Scheduling employees effectively is arguably one of the most crucial responsibilities of any company. If employees get scheduled too many days in a row, they may feel drained and have difficulty maintaining a healthy work-life balance. However, a company also doesn’t want to get in a situation where there’s not adequate staff. Conversely, if workers do not get enough hours in a given week, they may feel resentful at the company or bored on the job.

Here are some essential tips to help companies schedule employees to keep their productivity levels high while meeting the fluctuating needs of an enterprise.

1. Offer Schedule Stability When Possible

Research indicates that effective scheduling starts by setting and upholding expectations for when employees work. One study determined that advance notice of scheduling was one practical way to give workers the stability they prefer. Another option was to reduce on-call shifts, which require workers to be ready to come in, but only if contacted by an employer.

Moreover, only one in five employees reported working a regular schedule in the daytime. The research data revealed a link between schedule irregularity and poor sleep quality, psychological distress and less happiness. Thus, posting a worker’s schedule as early as possible is a practical way to reduce those undesirable effects and improve the chances of better worker productivity.

2. Let Employees Communicate With Each Other About Swapping Shifts

Even when a company handles most of the work to schedule employees, it’s still smart to set up a system whereby people can swap shifts with colleagues after getting managerial approval. For example, the company could create a process where workers communicate among themselves about shift changes, then fill out an approval form for a supervisor to sign after the respective parties iron out the details.

Productivity could plummet if a worker feels there is no recourse after getting scheduled for a shift outside of their availability. Setting up a shift-swapping system reduces the likelihood of managers spending time under pressure if employees ultimately don’t show up. It also makes members of the workforce feel they retain some sense of control if asked to work an inconvenient shift.

3. Staff Shifts According to Company Needs

Many people think of the workday lasting from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. There are overnight shifts, however, plus second shifts. You can practice effective scheduling by figuring out how many shifts your company needs to run smoothly, then bringing enough employees to work during those times.

If you find people initially reluctant to work the second shift, remind them of the benefits that come with that timeframe. Second shift employees often get paid more to compensate for the awkward hours. They may also get the responsibility of being a key holder, a perk that helps enhance a resume. When you highlight the good things about a shift that may not appeal at first, a person is more likely to show up and give the work their all.

4. Use a Mobile App to Post Extra Available Shifts

Effective scheduling also means making it easy for workers to pick up extra hours if your forecasts show a need for their help. A scheduling study backed up the earlier point made here about the benefits of giving people stable schedules. Posting the hours two weeks in advance helped drive productivity and sales at the stores taking that approach.

However, another change was to utilize a mobile app where people could swap shifts or take extra hours after supervisors offered them. Many companies still use an old-fashioned bulletin board to display additional shift coverage needs. Doing that, though, could mean people who are ready and willing to work more miss out because they don’t see the information in time. Distributing the details through an app gives real-time updates to a whole team.

5. Consider Switching to a Four-Day Workweek

People in charge of scheduling can also think about starting a trial where people only work four days but get paid for five — provided their workplaces suit that arrangement.  A New Zealand corporate trustee company called Perpetual Guardian did that and got substantial results.

For example, team members maintained their work performance levels despite the shorter week. They also felt less stressed and more engaged, plus reported that the new schedule helped them have a better work-life balance.

Shortening the workweek without reducing pay may seem counterintuitive. It’s also not feasible for every kind of workplace to schedule this way. If you decide it’s worth a try, be patient, and know everyone may need a week or two to adjust to the new hours.

Get Feedback — Especially After Implementing Something New

There is no universal path to effective scheduling. The techniques used differ depending on factors like the size and type of company, plus the number of employees and how your business requirements fluctuate due to things like seasons. Regardless of how you schedule employees, take the time to get their thoughts, particularly after unveiling a new approach. Showing workers that you hear and appreciate their opinions can go a long way in boosting productivity.

Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She regularly contributes to sites like Industry Today, Born2Invest, and Business Process Incubator. Follow Megan on Twitter @nicholsrmegan and subscribe to her blog to stay in touch.

Scheduling employees stock photo by Kzenon/Shutterstock