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How to Deal with Shift Planning Challenges Like a Pro


“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” – Pablo Picasso.

Shift planning is an ongoing challenge for small, medium or large retail and service sector businesses. With fluctuating staff availability and ever-shifting customer demands, it can be challenging to create an effective shift plan that meets business needs while maintaining employee satisfaction. This blog outlines the critical challenges of shift planning and provides some practical scheduling solutions to help manage them successfully. 

“People who are doing shift work or managing shift workers or deciding to put people on shift schedules, to begin with, should realize that we’re not robots.” – Jessa Gamble. 

What is the Shift Planning Process?

Shift planning is the process of organizing employee schedules for optimal performance. It begins with reviewing labor data, business fluctuations, employee shift preferences, availability, and skills requirements. Employee feedback helps choose the right shift plan. Moreover, a shift plan must be flexible enough to accommodate sudden changes or business cycle fluctuations. Lastly, decision-makers must select a suitable shift planning tool that allows for administrative ease and quick adaptability. The sum of the shift planning process aids in controlling costs, boosting productivity, and facilitating employee satisfaction and positive customer experience. 

The Top 5 Shift Planning Challenges 

“By Failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin.

Shift planning is critical to business operations, especially for industries that heavily rely on shift work and hourly workers. The process involves scheduling employees’ work hours in accordance with the organizational needs. Moreover, a successful shift planning process must take into consideration the challenges that impact the business: 

Balancing Staffing Needs with Business Fluctuation

Understanding business cycles are key, companies often struggle with understaffing during peak periods and overstaffing during slower times. To deal with this issue, decision-makers can:

  • Leverage data to adjust staffing levels based on real-time data to avoid staff imbalances.
  • Cross-Train employees for multiple roles to maximize workforce efficiency.
  • Hire for flexibility by recruiting temporary or part-time staff for peak periods to maintain flexibility.
  • Communicate staffing strategies with employees to generate awareness of business cycles and foster adaptability. 

Compliance with Labor Laws and Regulations

Staying up to date with and ensuring compliance with labor and employment laws, safety regulations, and predictive scheduling laws can be complex, especially for businesses operating in multiple jurisdictions; decision makers should:

  • Organize training sessions for management teams on labor law developments
  • Use TimeWellScheduled’s scheduling software that incorporates labor law compliance features.
  • Establish guidelines to prevent back-to-back closing and opening shifts,
  • Consult with legal advisors to review scheduling practices and policies, ensuring they are compliant 

Managing Employee Availability and Preferences

Balancing business needs with employees’ availability, preferences, and life outside work is a constant challenge. Poor handling of this can lead to dissatisfaction and turnover, for this reasons, managers should:

  • Survey Staff to collect employee availability to ensure accurate scheduling.
  • Factor in individual preferences to increase staff satisfaction and engagement.
  • Set clear policies regarding shift swaps and time-off requests to maintain fairness and transparency. 

Handling Last-Minute Changes and Emergencies

Unpredictable events such as last-minute time-off requests, no-shows, or sudden increases in demand can disrupt carefully planned schedules, making flexibility and contingency planning essential. To manage sudden changes management can:

  • Create contingency plans for common emergencies or unexpected events.
  • Use the TimeWellScheduled communication feature to help implement sudden changes.
  • Maintain a reserve list of on-call or flexible staff who can step in at short notice.
  • Hold emergency meetings to communicate with affected staff to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

Maintaining Clear and Timely Communication

Ensuring that employees are informed about their schedules promptly and clearly can be challenging, particularly in larger organizations or those where employees require regular access to communication tools. Miscommunication can lead to confusion, errors, and dissatisfaction. Thus, businesses should make every effort to:

  • Contact affected employees personally to ensure they are aware of the changes.
  • Allow employees to confirm receipt of the new schedule changes.
  • Revise physical scheduling boards or calendars in common areas. 

The Shift Planning Process: Do’s & Don’ts


  1. DO evaluate the organization’s needs and select a suitable employee scheduling software that meets your business requirements.
  2. DO ensure that each shift is staffed with employees possessing the necessary skills to meet the business demands.
  3. DO prioritize work-life balance by incorporating employee preferences and availability during shift planning and allowing shift swaps where possible.
  4. DO provide transparent, easy-to-access schedules at least two weeks before and communicate how scheduling decisions are made.
  5. DO comply with all relevant laws regarding predictive scheduling, overtime, meal breaks, and shift lengths.
  6. DO prepare for changes and have backup plans if an employee unexpectedly cannot work a shift.
  7. DO use shift planning software to maintain the visibility of schedules, control costs, and maximize productivity while balancing employer and employee needs.


  1. DON’T ignore the benefits of TimeWellScheduled scheduling software; transitioning from manual processes can increase efficiency and accuracy.
  2. DON’T overlook the importance of training and support; ensure your employees understand how to use the scheduling software effectively.
  3. DON’T make scheduling decisions in isolation; involve your employees through collaborative scheduling.
  4. DON’T neglect the importance of transparency; always explain how scheduling decisions are made.
  5. DON’T forget to regularly conduct workforce analysis to ensure labor levels are aligned with organizational goals and growth objectives.
  6. DON’T disregard the importance of real-time schedule adjustments to meet changing business demands while staying within budget limits.
  7. DON’T overlook the human element of shift planning; always balance company needs with employee satisfaction and engagement.  

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Navigating shift planning complexities is crucial for businesses in the retail and service sectors. Companies can effectively address fluctuating customer demands and staff availability by employing strategies such as leveraging real-time data, implementing TimeWellScheduled’s cloud-based scheduling software, and facilitating effective communication channels. Overcoming these shift planning challenges leads to a more balanced workforce, heightened employee satisfaction, and a more efficient and successful business operation.

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