These holidays, here’s how to shift away from “on-call scheduling” to drive retail growth

Effective schedule management

When it comes to one of the most important shopping times of the year – Thanksgiving weekend – retailers are going into hyper-drive in attracting shoppers’ eyes and wallets. And with a number of traditional big-box stores recently disclosing lackluster earnings, a critical ingredient of a retailer’s success these holidays is in hiring the right mix of staff to meet customer demand.

The problem is that retailers face a diminishing pool of workers to support the holiday retail crush. The Wall Street Journal reported that Toys “R” Us Inc. is giving part-time employees the chance to double their hours compared with a year ago, while Target is offering holiday workers more money for the busiest shifts.

Hourly retail work is becoming less appealing to job seekers amid unemployment rates hitting a seven-year low, and the use of controversial on-call scheduling to notify people at the last minute to start a shift. Retailers are also competing against nontraditional services such as Amazon Flex and UberRUSH, which are hiring on-demand workers for consumers who prefer to shop online and receive their packages in an instant.

Once upon a time, managers would create a weekly work schedule and post it on a notice board for employees to know their hours for the next week or two. But today, schedules are pulled from computer software that lets employers forecast sales and project potential need for workers down to the hour. The rise of scheduling software has also meant that workers are only given a few hours in advance to know when they need to work.

While many major US retailers have scrapped on-call scheduling practices after complaints that the practice is a “new form of wage theft” against workers’ rights, retailers need to proactively address what alternatives they will put in place to provide a more reliable work schedule to staff.

The root of the problem with on-call scheduling is that it is focused on the benefits to the business, rather than supporting both employer and employee. However, the right tools will be intuitive enough that they can do the following:

  • Match available employees to open shifts through a real-time, centralized system that captures employee’s work hours and time off requests
  • Identify the right mix of people to work during shifts, including visibility into hourly totals per employee to optimize schedules and minimize any over- or under-staffing
  • Add and modify new shifts or jobs for specific days immediately
  • Consolidate schedules for multiple departments, with advanced filtering to schedules shifts to one or more departments for both employees and supervisors
  • Publish schedules with a single click, then pushing these schedules out to notify employees on their mobile devices
  • Integrate with other systems – such as time and attendance solutions and payroll – to manage people’s hours and time off, and pay them accurately
  • Understand sales and projections, and the ratio between labor costs and sales

Schedule management software continues to advance so that companies no longer need to use paper-based systems or tools that don’t adequately support the needs of the employee. Just like retailers today have “self service” checkout lines, kiosks and online shopping for its customers, so too does schedule management software empower workers to punch in and out of shifts, request days off online, and look at their schedules in an instant on their cellphones.

As the retail industry continues to evolve and redefine itself, schedule management plays a key role in ensuring that there are sufficient workers to drive increased sales and promote customer service, while giving workers more predictability to support morale, lower absenteeism and drive better customer service.

Are you working in the retail industry? What approaches do you take to manage worker schedules – especially during the busy holiday season?

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Lisette Paras
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