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4 ways to create fair work schedules that your employees will appreciate


Hashing out weekly schedules and time-off policies for your workforce probably isn’t at the top of your favorite-things-to-do list. But as a business leader, it’s definitely something that should be a top priority to help ensure a smooth-running business and minimize employee complaints and attrition. It is important for you and your workforce to communicate with each other.

Be clear about your policies for requesting hours, switching shifts and taking time off. Employees should feel comfortable letting you know their preferred work hours and plans to take time off, or talking to co-workers about switching shifts.

It’s difficult to make everyone happy with their hours and time off 100 percent of the time, but the following tips can provide a foundation for working toward that goal.

1. Communicate expectations

In addition to having an easily accessible handbook with scheduling and time-off policies, you should also verbally relay this information to your employees. Within that conversation, be sure to share your preferred procedures for managing work schedules and time off – planned and unplanned. For example, are there a certain number of hours employees are required to work each week to receive scheduling consideration? And what if they can’t come to work because they’re sick, who should they call? How many days can they be absent before they need a doctor’s note?

Want to avoid last-minute vacation requests? Ask your employees to submit their vacation requests at least two weeks prior to the date of their planned absence.

Having strong, open channels of communication with and among employees will lead to fewer causes of complaints and frustrations on your end and theirs.

2. Don’t judge – be fair

How do you decide who gets time off during the busy season or if multiple employees ask off? The first thing to keep in mind: The reasons your employees prefer certain days or shifts over others shouldn’t be an issue, as long as they communicate their preferences to you in advance.

Whether they need Tuesdays off to attend classes, or they want to be home with their children on Fridays to save on daycare costs, your main concern should be that they’re reliable once a schedule is in place. Likewise, how employees want to use paid time off (PTO) should not affect whether you approve or deny their request. It’s their time to use as they wish. Let’s look at two different scenarios:

  • The Staycationer: Phil has requested a week of vacation to just sit at home and relax.
  • The Adventurer: Janet has requested time off because she wants to travel and go somewhere with her family.

Just because Phil isn’t going anywhere on his time off doesn’t mean his need for downtime should be less of a priority than Janet’s vacation. Instead of weighing the merits of who’s the most deserving of requested PTO, consider granting approval for time off on a first-come, first-served basis. This can simplify scheduling woes even during peak PTO seasons like summer and holidays.

Also, be mindful that using seniority as a determiner, while not uncommon, can create an environment that places emphasis on tenure over performance. By contrast, no one has legitimate reason to complain about getting beat to the punch in a first come, first-served system.

3. Consider bundling vacation and sick time

It’s becoming more and more common for businesses to offer a packaged PTO benefit that includes vacation plus sick time.  Grouping all paid days off into one bucket can help simplify the PTO process and give employees a greater sense of control over their schedules since it allows for more flexibility. It can also be perceived as a fairer approach, as it takes the judgment and guesswork out of the equation.

For example, if someone runs through their PTO for vacations early in the year and then comes down with the flu, they understand they’ll be facing unpaid time off. Then, when next year rolls around, they’ll probably budget their PTO more wisely. Lesson learned: It’s usually not a good idea to use three weeks of vacation time in January.

At the end of the day, does it really matter whether your employees are using their time off to go on vacation or stay home sick with a cold? Either way, your employees will appreciate the flexibility, which can help you maintain a happier and more engaged workforce. Plus, you’ll spend less time sorting through vacation and sick time requests, or worrying if an employee was really sick or just playing hooky.

4. Be careful how you interpret overtime and “comp time”

Overtime is commonplace in many industries, but should you be offering the opportunity to work overtime? The answer to that is a little fuzzy: It’s up to you.

If your employees are working a lot of overtime throughout the year, you may need to hire extra staff. If it’s just during a specific peak time of year, paying employees overtime may be your best bet.

It comes down to balancing risk versus reward, and it depends on the industry as well. For jobs that require specific, specialized skills, it’s sometimes smart to stick with your experienced team and offer them overtime incentives, rather than hire additional employees who will require lengthy training. This is often the case with hourly IT employees, for instance.

Comp time refers to “comparable” time off for hours worked in excess of 40 per work week. While it’s often tempting to offer comp time as a benefit, especially to employees who don’t qualify for overtime but work extra, it can cause problems down the road. Unless you institute a stringent, well-defined comp time policy, it’s generally best to avoid this practice altogether. Instead, consider alternatives to comp time and address any issues that may be creating a need for overtime. Maybe employees are truly short-handed, or maybe you just need to talk to their managers about time management skills.

Learn more about creating a fair and stress-free office environment for your team. Download our free e-book, 7 Most Frequent HR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.