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12 steps to effective staff rostering

Updated 04 July 2022 • 9 min read

Staff rosters have evolved from simply listing your staff’s working hours into a practical business tool.

A successful staff roster can help your company reduce costs, boost staff morale, and improve service quality. It ensures you have the correct number and mix of team members to satisfy employees and customers alike.

In this guide, you’ll discover the benefits of effective rostering, the three types of rosters, and how to roster your staff effectively.

The benefits of effective rostering

Let’s start by looking at the benefits of good rostering practices in the workplace.

Reduce costs

Salaries are a significant expense for any company. But with effective rostering, you can reduce costs by:

  • having the right number of staff on at the right time

  • filling gaps and shortages using fewer short-term or temporary workers

  • spreading shifts evenly and regularly to minimise fatigue and stress.

Ensures shift equality

For shift workers, like waiters and bartenders, some days and shifts offer better tips. For others, some shifts are more straightforward, while late shifts or busy days are typically hard work. With effective rostering, you can distribute shifts equally, avoid favouritism, and ensure your staff get a fair share of duties and rewards.

Enables performance tracking

A great staff roster can help managers track which employees are performing well and which are underperforming. It can also highlight which employees perform best on which shift so that managers, supervisors, and team leaders can refine and optimise the roster plan by assigning staff to their most productive shifts.

Improves productivity

An optimised staff roster improves productivity and can boost profits and margins. If you don’t have enough staff for busy periods or those employees with the right skills for specific tasks, your business can suffer. But when you use the correct number with the right skills at the optimal times, productivity and profits soar.

Boosts service quality

Correct rostering boosts service quality. For example, nurses can spend more time with patients if they are not understaffed and overworked.

Reduces absenteeism

Effective rostering reduces absenteeism and encourages higher attendance rates by assigning suitable work hours to staff. It ensures enough staff are available to cover every shift throughout the day and maintains business operations.

Boosts employee satisfaction

An effective rostering process helps increase employee satisfaction by ensuring they are not fatigued, have flexible schedules, and perform at their best.

Minimises health and safety risks

Exhausted employees run the risk of work-related accidents. In the worst-case scenario, fatigue and stress could result in a medical error that endangers a patient’s life and damages a hospital’s reputation.

But the ideal roster minimises workplace health and safety risks by ensuring all team members receive appropriate working hours and plenty of breaks between shifts.

Types of rosters

There are three main types of rosters for business operations, used across different industries.

Duty rosters

Duty rosters are typically used in the hospitality sector to avoid scheduling too many staff on the same shift with the same duties. For example, a hotel manager could use a duty roster to schedule staff based on the number of occupied rooms.

Flexible rosters

Flexible rosters are typically used in some industries and positions where employees can work various hours according to the company’s needs.

A flexible roster enables employees to work hours that are not consistent with the company’s standard start and stop times.

For example, they might be scheduled to work at any time, for a few hours, or a full day, generally within a 40-hour working week. For instance, an employee may work from 7am until 4pm, instead of the standard 8am to 5pm.

Staggered rosters

Staggered rosters are typically used in industries that experience customer fluctuations throughout the day, such as retail or restaurants, where start times are staggered for staff.

For example, a restaurant manager schedules more staff for lunch and dinner hours to shorten the customer waiting time to be served.

Elsewhere, you may have two staff members starting work at 8am and finishing at 3pm, one working from 9am to 5pm, another from 10am to 6pm, and so on. Staggering rosters give you more flexibility and ensure staff members are always available to cover early starts, lunch breaks, and late finishes.

How to roster staff effectively

Now you know about the various types of rosters and their benefits, let's consider how you can roster your staff effectively in 12 simple steps.

1. Use role-based rostering

Role-based rostering involves planning the shift requirements and responsibilities before assigning employees. Consider each of the roles you actually need at work on a particular day, then allocate a staff member to the time slot. For example, do you need a manager and deputy manager working simultaneously?

Role-based rostering is the opposite of traditional rostering. It puts the business first instead of individual requests and prevents you from having too many people working in the same role when it’s not required.

2. Assign skilled staff to busy shifts

Assigning skilled staff to busy shifts ensures your business operates smoothly.

Employees usually know which days and shift times are the busiest but may not always volunteer to be available. Sometimes experienced staff or shift managers choose the easier, quieter shifts – maybe because they don’t get a share of the tips or perhaps because they plan the roster.

But it’s down to managers to ensure there are no skills gaps or staff shortages at any time of day or night.

3. Share the best shifts fairly among staff members

To avoid any hint of favouritism, managers should share the best shifts fairly among staff members. For example, some days and times offer better tips for waiters and bar staff. Or in other industries, some shifts are harder than others.

As long as managers consider this when creating the roster, then staff will be happy.

4. Start the roster on the busiest day of the week

Typically, most managers build their roster based on the standard Monday to Sunday workweek. But, if the busiest day of the week for your company begins on Thursday, then it’s best to start the roster on that day.

For example, suppose you manage a retail store. If you start the roster on Monday, and it’s a slow week, a manager may think to cut hours from the weekend, leaving your business potentially short on staff when the customers turn up.

Starting the roster week on a Thursday also overcomes the “end of a long week” slump. Your payroll days can still match the calendar or accounting week, but rostering needs to maximise resource allocation.

5. Allow staff to check their roster online

Using a cloud-based rostering tool allows staff to check their schedules online without contacting HR or managers. Once you’ve prepared the roster, you can notify the team by email or SMS and let them accept shifts or request changes automatically. The more self-service options you have, the more time you have for other tasks like training and marketing.

6. Provide adequate time off

It’s essential for managers to provide adequate time off. Sometimes you’ll need someone to work double shifts, extra days or back-to-back to meet deadlines or service customers. But regularly scheduling staff for more than five days per week can lead to performance loss and burnout.

If you have an employee who’s always requesting extra hours, they may be going through some personal financial problems, but that doesn’t constitute a good reason for them to work themselves into the ground. Instead, you may be better off working more closely with your employee to find an equitable solution.

7. Share deadlines for leave requests and unavailability notices

Sickness aside, you need to set and share strict deadlines for leave requests and unavailability notices. If you know your team’s availability in advance, then you can schedule once and avoid upsetting everyone. Dealing with last-minute requests is frustrating, as they have to be covered at short notice.

8. Review leave requests

Make sure your staff submit any leave requests on time so that you can review, approve, and plan accordingly. There’s no point in creating the perfect roster if you have to change it straight away and post an updated version.

If you use online software, staff can easily request time off, and you can review and manage leave requests efficiently before planning your roster.

9. Track staff availability

If you’re rostering staff manually, then having one central leave request book will help you track staff availability as you build your schedule.

But this is time-consuming compared to an automated online rostering system with up-to-the-minute leave requests and staff availability. Having the latest info at your fingertips will help you roster the best-qualified staff for each shift.

10. Set your rosters well in advance

There are legal requirements for how far in advance rosters must be displayed. But aside from legal compliance, it’s more important to set your rosters well in advance (say, four weeks), so that staff can plan their lives accordingly and achieve a happy work-life balance. If staff need to swap schedules, then they have adequate time to discuss it and communicate that change back to their manager.

Some managers worry that displaying the roster too far in advance will lead to constant changes and revisions. But once you automate and share the time-off request process, you’ll find that rostering becomes easier.

11. Calculate wage costs during the rostering process

Most businesses have various pay rates, loadings, and salaries for the different shifts. With this information to hand, you can ensure the right employees are paid the correct amounts during the rostering process.

You’ll be able to calculate wage costs, inform your payroll provider, and save yourself time and trouble on payday by staying compliant and keeping your employees happy.

12. Invest in cloud-based rostering software

Investing in the right cloud-based rostering software can save you heaps of time. If you’re using an old application or an Excel spreadsheet, then you’re leaving yourself up to being bogged down in admin, with a greater likelihood of errors occurring, which often wind up causing widespread confusion among staff members and costing you more time and money along the way.

The latest software includes drag-and-drop rostering, shift swapping, online leave management, time and attendance, and payroll. You can easily add breaks in your employees’ rosters to ensure they get the necessary breaks they need to stay fresh. And, you need to remain compliant.

Keep track of your timesheets and rosters with MYOB

Rostering your staff effectively helps you reduce costs, increase productivity, improve service quality, boost employee satisfaction, and lower absenteeism.

Using online rostering software makes you more efficient by streamlining the process further.

Try MYOB’s rostering software FREE for 30 days to see how you can manage rosters, track timesheets, and automate pay runs on the go.

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