Shift Coverage: 6 Tips To Keep Your Business Staffed

Has maintaining shift coverage become a constant battle for your business? If so, you aren’t alone. Building a balanced schedule can be tough enough on its own, but then you have to contend with call-outs and scheduled time off. 

The good news is that there are a few simple ways to keep your business adequately staffed week after week. With that in mind, here are six tips to address your shift coverage headaches. 

You can also look into scheduling software designed to simplify schedule and employee management. It’s called When I Work, and you can try it for free. 

Here are five things you need to know about shift coverage:

  • Not all shifts have equal staffing needs.
  • It’s important to tailor schedules to align with consumer demand.
  • Educating employees on call-out policies helps reduce absenteeism.
  • Encouraging staff members to trade shifts instead of calling out can increase attendance.
  • Integrating software into your scheduling processes resolves many shift coverage challenges. 

Table of contents

These helpful shift coverage tips include information about:

Common shift coverage challenges

During shift planning, you are bound to run into some headaches. Improving shift coverage starts by identifying what these challenges are and how they impact your day-to-day operations. Some of the most common barriers you’ll encounter include:

Under- or overstaffing your shifts

You can’t “wing it” during shift planning. Without a plan, you’ll end up with short-staffed and overstaffed shifts, both of which are bad for business. 

The shorthanded team will get hammered with work. Over time, this can lead to burnout and frustration. The overstaffed shift won’t have enough work to go around. Overstaffing can be especially concerning in the hospitality industry, where employees rely on tips. 

Managing unexpected call-offs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national call-out rate is 3.1%. The service sector’s call-out rate is even higher, coming in at 4%. Suppose that your business has a call-out rate on par with the 4% trend. In this case, you’ll average one call-off per day for every 25 employees. 

During a busy shift, even one call-off can increase the burden on everyone. Last-minute call-offs are especially challenging because you probably won’t be able to find anyone to fill in. That means your team will be working short-handed. If the issue becomes a recurring trend, it can hurt morale and prompt other people to miss work. 

Increased employee overtime

Many business owners offer overtime opportunities to address shift shortages. For instance, you could ask one of your top performers to stay over an extra four hours to offset a call-out. While this move addresses an immediate need, it can put a strain on your budget.

Think about it. Suppose that you incur an extra 16 hours of overtime per week due to shift coverage problems. In this scenario, assume your staff earns $30 per hour when working overtime. That translates to an extra $480 per week or nearly $25,000 per year in wage expenses. 

Balancing employee availability and time-off requests

So you’ve finally got your shift coverage problem figured out and everyone is happy. You’ve even implemented automatic scheduling to build the same shift configurations week after week. 

There’s just one problem. The holiday season is right around the corner, and people are putting in their time-off requests. Now, you’ve got to reconfigure everything. Keep in mind that you have to account for employee availability needs in your shift coverage strategy. 

Poor employee morale and performance

No one likes working short-handed. Every time someone misses work, the people who do show up have to pick up the slack. Over time, this can ruin employee morale and hurt performance. 

The longer your shift coverage issues go on, the worse morale can become. People will suffer from burnout and may even start missing work themselves. 

How to improve shift coverage in your business

The dangers of inadequate shift coverage are clear. But what can you do about it? Here are some great tips to help you keep your business fully staffed:

1. Offer consistent shift start times and end times

Shift start and end times shouldn’t vary from week to week. Consider your operating hours and create corresponding shifts. For instance, you can divide your workforce into an early and late shift, each of which consists of eight hours. 

Being consistent simplifies your scheduling process. It also makes it easier for employees to plan personal obligations around work. They won’t have to make last-minute adjustments for childcare or appointments. 

2. Determine which shifts require more hands on deck

Naturally, your business will experience peak hours and non-peak operating hours. You’ll need to adjust your shifts accordingly. 

Look back at sales volume over the last few months and determine when you are the busiest. Also, speak to your team and gather their insights. Use this information to better structure your shifts and spread out the workload. 

3. Cross-reference business needs with employee availability

Always consider employee availability when addressing business needs. While your staffing demands have to be met, you’ve also got to accommodate employee time-off requests and other needs.

Be honest with your staff when approving or denying requests. If you can’t approve a request outright, offer an alternative solution (like letting them leave early). 

4. Have a clear absenteeism and time-off policy

You have to set clear expectations for your team. Let them know what your time-off policy is and how to request days off. Use a standardized form of communication, like email or team messaging.

You should also address frequent call-outs. While you don’t want to punish people for using their sick time, you must take steps to discourage abuse of the system. For example, you could reqest a doctor’s note when someone misses three consecutive days. 

5. Allow employees to swap shifts when they need to

Let your team trade shifts when needed to save their paid time off and circumvent time-off request denials. Allowing shift swaps is especially important if your team works rotating schedules

For example, suppose that your staff works every other weekend. If one person has a family obligation on the weekend, they could swap weekends with their coworker. 

6. Invest in software to automate the shift management process

Full-service scheduling software can automate numerous aspects of the shift management process. You can ditch paper logs and automatically build balanced schedules.

The best tools also track time-off requests and ensure absent employees aren’t accidentally added to the schedule. Look for feature-laden options with lots of different tools. Also, make sure that the platform integrates with your existing accounting software. That way, you can track payroll and employee shifts all in one application. 

How employee scheduling software can make it easier to get shifts covered

Employee scheduling software can help you organize your work shifts more easily. Instead of writing schedules by hand, you can input employees’ availability and preferences and then let the software generate shifts for you. This saves time and reduces errors. 

If someone needs to swap shifts, you can complete the change in seconds. Employees will even receive updates instantly.

When I Work is a great example of scheduling software that can improve shift coverage. With features like shift swapping and automated scheduling, it streamlines your day-to-day tasks. The platform even includes a user-friendly employee app so employees can stay connected and communicate with management. 

When I Work is here to help you keep shifts covered 

Take the hassle out of shift coverage with When I Work. Our all-in-one platform includes a time clock, messaging tools, and much more. It even integrates with accounting tools like QuickBooks. Sign up for a free trial

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