How much notice should you give your employees of changes to their shifts?
If you run a team of shift workers, you probably already know how tough scheduling can be. You may often find yourself creating schedules, editing schedules, and scrambling for last-minute replacements for empty shifts.
Last-minute shift changes are, unfortunately, inevitable in most cases—no matter how well you plan, unexpected things can come up for both the business and the employees. This can mean shifts are cancelled at the last minute, or shifts are left open at a moment’s notice.
Nevertheless, it’s important to create a scheduling system that minimises these occurrences—and one that includes a clear, agreed upon plan for what happens when last minute shift changes have to happen.
Why last-minute shift changes are bad for your business
You probably know that last minute shift changes are difficult for your staff—but you may not realise just how much they directly impact your business, too.
Annoying your staff is never good for business. Grumpy staff can lead to high turnover rates, poor work quality, and an increased number of future shift problems.
If you take away employees’ shifts at the last minute, they won’t be able to rely on you as an employer, and they will likely seek out work in a more stable environment. While they are at work, they’ll be less likely to give 100%, if they are annoyed at the company. Plus, next time they have a last-minute change of plans, they’ll be more likely to let you down and leave you scrambling to find a replacement.
How much notice should you give workers for shift changes?
According to Citizens Advice, one in five employers are in the habit of giving their contracted staff less than 48 hours’ notice of shift changes. Similarly, one in five companies operate on a system whereby staff cannot refuse a last-minute shift.
Obviously, this type of scheduling is bound to create tension between employer and employee, that will lead to some of the problems we’ve mentioned above. So, what is the ideal notice period for a scheduling change that will benefit both parties?
According to an employment law expert, “An employer should give an employee who works an irregular shift pattern reasonable notice of their hours. Normally this would be included in the contract of employment and the standard notice period is around 7 days.”
It seems that the consensus is that one full week is often the minimum notice period for shift changes.
How to deal with last-minute shift changes the right way
Of course, a seven-day notice period can’t always be achieved. Things come up last minute, for both employers and employees, and shifts may need to be changed with less than a week’s notice.
The most important thing for the employer to do is to ensure that your protocol for last-minute changes is clear for your employees. Here are some examples of best practices to follow:
Ask employees requesting changes to find an available replacement
If you have an employee who would like to change their shift at the last minute, set up a system in which it is their responsibility to find cover before the switch is approved. This will give them an incentive to communicate and stay on good terms with their colleagues as well!
Use a digitised system to track employees’ schedules
If an employee absolutely cannot work, you may find yourself in the position of needing to find a replacement. By using a cloud-based, digitised system like Findmyshift, you’ll be able to track all of your employees’ current schedules.
Tell employees to mark off any days they can’t work on the calendar, and remind them to update the calendar, even after shifts are published. This way, you’ll be able to quickly view all of your employees’ availability and find someone who is free and able to work last-minute.
Offer an incentive for last-minute shifts
No one likes changing their plans last minute. Make extra last-minute shifts worthwhile by offering incentives, such as extra pay or a free meal during their shift.
If a shift is cancelled last-minute, it should be partially paid
If you find yourself in the position of having to cancel shifts at the last minute, you will be leaving your employees with less money than they had planned, which can cause resentment and distrust. Decide on a notice period limit—say 24 hours. If a shift is cancelled within 24 hours of the shift’s start time, the shift could be partially or even fully paid in order to keep your employees’ trust.
How to avoid last-minute shift changes
While some last-minute changes are sadly unavoidable, others can be prevented. Here are some methods you can use to avoid as many last-minute shift changes as possible.
Keep track of your employees’ availability
As we mentioned above, using a cloud-based scheduler for all of your employees will save you valuable time. Firstly, it will help you to create your schedules in the first place, as you’ll have a clear, legible, up-to-date version of your employees’ availability at all times.
Secondly, it will help you avoid last minute shift changes as it will stop you from making errors in your initial schedule. If you accidentally schedule an employee on a day when they are unavailable, you’ll need to find a replacement. Using a digitised availability system, you’ll reduce the risk of these errors.
Schedule a time to evaluate your upcoming schedules well in advance
Once you’ve published your schedule, set aside a time at least a week in advance to re-evaluate the schedule and ensure that everything looks good to go. Double check that all of your shifts are covered and ensure that none of your upcoming shifts are likely to be cancelled.
Send out shift schedules at least a week in advance
Finally, aim to send out your shift schedules well in advance. While seven days is the minimum notice period recommended, try to send out the schedule even earlier than this. This way, you’ll have ample time to deal with any unforeseen problems with the schedule without annoying your employees with the changes.
Organisation is key
It seems as though seven days is a commonly-accepted minimum notice period that employers should give their employees when it comes to shift schedules and shift changes.
While this isn’t always possible, it is possible to minimise errors and reduce last minute changes. When it comes to dealing with shift schedules, the most important thing to remember is that good organisation and timeliness will save you and your employees a lot of hassle and time.
Keep track of your upcoming schedules and your employees’ availability using software that allows both you and your employees to update your schedules as you go. This way, everyone can always have a version of the latest availability and shift plan at their fingertips.