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Lizzie Henson, Founder and Owner of HR Ninjas

If you’ve not come across it before, staff scheduling in a nutshell is about getting the right people in the right place at the right time – or as we used to call it ‘right bums, right seats…right time’! It basically means that you are flexing your staffing levels up and down throughout the day to ensure that you always have the right number of colleagues available to serve your customers at any given time. Most commonly used in shops, pubs and restaurants – basically any customer facing environments although it is doesn’t have to be exclusive to retail and hospitality as the principles around matching colleague supply to customer demand are universal and can be applied to other industries like manufacturing, warehousing etc.

There are many benefits to staff scheduling – and I will share more on those later – but for now let me take you back to a time when Barack Obama was re-elected as President of the USA and Call Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jepsen) was top of the charts.

It is 2012 and I am working in a business partnering role for a well-known high street retailer. I had been handed a project that they were calling the ‘Ideal Rota’ – essentially this was going to be their first foray into staff scheduling at a time when the term ‘staff scheduling’ did not exist.

You see the Ops Director had a hunch that we could reduce our wages bill quite significantly by better aligning our staffing to our customer demand.  He was looking for the project to prove him right (which it did – more on that later too!)

Looking back it always amuses me that they chose me for this particular project – literally the worst numbers person in the world ever!  But nevertheless I was excited to get going until my heart sank a little bit upon the realisation that they weren’t providing me with an all singing all dancing automated crystal ball that would magically gift me the ideal rota answers… no, alas this was 2012 after all when the automation of staff scheduling was but a mere glint in the software developers eyes! So what tools were I given to carry out the task? Go on have a guess. Yep, you saw it coming didn’t you!….. None other than HR’s best friend and worst nightmare all rolled into one –  the good old fashioned trusty excel spreadsheet!

Now, I might be crap with numbers but I’m definitely not one to shy away from a challenge! So I set to work by immediately enlisting the help of an expert – a lovely lady from the Finance team called Jen who was a whizz on Excel – and together we sat for hours inputting and analysing, crunching the numbers we had gathered from the various data points around the stores (think footfall, sales data, average customer spend, time of purchases etc.) Our little spreadsheet got bigger and bigger and bigger as we introduced more variables and it’s a wonder that it didn’t give up and wave the white flag to be honest. It was massive by the end.

But! It did the job for us and after many hours of crunching the data we were able to create ideal staffing rotas for all of the stores that looked something like this one here:

Excel Flashback!

Typically we needed to have fewer colleagues working at the start and the end of the day, with more arriving to start their shifts across the middle of the day which was when the customer footfall would increase as shoppers browsed during their lunch breaks. Some of our shops were open late and again we would see an increase in customers during the evenings so it was obvious now that we needed to flex the numbers of staff on the shopfloor up from 5pm to meet this demand.

To say it was a real lightbulb moment is an understatement. We had been getting this so wrong for so long and the Ops Director’s hunch had been right after all (don’t you just hate it when that happens!) We had been employing staff in the stores at completely the wrong times of the day! Too many were in during the quieter periods when there were no customers to serve and then conversely we had too few working when the stores were busy!! We could see from the in-store cameras that during busy periods we were literally inviting our customers to walk out of our door and into the arms of our competitors! All because we simply didn’t have enough colleagues on the shop floor at the time we most needed them.

Thankfully we can now fast forward to present day and I am delighted to say that the need for manual calculations and excel spreadsheets has been eradicated thanks to companies like elementsuite who have built software that does all of the heavy lifting! Nowadays everything is automated via labour modelling and auto-scheduling tools, meaning less time spent crunching the numbers for managers and HR everywhere!

This project started out as a means of saving a few quid on the wages bill. But it ended up being something far bigger and better than that. For customers, for the business and for our colleagues. Not only did we see an increase in positive customer feedback coming through, but we also moved the dial the right way in terms of our colleague feedback via our staff engagement survey.

If you get staff scheduling right you can:

  • See customer wait times reduce
  • Have fewer customer complaints
  • Enjoy the benefits of having a happy and diverse workforce who are working shifts that suit them, meaning better work/life balance and increased colleague engagement
  • Save a wedge on your staff costs!
  • Increase payroll accuracy (by validating all this with the employees, not after the pay run!)
  • Save managers who schedule a tonne of time, so they can get back to what matters – customers!

If you want to check out more about elementsuite’s Workforce Management and Scheduling offering – click here

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