4 Tips for Better Employee Scheduling: Avoid Scheduling Abuses and Save Money

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In recent months, scheduling abuse and “unfair scheduling” in the retail industry has come to light as a huge issue. As someone who has been subject to scheduling abuse myself, I can assure you that it is, in fact, a widespread problem that the retail industry not only needs to address, but is actually well-equipped to deal with.  


So what is scheduling abuse and how can you ensure that your store isn’t abusing employees?

Scheduling abuse comes in many forms and, overall, it means being a jerk to your employees. The most common form of scheduling abuse is known as on-call scheduling. That means employees are scheduled to potentially work a certain time. Employees must block those hours out in the day to be available IF their manager calls them in, but there’s no guarantee that they actually will work.

Typically, these hours are unpaid if the employee is not called in, and it means the employee is not able to schedule anything else that might prevent them from getting to work ASAP. For most people, this means they can’t plan errands, go to the doctor, pick their kids up from school, or other things you would usually do on a day off.

A few other major scheduling abuses include:

  • Cancelling your employees’ shifts last minute. While it might seem nice to have a surprise day off, most retail workers do not have the budget to be losing hours, especially hours they counted on.
  • Making the schedule only days (or hours!) in advance.
  • Updating the schedule only days (or hours) in advance. I had a boss who not only did this, but then wouldn’t tell you she’d updated the schedule until you were late to a shift you didn’t know you had.
  • Requiring your employees to stay past the time they were scheduled to, without asking if they were ok with that.

With the last two, at least employees get paid, but nothing makes a worker feel disrespected like their boss showing how little they care about that employee’s life by switching up scheduling and keeping them late without asking. Plus, most people have important things to do after work, like picking a kid up from school, or running to a doctor’s appointment. You can really ruin someone’s day, or worse,  by keeping them late.

Scheduling abuse occurs mainly because scheduling managers must keep to a very strict payroll budget. This strict budget is at odds with making sure you have enough people to man the floor at all times.

With this kind of tension, on-call scheduling actually makes a lot of sense. After all, it means that if the day is busy, you have someone on hand, but if the day is slow, you don’t have to pay anyone extra.

Changing the schedule in the middle of the week also makes a lot of sense. If you’ve been having a slow week, by Tuesday you know you need to cut some people to try and keep to the budget. Managers’ busy schedules don’t help either. Many managers end up prioritizing scheduling far down the line and, as a result, schedule only a few days in advance.

Ultimately, at best, this leaves employees with low morale, feeling disrespected by their employer. At its worst, it causes you to lose an employee because they had to go find a job with more stability and predictability so they could support their family.

This is not good news for you. Losing a $10/hr retail employee costs you $3,328 – so much more than actually paying them for the eight hour shift you didn’t need them to work. The retail industry has a turnover rate of nearly 70%, due greatly to scheduling abuse. That’s a lot of money lost.

Scheduling abuse is not only a horrible thing to do to your employees, but it’s actually a horrible business practice in the long term. A store staffed by ten people plus a manager is, on average, going to spend $23,296 a year to replace seven of those workers! That same store would only spend $8,320 a year if they consistently scheduled two “unnecessary” eight hour shifts a week for each employee. That’s a pretty obvious solution. Scheduling abuse = bad. Treating your employees well = good.

While scheduling abuse costs you more in the long term –even $8,320 is too much to bleed out. Is there a way to save all that money?

Actually, yes, there are a number of things you as a scheduling manager can do for your store to help cut down on your payroll budget, while still treating your employees well.

1. Know your store.

As a manager, you have access to a lot of information about your store – from how busy you’ve historically been on Mondays to what tasks which employees perform best. Use it. Spend some time with your POS’s reporting capabilities to determine your peak hours and best sellers. Armed with this knowledge, you can make better decisions about whether or not you should schedule that extra person for Tuesday night or not. You can also be sure to schedule your strong workers for peak hours, and your new or “better-at-folding-than-selling” workers for quieter hours.

2. Be considerate.

When your employees ask for a day off, do everything in your power to give them that day off and don’t make them feel bad about it. If you need an employee to work late, ask them ahead of time. If you need to make a change in the schedule, also ask your employees ahead of time and be willing to allow shift swaps. Make your schedule at least a month in advance.

Treating your employees respectfully and with care will keep morale high and foster loyalty. An employee who knows you care about them will be more likely to pick up an extra shift if you need, or accept a cancelled shift. (Pro tip: ask your employee if they’d be willing to take the pay cut for the day, and be ready to suck it up if they can’t.)

Overall, employees who are treated well will be understanding when times are tight, or when you didn’t schedule enough people. They know that you’ll do them a solid in return for their help in your time of need.

3. Hire dedicated on-call workers.

On-call is not a bad practice, provided you hire someone specifically for this purpose. The way on-call scheduling becomes abusive is when retailers hire without informing an employee this will be a large part of their job. It gets worse when employees are scheduled for on-call shifts without being asked.

Most retail employees need a stable paycheck and to be able to take care of outside responsibilities  like children. For them, on-call scheduling is a nightmare. However, if you hire employees specifically for this purpose, your store can have all the benefits of on-call scheduling without the major problems. Look for students or people who otherwise do not depend on this job for survival, and let them know explicitly they will be used for on-call scheduling.

4. Use scheduling software.

Employee Scheduling software is the best. It makes scheduling easier by allowing you to see the whole week, the hours you’re open, the availability of your employees, and how many hours you can schedule without going over budget, all laid out in a clean, visual manner.

ShiftNote, an example of employee scheduling software.

ShiftNote, an example of employee scheduling software.

Many solutions are even able to partially schedule for you, using an algorithm involving peak hours and best sellers. While software is not able to fully schedule by itself (yet), having a software that can pre-place best sellers according to highest sale hours not only saves you some time, but actually helps ensure your best people are always on your toughest jobs.

Scheduling software has other perks:

  • It can display the schedule in an online portal or email to your employees so they don’t have to come or call into the store each week.
  • It can automatically alert your employees when there’s been a change in the schedule.
  • It can display open shifts to employees so they can choose their own shifts.
  • If someone needs to swap a shift, it can let you know who else is available for the shift that needs to be covered. In fact, many solutions even let employees handle shift swaps themselves.

Scheduling software easily does the math to ensure you’re staying under-budget, and many times can act as your time clock, and integrate with your payroll software, making HR easier.

And there’s no reason not to have scheduling software. Many solutions are very cheap – WhenToWork, for instance, is only $8/month (when you pay in advance for a year). You can even find a few for free!


What works for you to avoid scheduling abuse and come in under budget? How do you schedule your retail employees? Let us know in the comments below!

Looking for Employee Scheduling software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Employee Scheduling software solutions.

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About the Author

Cara Wood

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Cara Wood is a marketing associate at Capterra and a graduate of Mary Washington! When she's not hard at work at Capterra, she can be found horse-back riding, reading and just generally having a good time at life.


In regards to employee scheduling software, I strongly believe that a huge advance is cost savings. With a clock in feature, you only pay for the actual hours worked. Hence, the system is paying for the itself within the first couple of months.

Planday has an extremely good clock in feature, and it even allows your employees only to clock in if they are physically at work. It’s tracked by GPS – super smart. I suggest you visit Planday and have a look at planday.com

Our manager just resigned and I’m stuck in management despite not really wanting to manage. As much as I want to give everyone the hours they want I have a very strict hour budget, my dilemma is that I need lots of hours myself just to make ends meet. Is it ethical to give myself more hours simply because I’m now the manager.

Leah – that’s definitely a dilemma, alright. Here’s what I think: Managers are typically needed to be at the store between 40-50 hours a week. A manager also has a responsibility to their employees to see that their employees are being given enough hours to make their ends meet. The way I see it is that you should schedule yourself the amount of hours the store needs you be there, and make sure that everyone else has the hours they need. Then, after that, if there are extra hours, you can take those for yourself. The one big caveat is: Make sure that the store has the right people on the floor at the right times no matter what. If you’re working 55 hours a week, but 15 of those hours would be far more productive in the hands of someone else, you have to make the sacrifice. What’s best for the business is what’s best for you in the long term. The better your business does, the more hours that will be available for you and everyone else.

I’ve had my retail job for a couple of months now, and I am really not enjoying it. I’m just not pushy enough to try and convince people to buy something they really don’t need or want. I understand that the job is part-time (I need full-time, but that’s another rant). My issue is that I will check my hours and, while not always happy, be accepting of what I get. Too often, though, when I check the schedule later for future shifts, I’ll find out that some of the hours I was assigned have disappeared. This kind of thing does not inspire loyalty or any enjoyment of the job. Bringing it up with the manager does no good. The last time this happened I was told they needed my hours to give to the new hire. Somehow I ended up with those hours back plus some, so I’m confused.

Is it fair to hire an overflow of employees only to schedule an employee once or every month to work?

Great question Elbonita!

If, when you hire said employees, you make it clear that they will likely only have a few hours a month, and they agree to the situation, then it is fair. However, what that may be is a poor business practice. I obviously don’t know your how your business runs at all, but it would seem to me that you would put all that effort into training an employee only to forget all their training over the course of the month you don’t schedule them. When they show up again next month, you’ll have to do it all over again. Perhaps, instead of hiring so many employees that you can only give some of them one day a month, try hiring to the point where some of them are only working 10 hours a week. 10 hours a week is enough to keep employees fully practiced in your methods.

Would not forcing employees for a more flexible schedule or more availability be in conflict with those employees that hold down two jobs or students that go to school? I know someone that was told that they had to open their scheduling up to be available more or they would either let them go or cut their hours down to nothing.

Juliee – It’s certainly a tough situation. As an employer, if you hired someone without telling them this was a part of the job (or it genuinely wasn’t at the time of hiring), you owe that employee to do everything in your power to prevent this situation from happening to them. Of course, it can be impossible to avoid. If your business is struggling, sometimes the best you can do for an employee is give them erratic hours. At that point, let them know you completely understand if they choose to find a more stable position and that you will give them a recommendation.

I am 15 years old and have been working at an Indian restaurant in a small town for a month now. There is no schedule at all telling us when we need to work. I am called in at either 5 or 6 only a few hours before. I wasn’t told that this was how it would be when I started the job, and I absolutely hate it. I can’t make plans because of it. I have brought it up with one of my managers before (I have 3) and his response was “yeah, yeah” and he did nothing about the situation. I don’t know what my rights are, but sometimes I work until midnight without being asked if I was ok with that, I get paid cash in hand, and I serve alcohol (I definitely know that isn’t legal.) I really want to do something about my situation, but I don’t know how! I am getting a really good pay, and I don’t want to loose my job… I know how difficult this situation is but I am hoping you can help!

Hi Emma – I’m sorry to hear that you’re in this situation. Unfortunately, I’m not really an expert on worker’s rights so you may want to look at other sites like this one. Did you fill out any legal documents when you started working? It sounds to me that you’re getting paid “under the table,” and likely aren’t working there officially legally – which means you really don’t have any rights to tell your boss how to schedule you. In that case, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to stay there and put up with your boss, or move on to a different job. And again, I’m not an expert on worker’s rights, so please consult better resources than me!

Nice information about scheduling resources for Projects, Can P6 be interfaced to an Asset Management system & will it prepare the optimum project scheduling with accessible time, budget and resources???

[…] the retail industry, the turnover rate for employees is almost 70%! Ineffective employee scheduling can be a contributing factor to this high turnover rate. Improving […]

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