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    The Ultimate Guide to Shift Coverage in Retail


    Retail Shift Coverage: 5 Practices to Ensure Shifts Are Always Covered

    Whether you’re a small business owner with just a handful of employees or run a large retail chain, having adequate coverage is critical to keeping your customers happy and your business running smoothly. Here are five practices to help ensure you have the necessary shift coverage to meet business needs.

    I. Good Schedule Planning is Essential!

    The best way to avoid scheduling issues is to plan ahead. Staff scheduling is a critical task in the retail industry for two main reasons. First, scheduling affects every aspect of store operations. Second, it impacts the lives of all the employees working at the store significantly. So it is a continual balancing act of managing business needs with employee availability that must be handled with care. Here are some questions to consider to support shift covering:

      1. When are peak business days/hours from Monday to Sunday?
      2. What level of service do your customers expect?
      3. How many employees are required to provide adequate coverage?
      4. How many qualified employees do you have available to fill critical shifts?
      5. How many labor hours do you have budgeted for the week?
      6. How many on-call employees do you have available?
      7. What is your current employee availability?
      8. Who is available, willing, and actively searching (covering shifts) for extra hours? 

    ll. Always think of ways to Increase Shift Coverage Capacity!

    Encourage cross-training

    Cross-training is the practice of training an employee to be able to do the work that another employee does, in addition to their primary role. For example, a flooring department sales associate may be cross-trained at a hardware store to work in the gardening department. There are several benefits for retail outlets that cross-train employees provide, for example:

    • Increasing the number of employees working in multiple departments can potentially cover unplanned absences, such as an employee who calls in sick.
    • Offering employees opportunities to learn new skills increases engagement because they feel valued and that their contribution to the company matters.
    • Reduces the immediate urgency to recruit new employees and increases scheduling flexibility.
    • Training part-time employees to work in more than one department adds to your flexible workforce. In addition, it provides opportunities for part-timers to earn extra money.

    lll. Increase Scheduling Flexibility: Hire Seasonal Employees

    Hiring seasonal employees is an excellent way to manage increased customer service demands and provide additional shift coverage. In addition, temporary employees add extra flexibility and capacity to help manage sudden business fluctuations. However, companies often have a short time frame wherein they can recruit, train, and integrate them into the regular schedule rotation. Even so, the benefits of hiring seasonal employees are as follows:

    • Allows regular permanent employees to take time off for vacations, family, personal priorities, or rest.
    • Seasonal employees can meet scheduling needs and cost less than regular employees adding scheduling flexibility and shift coverage.
    • Provides opportunities to hire locals, which builds equity with the community the business serves. For instance, hiring the family members of your local clients builds customer trust, loyalty, and retention.
    • Provides long-term recruiting opportunities; for instance, once the seasonal contract is complete, the part-time seasonal worker can be hired permanently. This adds additional shift covering capacity to the permanent labor pool.

    lV. Create a Culture of Communication & Cooperation

    In the retail industry, one thing separates happy workplaces from toxic ones; communication. Employees should feel free to communicate their availability and scheduling needs to management without fear of retribution.

    Managers get frustrated with issues such as “no call, no show” or being informed at the last minute that an employee can’t come in for their shift. Sure, there are unreliable employees, but these things happen unexpectedly in many cases because employees feel they can’t approach their manager.

    The first part of the solution is to create a culture of open communication. There are lots of benefits to open communication in the workplace:

    • Avoids scheduling conflicts
    • Reduces stress and increases productivity
    • Encourages innovation and idea-sharing
    • Reduces voluntary turnover
    • Avoids/reduces scheduling problems before they arise!
    • Creates a happier workplace where employees are more willing to cover shifts voluntarily

    The second part of the solution is for the scheduling process to be as stress-free as possible for both managers and employees. This means managers should play the leadership role in building the schedule but be open to employee participation. In addition, there should be a common acceptance that both managers and employees are responsible for making sure the schedule works.

    • 87% of hourly workers consider having control of their work schedules to be extremely important (ShiftBoard)
    • 55% said they would leave their job if they lacked control over their schedule. (ShiftBoard) 

    The Manager’s Responsibility in the Scheduling Process

    • Know the business needs and scheduling coverage requirements
    • Plan and post the work schedule around employee availability 10-15 days in advance.
    • Communicate the reasoning behind the schedule to team members and allow for feedback
    • Approve or decline changes to the work schedule
    • Support employees when they communicate scheduling issues such as conflicts
    • Ensure that shift changes, shift swaps, and shift pick-ups are easy to administer 

    The Employee’s Responsibility in the Scheduling Process

    • Know the company’s scheduling policy, guidelines, and expectations.
    • Ensure that managers have an updated list of your availability
    • Once the schedule is posted, look for any discrepancies or conflicts that affect you. If there are any, approach your manager asap.
    • Take the lead in finding a replacement for shifts that conflict with responsibilities outside of work. (Take ownership for getting your shift covered)
    • Be aware of open shifts and request to pick them up when available or communicate them to other team members (co-worker)

    In sum, managers are responsible for leading the scheduling process but do not own it, nor are they solely responsible for it. Simply put, there are too many moving parts and insufficient managers to keep the machinery functioning smoothly.

    Therefore, A culture of open communication is the key to resolving scheduling conflicts, filling available shifts, improving employee engagement, and reducing incidents of last-minute absences. It takes both management and employee cooperation to ensure the schedule works and that the appropriate number of employees are in attendance when required.

    V. Managing Last-Minute Schedule Changes

    Last-minute shift changes are an inevitable part of the retail industry. In most cases, no matter how well you plan, unexpected things happen to the business and the employees. Unfortunately, this means last-minute shift changes will happen. Thus, it’s crucial to design a scheduling system that minimizes unplanned shift changes and includes a plan for what happens when last-minute shift changes occur.

    Here is a list of processes and procedures that should be adapted or simplified to help pre-empt last-minute absences or changes to the work schedule:

    • Shift trading: This should be a seamless process that enables employees to self-serve and for managers to play the role of referee.
    • Standby lists: management should keep an updated schedule of all available employees, full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal. The schedule of availability is an essential tool for finding shift replacements.
    • Shift pick up: Employees should be able to pick up open shifts, extra shifts or trade shifts with minimal managerial involvement.
    • Track absenteeism: Managers should track absenteeism and watch for patterns/trends and anomalies. This information will help future scheduling rotations (it will also help to uncover reliable versus unreliable team members)
    • Scheduling policy & expectations: Managers design, communicate and administer scheduling policy and expectations. This should occur when an employee is hired and should become part of the scheduling culture.

    Sample Shift Change Policy

    There are several benefits to having a formal shift change/ swapping policy in place. First, it allows your employee’s freedom and flexibility to adjust their shift schedules. More importantly, the policy prevents confusion and communicates scheduling expectations to managers and employees.

    Standard work shift change policies include rules like:

    • Shift changes require manager approval.
    • Shift changes must be approved at least X days (hours) in advance.
    • Shifts can only be swapped between employees with the same job position (Qualifications).
    • Shifts can only be swapped between employees with the same skill levels.
    • Shift changes cannot occur if they will result in overtime pay.


    Recommended Reading: Tips for getting your Open Shifts Filled


    No matter what your business size, having the proper coverage is key to keeping your customers happy, and your business running smoothly. Make sure you have a plan that will help you adequately cover all of your shifts so that you can provide the best possible service to your customers. Are you confident in your shift coverage? If not, consider using one of these five practices to help ensure you’re prepared for anything. 

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