What To Do When Everyone Hates Their Schedule

By Tiffany LaReau, Human Numbers

Schedules are a key part to employee satisfaction.  When someone is required to work a shift they hate, the natural response can be feelings of anger or bitterness.  It could also materialize as small paybacks of revenge, like tardiness, or inflexibility to other needs of the center.  Or it could be even more menacing – I have heard horror stories about poor workforce managers having their vehicles keyed and their tires ruined.  After all, it is the workforce manager who has the responsibility of assigning the best optimized schedules to fit the service goals at the exact best times.  But the way this is handled can go a long way towards building bridges instead of burning them.

So what do you do when everyone hates their schedule?  You start over from scratch and do it better this time.  Here is one way that process can work:

First, send out an Employee Schedule Satisfaction Survey form to everyone.  This should be a questionnaire with no more than ten to twelve questions about the schedules for the group, the individual’s schedule, and the schedule selection process.  Give each question a number ranging from bad to good so you can assign a value to the total scores.  Include three lines at the end for comments.  Allow an option for employees to sign it, or remain anonymous, and set a deadline for replies.  These surveys are going to serve two purposes.  One, you can use the data to identify popular scheduling desires.  Two, after you develop your new-and-improved scheduling process, you can send out the exact same survey again, and compare the new values, which will produce an improvement percentage to demonstrate your success.

The next step is to put a Schedule Focus Team together.  The schedule satisfaction survey probably generated some buzz, along with thoughts such as, “you know what I would do if I was in charge of schedules…”  This is a good mindset for the people on this team.  You can call for volunteers, or have people formally apply.  Include a short interview process where you ask them to describe why they are a good candidate for this team.  Look for problem-solving, brain-storming types who are going to have the time to actively participate.  Current schedule satisfaction is not a pre-requisite, in fact, it is really better to have a diverse mix of people.  The group size should include a good representation for everyone.

In the first group meeting, use one board to list the scheduling restrictions.  This would include things like service goals, operating hours, team sizes, and required staff by intervals, day of weeks, etc.  It is probable that these restrictions are mandatory and should be identified as constraints. On another board, list the schedule desires collected from the surveys.  This would include things like daycare, school, traffic, etc.  Use a third board to brainstorm scheduling rule ideas from the group.  This can relate to consecutive days on/off, 4×10 vs. 5×8 shifts, rotating weeks, weekend coverage, flexible or part time shifts, etc.  The goal for this is to get consensus on just how flexible the employees are willing to be, after understanding the constraints.  You may need to make time for a short lesson on required staff vs. planned staff (net staff) and simulate the impact that understaffing has on service goals.  During this exercise, the focus team members will begin shifting their perspective to the role of the scheduler.

Once the focus team gains consensus, a communication needs to go to the employees to let them know about the team’s progress, the decisions that are being made, and why.  Delegate these communications to the focus team members.  A second communication that needs to happen is to the people responsible for interviewing and hiring; if a new hire understands that their schedule isn’t automatically going to be 9 to 5, that’s one less disappointed agent you have to deal with later on.  Again, delegate this communication responsibility to someone on your focus team – it will help keep them engaged with responsibilities.

After all these great scheduling ideas and solutions are identified, it will be important to simulate these in a test run before going live.  Sometimes things that look great on paper won’t work out the way you expect them to, and that goes double for schedules.  Bring the team back together and look for ways to poke holes in the new shifts.  Test the schedule effectiveness (does it give adequate coverage in all the right places?) and also look at its impact to the service goals.  If you don’t get the results you need, the group will need to revise their plan until it’s something that the agents, managers, and your customers can live with.  You can also use this opportunity to introduce the idea of schedule-change frequency, especially if your center has a lot of seasonality that demands more frequent schedule changes.  Treating the entire process as an education opportunity will make resistance harder to justify.

The second phase of your focus team should work on schedule assignments.  The group now needs to decide on the fair process that will match shifts to employees.  If you are a multi-skilled environment, there may be little choice in the matter because of the way the coverage rules work (meaning, you have to have at least one person staffed in every skill).

Before the assignments start, it’s advisable to collect a Schedule Preference Form from everyone.  This is another area that can be delegated to the team.  The team should design the form as a group, then each person can be responsible for distributing/collecting the forms for each area.  They can also serve as the “Schedule Champion” for that area, a person for the agents to go to when they want a point of contact.  Including deadlines will make the process less drawn-out.

Deal with the schedule exception cases first, people who are given special schedules to accommodate their personal lives, like school or daycare.  Anyone who is given an exception by HR or management needs to be assigned their schedules first; otherwise your schedule efficiency can get blown away.  I agree, this is unfair to the rest of the team, which is why I call it “exceptions.”  But if you don’t deal with it first, by the time you get to their turn, their exception schedule may no longer be available, which means you could end up understaffed in the wrong place.

There are many options to choose how schedules are assigned: by seniority, by performance, or a hybrid are three popular examples.  The success factor here doesn’t live in the method chosen, but in the amount of acceptance that method will have with the entire group. When dealing with unhappy agents, the goal is to make change that appeases the majority, because you can rarely make everyone happy.

Finally, after the schedules are developed and rolled out, send out the survey again.  Use the exact same questions so that you can have a nice “Before” and “After” result to share with your Focus Team for a job well done, and your managers for your performance review.  You are likely to see some level of improvement, and since this is purely a measurement of happiness, even a small bump deserves a reward.

Tiffany La Reau, CWPP, is the owner of Huuman Numbers. She may be reached at tiffany@humannumbers.com.


Human Numbers’ Approach to Scheduling

Happy Employees

All schedules are based on agent preferences.

Schedules only have to flex when net staff demands it; otherwise everyone works their desired shift.

Happy Managers

The completed schedule results arrive in weekly packets, with time off and off-phone activity strategically inserted into the high net staff periods.

Managers or schedule focus team decides on assignment rankings.

Happy Customers

Required staff is built on a highly customized forecast.

Having the right people working at the right times means less wait time.