at work is essential, scheduling nurse shifts is hard without the proper technology. That’s where employee scheduling software comes in.

In this article, you’ll get the scoop on nurse self scheduling, including what it is, why it works and how you can use software to implement it in your facility.

Here are a few key things to know about nurse self scheduling:

  • It’s an effective tool for attracting and retaining the best nursing staff, reducing absenteeism, and providing safer, more individualized patient care.
  • By minimizing overtime and automating scheduling tasks, nurse self scheduling decreases your facility’s labor costs and makes the process faster and more efficient.
  • You’ll want to have a clear policy, a well-defined process, adequate software, transparent communication, and ongoing support.
  • Employee scheduling software enforces rules to ensure enough shift coverage.

Table of contents:

What is nurse self scheduling?

Self scheduling for nurses is the practice of allowing nurses to choose the shifts they’ll work within a given scheduling period. 

Some constraints apply to this practice, though, to ensure quality patient care. In other words, nurse self scheduling is an employer-employee work arrangement that supports both your organization’s needs and the individual’s schedule preference. 

It’s a form of flexible work that improves nurses’ work-life balance at hospitals and clinics, avoiding their overburden and, consequently, burnout. Nurse self scheduling also decreases nurses’ absenteeism and increases their retention while freeing up time for you to do other tasks. 

How does nurse self scheduling work?

In self scheduling for nurses, you don’t assign shifts. Instead, nurses pick up available shifts from a list that’s provided by employee scheduling software.

Although nurses sign up for dates and times they want to work, you can still review the schedule to make sure each shift has enough staff with the required skills.

You should also allocate resources to train nursing personnel to use the technology effectively and follow the defined rules. Communication channels with team messaging capabilities are excellent for further, ongoing support.

What if nobody self schedules for a specific shift?

Not getting enough shift coverage is every nurse manager’s nightmare. But you can mitigate that risk by defining rules to ensure the desired coverage and using employee scheduling software that puts those rules into practice.

Consider starting with allowing nurses to self schedule only a certain number of shifts. And over time, you can allow nurses to self schedule all shifts. This way, you can ease into the process without causing a drastic change.

Pros of nurse self scheduling

Self scheduling saves you time

Scheduling nurse shifts is complex and time-consuming. In hospitals and other inpatient or long-term care facilities, the nursing job is often 24/7. That means that your schedule must account for all hours of the day. Then, you need to account for skill sets per shift, workload distribution, and time-off constraints without compromising patient care. 

With self scheduling, you don’t need to decide who works which shifts because your staff selects their schedule for you. Plus, when you use employee scheduling software, you can save up to 15 hours per week building the schedule. 

Improved job satisfaction

When nurses are empowered to choose their own schedules, they may find themselves happier at work. They become more autonomous and feel recognized as responsible professionals capable of managing their own work hours. In turn, you retain them and reduce absenteeism.

Some nurses focus more on spending time with their families during the week, afternoon, or night than others. Some prefer working more days in a row before taking time off, whereas others need to take more time off between shifts to rest physically and mentally. And some prefer taking days off on specific days of the week.

With self scheduling, nurses work the shifts they prefer. And flexibility builds a happy nursing workforce that’s engaged with their job, peers, leaders, and your healthcare organization.

Better work-life balance and reduced nurse burnout

In nurse self scheduling, nurses choose work hours and days off in advance, which allows them to plan work around their personal lives. That’s a work-life balance that can reduce stress levels and avoid burnout.

You see, nurse burnout can create a vicious cycle. For example, chronically stressed nurses might need to retire early. Those earlier in their careers may give up the profession altogether to seek better work-life balance. As a result, those who stay in the profession may have to work overtime to make up for understaffing, which harms their work-life balance and eventually puts them at risk of burnout, too.

By giving nurses agency over their schedules so they can prioritize their needs, nurse self scheduling can help you address the cycle.

You can use it as a recruiting tool

Offering such autonomy to your personnel shows you’re committed to their work-life balance. And that’s one of the underpins of a healthy work environment. Plus, they’ll feel psychologically safe, which will put them in the ideal mental space to face any challenge at work. You can use this perk in your job postings, your website’s career section, and more.

Improved productivity and patient outcomes

By picking up the shifts they can work best in, you enable nurses to do their job in a less stressful, therefore healthier work environment. And that kind of environment is paramount to providing the best patient care.

For instance, nurses can choose shifts according to their energy levels. This means nurses who are more energetic in the morning can pick up morning shifts, and those with more energy in the afternoon can select afternoon shifts instead.

Another thing that makes patient care safer and more individualized is a higher nurse-to-patient ratio. That’s possible because self scheduling reduces absenteeism and increases employee retention.

Finally, self scheduling for nurses makes nurse management more efficient, freeing up time for patient care.

Nurse scheduling apps make it easy

By minimizing overtime originating from employee turnover, a nurse staff scheduling software solution like When I Work reduces labor costs. It also makes the process faster and more efficient.

For instance, whenever a nurse calls in sick or doesn’t show up for work, you can open a last-minute shift in the platform right away. And because the technology enables nurses to see open shifts in real time, they can pick up that shift in a matter of minutes.

On top of that, self scheduling tools with automatic scheduling capabilities automate scheduling tasks, saving everyone’s time. Those tools also offer online schedule access to nurses, eliminating the need for nurse managers to discuss or make the changes themselves every time nurses need to adjust their schedules.

Cons of self scheduling for nurses

You may have to adjust the schedule to account for gaps

Once nurses choose the shifts they want to work, you might be left with some empty slots in the schedule. There are a few solutions to this. Beyond hiring initiatives and calling people in, you could offer those shifts to travel nurses who work on temporary assignments or to a pool of per-diem nurses who work on an as-needed basis.

Some employees may feel disadvantaged

The nurse self-scheduling process must be fair and equitable. But some nurses might fear favoritism of other nurses’ preferences over theirs. That’s why it’s so important to involve them in defining the self-scheduling process and its governing rules. Transparency is the only way they’ll buy in, own, and follow it.

You’ll likely need to enforce accountability

It’s great that you trust your nurses’ sense of responsibility to handle self scheduling smoothly and successfully. It means you won’t micromanage them, but it’s always a good idea to put the mechanisms in place to enforce the staff’s accountability for shift coverage. A well-defined self scheduling policy, continuous communication and support, plus the right technology should do it.

How to get started with self scheduling for nurses

Although you’re likely aware that a flexible work environment has many benefits, it isn’t easy to put nurse self scheduling into practice. Here are the steps to get you started:

Determine your staffing needs

You must find the balance between patient needs and workforce flexibility. This means offering self scheduling while maintaining a nurse-to-patient ratio that’s good enough for quality patient care but financially efficient, too.

Besides a certain number of nurses at each given time, you must determine whether you’ll work with full-time or part-time schedules. You must also account for the staff’s days off and your staffing needs over weekends, holidays, and nights.

Brainstorm some ground rules for your self scheduling

Whereas some nurses might try to work too many shifts, others might attempt not to work enough shifts. And it’s up to you to prevent both situations, which could result in understaffed periods or burned-out personnel.

You must also prevent conflicts over preferred shifts or disparities in shift distribution. For instance, you must establish the kinds of shifts you’ll have and the eligibility criteria for the nurses who can get each kind. You must also define the criteria to figure out who gets priority over a highly-requested shift. For example, you can determine how many weekend shifts or bank holiday shifts each nurse or nurse category can work per month. You could also create rules based on seniority.

Listen to your nurses’ concerns, and based on what you already know about their work habits, set up self scheduling rules. 

Create your self scheduling policy

A nurse self scheduling policy is a set of guidelines to govern that process. Apart from  nurse-to-patient ratios and other legal regulations, your guidelines might dictate that:

  • You’ll have rotating schedules with a certain configuration.
  • A nurse manager will review the schedule for each scheduling period after nurses finish self scheduling their shifts.
  • Nurses will have enough time to self schedule shifts and enough options available to choose from.
  • The self scheduling tool must be user friendly and accessible to everyone involved in the process.
  • Each shift will have nurses with the necessary skill set.
  • The self scheduling process will comply with labor laws, rest hour regulations, and collective bargaining agreements.
  • You’ll use a time clock to track shift attendance and verify staff’s accountability for self scheduled hours.
  • Nurses must follow certain procedures to request time off and specific overtime rules.

Once you define your self scheduling policy for nurses, communicate it clearly and promptly to your personnel.

Choose a nurse self scheduling software

The platforms that support nurse self scheduling help you avoid conflicts over shift preferences and workload distribution. For example, When I Work allows mobile and 24/7 access, real-time visibility of available shifts, shift swapping, time-off requests, labor cost insights, payroll management, and more. 

You must train your nurses to use your chosen software effectively. Then, you must provide ongoing support through a messaging app, a knowledge base, and other educational resources like FAQs and tutorials.

Set a self scheduling trial run

It’s a good practice to test your nurse self scheduling process with the software you chose to implement it.

If you’re managing nurses at a clinic, you might wish to do that over a scheduling period that’s usually slow and low on the number of patients. But if you’re the nurse manager at a hospital, it’s a good idea to confine the trial run to a small unit first. Then, if the process goes smoothly, you can expand it to other units within the hospital and, finally, to peak periods.

Nevertheless, a schedule reviewer should always be on standby to resolve any conflicts that might come up during the trial run. And make sure that support channels are open just in case the staff needs assistance.

Use data to determine the next steps

Depending on the results of your trial run, you might need to change your nurse self scheduling process, policy, and software configuration. But you should define key performance indicators and analyze scheduling data regularly against those indicators after the trial run to pinpoint any needs for improvement.

Did you know? The labor forecasting feature within When I Work helps you collect data to adjust staffing levels according to the anticipated demand. Try it for free today to see how it can help you staff your nurse workforce.

How to prevent nurse self scheduling issues

Using employee scheduling software is a great option to monitor scheduling trends, labor costs, and conflicts. This helps you uphold your self scheduling rules. 

When I Work allows you to customize scheduling rules that prevent conflicts or disparities. And apart from labor forecasting, it gives you real-time visibility of available shifts, staffing levels, and the distribution of work hours. This minimizes the odds of unfair workload distribution, over- or understaffing, and a low patient-to-nurse ratio. It also enables you to take immediate measures to enforce compliance with legal requirements and ensure patient care safety.

We might be biased, but we truly believe that When I Work is your go-to solution for nurse scheduling software.

Explore self scheduling solutions for your nurse staff with When I Work

When I Work is a nurse self scheduling platform that helps you create the flexible work environment your staff needs. It’s also the software that guarantees the right nurses will be at work at the right time to provide quality patient care.

Sign up for a free trial of When I Work and start saving time while ensuring shift coverage at your healthcare facility.

Article Image
/Human Resources

Employee Burnout: Causes, Signs, And Strategies

Article Image
/Business Growth

9 Strategies For Decreasing Labor Costs

Article Image
/Scheduling Strategy

Rotating Shifts: A Manager’s Guide to Rotating Schedules

Article Image
/Scheduling Strategy

How to Save Time And Money With Automatic Scheduling For Employees

Article Image
/Small Business Blog

40 Employee Appreciation Ideas Your Staff Will Love

Article Image
/Human Resources

How to Write Up an Employee in 8 Easy Steps