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What Exactly is a Roster? 

At its core, a roster is a plan that outlines the shifts and duties assigned to workers over a given period. Every workforce has a roster, for example, the traditional 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday job: implied roster. It is an essential tool used by organizations from all sorts of industries to ensure that there are enough staff at all critical times. Rosters are especially important in sectors like healthcare, retail, and hospitality, where continuous coverage is vital.

Why use a roster?

Imagine managing a call centre that operates 24/7 or a hospital that needs medical and nursing staff present round-the-clock. If you were to assign shifts to each employee individually, it would not only be chaotic but also prone to errors and conflicts. This is where a roster comes into play. If your business requires more than a standard 8-hour workday from Monday to Friday, or if you manage a substantial number of employees, rosters become indispensable. They help in ensuring that all required time slots have adequate coverage and that employees are assigned to work their shifts efficiently.

Key Components of a Roster

1. Employee Contractual Details

Before you can create a roster, it's crucial to understand the contractual obligations of each employee. For example:

  • How many hours per week are they allocated?

  • Do they have certain days they cannot work?

  • What is your organisation's policy on overtime?

  • Are there restrictions on how many days in a row they can work?

  • Are there restrictions on how many hours they should work in a given shift?

Understanding these details is the foundation of a successful roster. Without this, you could potentially breach contracts, leading to unintended cost, unhappy staff and possibly even legal issues.

2. Shift Timings

The core of any roster is the shift timings. These are the periods during which employees are scheduled to work. For a 24/7 company, it is very common to have AM, PM and night shifts, each of which is 8.5 hours to cover the entire 24 hours of the workday. The extra half an hour is to have a small overlap for handover. For example:

  • AM shift: 7am -> 3.30pm

  • PM shift: 3pm -> 11.30pm

  • Night shift: 11pm -> 7.30am

However, additional types of shifts may needed so you can better meet workload requirements or to meet the needs of your staff.

Working mothers often appreciate 10AM starts so they can drop their kids off before starting a shift, while younger staff may want 12-hour shifts so they can have three days weekends.

More shifts can also mean better adherence to the demands of your business. If you have a morning shift that starts at 7 am, but there isn’t much demand until 9 am, you might want to have a 9 am shift as well.

Rosters should clearly define these shifts to avoid ambiguity. Too much variety will feel inconsistent to your staff and lend itself to confusion.

3. Responsibilities and Tasks

Preemptively rostering which responsibilities and tasks different employees are performing in their roster can prevent confusion and ensure you have enough employees with the right skillsets. For example, defining a shift coordinator ensures you have at least one capable senior staff member to lead the shift each day.

In a medical context, there might be many different subspecialties within your workforce, and you need at least one member of staff to fulfil each role during different periods of the day. This makes it especially important to match up the correct staff to the correct role, as each staff member can only perform a subset of the potential roles.

It may even be important to have people performing different roles for different parts of their day, but rostering more than two roles or tasks per day increases the complexity of rostering substantially.

4. Staffing Requirements

Depending on the nature of your business, different times and days might require varying numbers of staff. A bar needs more bartenders on a Friday night compared to a Tuesday afternoon. Rosters need to account for these staffing requirements to ensure there are always enough hands on deck.

Staffing requirements should be correlated with the workload as best as possible. In a supermarket context, rostering numbers might be best correlated with known data such as revenue per hour; in an emergency department at a hospital, expected patients per hour. Make sure these are regularly updated to reflect your actual workload.

5. Staff Preferences and Fairness

While business needs are paramount, a good roster also considers the preferences of staff. Maybe Sarah prefers morning shifts, while Tom would rather work in the evenings. While it's not always possible to accommodate everyone's preferences, a good roster aims to strike a balance to keep morale high. Additionally, fairness in distributing weekend shifts, holidays, and unpopular hours ensures that no employee feels unduly burdened. Keep in mind that these preferences may change regularly, and it is good to check in with your employees.

6. Safety Requirements

Safety is paramount, especially in sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, or transportation. Rosters must ensure that there is enough experienced personnel during every shift and that no employee is working beyond safe limits. Overworking staff can lead to fatigue, burnout, errors, and accidents.

Key Concerns When Deciding How to Make Your Roster 

Designing how your organisation should make rosters is not a mere administrative task; it's the art of balancing business goals with employee needs. Organisations must consider various factors to ensure that the roster serves its primary function while being adaptable and sustainable. Here are some key concerns when shaping your roster. 

1. Customer/Patient Satisfaction

The end goal of any business is to satisfy its customers, and the roster plays a pivotal role in this: 

  • Peak Hours

Certain hours may experience higher demand than others. Whether you're running a retail business that sees a rush during evenings or a hospital where certain times experience higher patient inflow, the roster should be equipped to handle peak times. 

  • Rest Periods

Employees should have sufficient breaks between shifts. This ensures they are rested and effective and adhere to labour laws that might prescribe minimum rest periods. In childcare and call centres, breaks may need to be rostered so that always a certain number of employees are available. 

  • Skill Matching

Especially relevant in sectors like healthcare, it's vital to match the employee's skill set with the demand. A specialised task requires someone trained and qualified for that task. 

2. Efficiency

Efficiency in a roster means utilising your existing resources to meet customer demand as precisely as possible: 

  • Balanced Staffing

By refining shift timings and roster patterns, we can reduce overstaffing and understaffing, ensuring optimal workforce deployment. Having a more flexible roster pattern where employees can be redeployed to times that better match customer demands often allows for more optimisation of staffing.

  • Avoid Burnout

Overworking staff in the name of efficiency will only lead to burnout, errors, and increased turnover. Consider instituting some standardised rules that will reduce burnout and stick to them. Rules such as: a maximum number of days worked in a row, a maximum number of hours per fortnight, a minimum number of weekends, and a maximum number of night shifts.

  • Skill-based Allocation

Assign tasks based on expertise. Someone great at customer interaction might be less effective in backend operations, and vice versa. 

3. Staff Engagement

An effective roster isn't just about business; it's about people. Unhappy staff leads to higher turnover and less productivity: 

  • Preference Consideration

While it's not always feasible to cater to everyone's preferences, taking them into account when possible can boost morale and reduce absenteeism. 

  • Fair Distribution

Ensure that the team distributes unpopular shifts, weekends, or holiday duties fairly. 

  • Feedback Mechanism

Regularly take feedback from staff regarding the roster. The staff might provide insights or face challenges that take time to be apparent to the management. 

4. Difficulty of Change

A good roster is not set in stone; it evolves. But changes should be manageable: 

  • Flexibility vs Stability

While it's crucial to be adaptable, constant changes can disrupt operations and disorient staff. Try and get your rosters out at least two weeks ahead of time. By preemptively asking staff for preferences, you remove the need for shift swaps.

  • Communication

Any changes should be communicated clearly and well in advance, barring emergencies. This reduces confusion and gives employees time to adjust to the new schedule. Leveraging rostering software can improve communications from rosterer to employees and between employees.

Different Types of Rosters 

How employees are scheduled in the workforce can significantly affect productivity, work-life balance, and overall job satisfaction. Different types of rosters cater to various business needs and employee preferences. 

1. Fixed Rosters 

Fixed rosters are the most straightforward type of roster. With this system, employees work the same shifts or hours every week. For instance, an individual might consistently work from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday.

The key advantage of fixed rosters is their predictability. Employees always know when they'll be working, making planning personal activities and commitments around their work schedule easier.

However, this inflexibility can also be a downside. Businesses that experience fluctuations in demand might find that they're overstaffed during quiet periods and understaffed during peak times. Employees seeking a change in their routine or those who want to engage in personal commitments at varying times find fixed rosters restrictive. It is challenging to meet staffing requirements when critical employees are away on leave or sick. Lastly, it can be challenging to hire someone willing to work the weekend night shift every week for their working life. If the more challenging shifts aren't shared around it can foster resentment among your staff. 

2. Rotating Rosters

As the name suggests, rotating rosters involve a pattern shifts that rotate on a set schedule. An employee might work the morning shift for one week, the afternoon shift the next week, and the night shift the week after. This rotation allows all staff to experience each shift over time.

The advantage of rotating rosters is that it distributes the more "undesirable" shifts (like late nights or early mornings) among all employees, ensuring no one is stuck permanently with an inconvenient shift. It also allows businesses to maintain consistent coverage, which is especially crucial in 24-hour operations.

However, the changing nature of shifts can make it hard for some employees to establish a regular sleep pattern or routine. Plus, some people are different; others might like working in specific patterns that other employees find undesirable. The overall happiness of your staff might not be optimised. Another potential pitfall with rotating rosters is when people strategically take leave to avoid the "bad shifts". This can lead to persistent challenge in filling undesirable shifts, such as night shifts.

3. Flexible Rosters

Flexible rosters, sometimes linked with self-scheduling, are gaining traction in modern workplaces. They allow employees to have a say when they work, often within certain boundaries the employer sets. This might mean choosing specific days to work, adjusting start and finish times, or even working longer shifts in exchange for more consecutive days off. 

The main advantage of flexible rosters is the autonomy they grant employees, often leading to increased job satisfaction and better work-life balance. They can also be a boon for businesses, as employees might willingly opt to work during peak periods. 

However, managing a flexible roster requires sophisticated scheduling tools and clear communication to ensure that all shifts are covered, and business needs are met.

Other techniques 

There are a myriad of other techniques to ensure that the right people are working at the correct times. While some methods aim for predictability and structure, others are designed for flexibility and adaptability. Organisations employ three notable strategies to accommodate varying needs: Open shifts, Shift swaps and On-call shifts. 

1. Open Shifts

Open shifts refer to additional shifts that employees can opt to take beyond their contracted hours, especially during heightened demand or staffing shortages. These can arise from sudden leaves, illnesses, or even unexpected resignations. These extra shifts are offered as a pool, allowing employees to choose shifts that align with their availability and preferences. This allows employees to earn more while also having the flexibility to manage their schedules. 

From the business perspective, open shifts offer a dynamic solution to fluctuating staffing needs. Whether it's a surge in demand or a sudden drop in available staff, this system allows businesses to adapt promptly. However, it's essential to maintain clear communication and foster a sense of responsibility among employees to ensure these shifts are adequately covered.

2. Shift swaps

Shift swaps offer employees the flexibility to exchange shifts among themselves. If an employee cannot work their scheduled shift for any reason, they can arrange with a colleague to swap shifts. This technique provides personal flexibility and can enhance job satisfaction, as employees have more control over their schedules. For employers, shift swaps can be a double-edged sword. While they may reduce absenteeism, if not monitored correctly, they can lead to consistency in staffing levels or skills available at any given time.

3. On-call shifts

On-call shifts are commonly found in industries like healthcare and IT, where immediate response might be needed unexpectedly. Employees on-call are not actively working but must be ready to work. This method provides businesses with a safety net, ensuring they have access to staffing during unforeseen peaks or emergencies. However, being on-call can be taxing for employees, affecting work-life balance. It requires them to be always prepared to jump into work mode, often with little notice.

Why use an online rostering system 

In today's digital age, businesses constantly look for ways to streamline operations, enhance productivity, and improve communication. One of the tools that can achieve these objectives is an online rostering system. Here's why investing in such a system can be a game-changer for organisations. 

1. Automatic rostering

Automatic rostering is one of the standout features of online systems. It simplifies the traditionally cumbersome task of manually plotting out shifts. By inputting their staffing requirements on a daily, or even hourly basis, the organisation's "rostering rules", and each employee's preferences, businesses can have optimal rosters generated automatically. This reduces human error and ensures optimal staff allocation based on factors like skill sets, availability, and workload. The convenience and accuracy brought about by this automation can lead to significant time and cost savings.

2. Efficient communication with staff and stakeholders 

Online rostering systems offer integrated communication tools that allow managers to instantly notify staff about their shifts, changes, or other vital information. Whether it's through email or in-app notifications, employees are kept in the loop, reducing confusion and potential scheduling conflicts. Managing open shifts, shift swaps, preferences, and roster changes requires quickly notifying many employees, which can be done efficiently with an online rostering system. Moreover, stakeholders and departments that rely on the rostering information can access it in real time, ensuring everyone is on the same page. 

3. Backups and consistent data

These systems provide automated backups, ensuring data is safe from accidental deletions or system failures. Furthermore, they ensure consistency and reliability of data, making it much easier to analyse rostering patterns and make more informed staffing decisions.  

4. Detailed analytics

With online rostering, organisations can tap into a wealth of analytics. The system can provide insights into crucial rostering considerations such as fairness, overtime, staffing coverage and leave. Such data can be pivotal in identifying areas of improvement, optimising workforce allocation, and even in strategic decision-making regarding hiring or training needs.

Best Practices for Creating Effective Rosters 

Creating an effective roster is a delicate balancing act. It involves ensuring business needs are met while also considering the well-being and satisfaction of employees. A well-planned roster can increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and higher employee morale. Here are some best practices to ensure your rosters hit the mark: 

1. Use an effective online system

In the age of digitisation, relying on manual or outdated methods to create rosters can lead to inefficiencies and errors. An online rostering system streamlines the process, making it faster, more accurate, and more adaptable to changes. Such systems can automatically generate rosters based on set parameters, reducing the risk of human error. Additionally, they provide centralised access, ensuring that managers, HR, and employees can access the schedule anytime, anywhere. This ensures that all stakeholders are always in sync, minimising the potential for miscommunication or oversight. 

2. Rosters as flexible as possible for employees

Flexibility in rostering is not just a perk for employees but can be a strategic advantage for businesses. Employees who feel they have a say in their schedules will likely be more engaged and satisfied with their work. For instance, if an employee prefers morning shifts or needs specific days off for personal commitments, accommodating these preferences, where possible, can lead to increased loyalty and reduced turnover. This approach fosters a sense of mutual respect between the employer and the employee, with both parties working collaboratively to meet organisational needs and personal preferences. 

3. Keep employees constantly up-to-date and engaged in the process 

Transparency and communication are crucial when it comes to rostering. Changes in schedules can have a significant impact on an employee's personal life, so it's essential to keep them informed about any changes as soon as possible. Inviting feedback or allowing employees to voice their preferences or concerns can make them feel valued and involved. This ensures that the rostering process is more democratic but also aids in building trust and rapport between management and staff. Rostering is complicated 

All these considerations and techniques make building an effective rostering system incredibly complicated. If you'd like us to help you improve your rostering system and then wholly automate that system, reach out today

RosteringSchedulingOpen ShiftsOn-Call shiftsShift SwapsFlexible rostersRotating rostersFixed rostersAutomatic rostering