How Employee Scheduling works

May 18, 2023

In this blog, we explain how employee scheduling works and what is involved in the process, what factors need to be considered and the step involved in building great employee rotas.

How does employee scheduling relate to Workforce Management? 

Workforce management software makes the process of creating and maintaining a staff schedule faster and easier. Automating the process can improve the quality of the rota, reduce time spent on administration, and, if done correctly, make employees more content.

What are the Benefits of great employee scheduling?

  • Increased sales: The most stated objective of employee scheduling is to “put the right people in the right place at the right time” It means that you ensure that the correct quantity of personnel with the necessary capabilities is available at the correct times to meet customer requirements. If you can do this you can increase sales because you avoid long queues or wait times that deter customers and offer an excellent service. 
  • Reduced costs and improved productivity: Creating an effective schedule for employees helps to ensure that during times of higher demand, they are deployed accordingly. This helps to avoid overstaffing during less productive, quieter times and keeps productivity metrics from being negatively impacted.
  • Increased employee satisfaction: Rotas that are fair and equitable, without any violations of the Working Time Directive, are strongly linked to higher employee retention rates amongst shift workers.
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What are the steps involved in building an employee schedule?

To gain a good understanding of how employee scheduling works is essential to understand the chronological route it follows, from working out how many sales you will make and what staff you need to service those customers to the logistics of building a rota. The steps can be summarised as follows:

  • Generate a sales forecast: if we want to use our schedule to improve sales, we need to start with a prediction of sales by item by venue by hour. This allows us to create an estimate of the workload.
  • Generate a demand forecast per role per hour: we need to consider labour standards and historical staffing levels for similar revenue forecasts. Labour standards measure how long each task takes to complete, and historical staffing levels will allow you to see what a team has been capable of in the past. Be careful to understand if there were queues and lost revenue for any particular data point because that historical staffing level will be too low for maximum revenue.
  • Complete some pre-rota building checks: including approving outstanding leave requests or asking staff to update their availability.
  • Build the schedule: We are now ready to build an employee schedule.
  • Check it against criteria: Once you have a draft schedule, you should check it meets demand, is on budget and is compliant. 
  • Approve the schedule: Once you are happy with the proposed schedule, it will need approval, and the system then tracks this as the planned schedule, which is used for reporting purposes.
  • Communicate the schedule: The process of approving the rota triggers communication to your employees, this can be via e-mail, SMS or a self-service app. It can also be printed out and put on the wall.
How employee scheduling works

What factors need to be considered when building an employee schedule?

Many factors need to be taken into consideration to build a good rota and understand how employee scheduling works. These include:

  • Demand per role per venue: How many staff of each role do you need per hour?
  • Minimum staff levels: What is the minimum number of staff required to open the venue?
  • Budget: How much have you got to spend?
  • Skills: What skills do you need to cover each role?
  • Authority:  What level of authority does each role need? For example, a role can only be performed by a manager?
  • Tasks:  What tasks need to be completed in a day? Do you have enough skilled people to do it, and are there enough people scheduled to do the tasks and meet customer demand?
  • Shifts already booked:  Who is already scheduled?
  • Leave and absences already booked:  Who is not available because of leave?
  • Shift patterns: Are there any shift patterns that I need to take into consideration?
  • Pay rules: How much does each shift cost?
  • Contracted hours:  How many hours do I need to make sure each staff member works in a week?
  • Overtime rules: What overtime can I allocate, and what does it cost
  • Lunch break rules: How should we account for breaks?
  • Employee preferences:  When do my employees want to work?
  • Employee availability:  Who is not available at any given time?
  • Compliance rules (WTD):  What labour rules do you need to follow?
  • Compliance rules (role-based):  Do you have any rules based around roles, such as always having a first aider on site?
  • Local rules (Union):  What agreements do you have with unions or your works council?
  • Opening times:  When are the venues open, and do you need to allow preparation or close-down time?
  • Fairness Rules: How do you ensure popular and unsocial shifts are evenly distributed amongst employees?
  • Consistency rules:  Do you need to ensure that shifts follow a consistent pattern, such as not switching between morning and evening starts?
  • Shift length rules:  Are there rules around maximum and minimum length per shift?

What tools can be used for Employee Scheduling? 

As you can see, the number of factors that must be considered when building an employee rota makes it a very complex problem.

Often there isn’t a solution that meets all the requirements, and only an optimal solution can be used. A software solution is often used to manage this level of complexity, and the most popular choice would be workforce management solutions.

Many organisations still use Microsoft Excel to plan shifts, however, we believe that it is not possible to manage the complexity using a spreadsheet when you have more than 2 or 3 employees and more than 2 or 3 venues. Hence businesses use a Workforce Management System or Employee Scheduling Software to build employee schedules.

A WFM solution performs a number of roles, but for scheduling, the main ones are:

  • Managing the forecasting process.
  • Acting as a repository and data collection tool for all of the data and business logic needed to create an employee schedule.
  • Providing a tool to build a schedule.
  • Communicating that schedule to employees.

How does automating shift scheduling work?

As mentioned above, a lot of factors need to be considered when building a rota and increasingly, the optimal rota is too complex for a human manager to create. AI automated scheduling software outperforms human managers in producing optimal rotas and are often used for complex workforce scheduling tasks.

In addition, semi-automated processes are available for less complex problems where a high percentage of the rota is built using shift patterns, leave approvals and so on, and managers fill in some gaps manually using the workforce management system.


Understanding how employee scheduling works is essential to ensure a successful and profitable operation. Using workforce management tools, you can optimise your staff’s performance and ensure everyone is happy and productive.

Related articles
What are the types of employee scheduling?
Why do I need scheduling software?
What is Employee Scheduling?
What is Workforce Management software?
How the EU Working Time Directive impacts workforce management?


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