Eliminate Shift Scheduling Headaches With Dedicated Software

By: on December 8, 2015

Shift-based businesses in industries such as retail and health care must pay more attention to worker schedules than their “nine-to-five” counterparts. Shift-based organizations must ensure coverage needs are met, labor budgets are maintained and employees aren’t over- or underworked.

And that’s on top of worrying whether workers are going to show up on time—or at all.

Luckily, dedicated employee scheduling software can help. Software Advice conducted surveys of shift workers and managers to see how scheduling processes differ between software users and those using manual methods, such as spreadsheets and whiteboards.

This article highlights how scheduling software can help eliminate common scheduling headaches for managers and employees alike.

Key Findings

  • Without software, employees receive schedules later: 64 percent of shift workers who don’t use software learn about their schedule less than two weeks in advance.
  • Under manual methods, employees also get preferred shifts less often: Only 34 percent of workers who don’t use scheduling software “always” get the shifts they prefer.
  • Nearly one-third (31 percent) of scheduling software users say an employee self-service portal offers the most useful functionality.


Seventeen percent of U.S. workers have an unstable shift schedule, with irregular, on-call and rotating shifts that can vary in duration and frequency. This flexibility is vital for businesses with fluctuating demand and those open 24 hours a day. But it also comes with unique challenges.

For shift managers, it means rectifying worker availability and business needs to create optimal schedules, often in the face of limited resources. In fact, 46 percent of employers report being “frequently” or “sometimes” understaffed.

For workers, it means trying to maintain a work-life balance that’s constantly in flux—which can take a toll on work-family conflict, productivity and even cognitive function.

In order to create schedules that appease both parties, organizations use dedicated software, spreadsheets, whiteboards or free online tools, tracking everything from worker certifications and availability to shift preferences and overtime allocations.

To see how effective each method is at eliminating common pain points, Software Advice surveyed shift workers and managers. The results are below.

With Software, Employees Get Schedules Further in Advance

Another problem with irregular shift schedules is that workers are often late to receive them. In fact, nearly half of part-time and full-time shift workers in the U.S. learn about their schedule one week or less in advance.

This has prompted advocacy groups in some states to push for legislation requiring employers to give workers at least two weeks notice.

But employers shouldn’t just provide schedules earlier because the government says so. Giving shift assignments in advance allows managers time to identify potential scheduling conflicts. It also gives workers time to plan for their shift—preventing costly absenteeism.


Software offers an advantage here. Sixty-four percent of workers whose employers use manual methods—such as whiteboards, spreadsheets or free online tools like Google Calendar—learn about their shift schedule less than two weeks in advance.

But 50 percent of workers whose employers use scheduling software learn about their schedule two weeks or more in advance.

Additionally, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of software users learn their schedules more than a month in advance, compared to just 14 percent of non-software users.

How Far in Advance Employees Receive Schedule

How Far in Advance Employees Receive Schedule

Fyfe says software allows “a lot of the tedious parts of generating a schedule to really be set on autopilot.” Scheduling systems offer functionality that identifies shift conflicts automatically, and allows managers to copy-and-paste recurring shift schedules from week to week.

That means schedules can be published sooner—benefitting both managers and workers.

Software Gives Workers Preferred Shifts More Often

How do different methods compare in getting workers the shifts they prefer? Here again, software has a leg up.

According to our survey, 43 percent of software users “always” get the shifts they want, compared to 34 percent of non-software users.

How Often Employees Get Preferred Shifts

How Often Employees Get Preferred Shifts

Using manual methods such as whiteboards and spreadsheets, scheduling can become a one-way street: Employee preferences are noted, but sometimes forgotten or left out.

Software, however, offers a more collaborative approach. It allows employees to log in and record their availability and shift preferences, and gives managers more options for doling out shifts.

“You can really get the best of both worlds,” Fyfe says. “You can schedule open [blocks] where staff can opt in and pick out certain shifts, or you can have a schedule where a couple of people are on call [who] know that they should be available.”


Employees can request to work certain shifts in ShiftPlanning

Access to real-time data also plays a role. With up-to-date information about employees’ shift preferences at their fingertips, managers can more easily incorporate it when making schedules. This helps balance coverage needs with keeping workers engaged and happy.

“[Software] breaks down the barrier between an individual having to call all of their staff, update preferences and then remember [where they’re stored,] in an Excel spreadsheet or another format,” Fyfe says. “Now this just happens on the fly.”

Self-Service Portals Are Most Useful Software Functionality

Perhaps the biggest advantage that dedicated scheduling software offers over other methods is that it serves as a collaborative platform. Employees can easily inform managers of preferences and availability, and keep track of their schedule themselves.

Users seem to agree that employee-facing features set software apart. Nearly one-third of shift managers (31 percent) who use scheduling software say an employee self-service portal offers the most useful functionality.

Most Useful Employee Scheduling Software Functionality

Most Useful Employee Scheduling Software Functionality

With manual methods, the burden to remind workers about shifts and manage changes lies entirely on the manager. With a self-service portal, employees can manage some of these aspects themselves. Many tedious tasks, such as shift-swapping, can now be taken almost entirely off a manager’s plate.

“The shift-trading workflow [for employees] is very time-consuming when you have to call to see who’s available, get management’s approval, update the schedule and communicate back out to everybody,” Fyfe says.

“Now that’s literally two clicks from your mobile app, and management just gets updated and approves it at the end. … Employees do tons of the work that used to take up management’s time.”

shiftplanning shift trade

Employees can trade shifts through their smartphone with ShiftPlanning

And software users are taking advantage of this. We asked managers in our survey to list all the mediums employees can use to view schedules or modify their availability. A majority of software users (65 percent) use an online portal, while most non-software users rely on in-person communication (57 percent).

How Employees View or Modify Their Schedules

How Employees View or Modify Their Schedules

Communication about shifts between managers and workers can break down in person. But self-service portals ensure necessary information and changes are readily available online, so employees know when they need to come in.

Automatic Notifications Ease Burden on Managers

Schedule changes often occur at a moment’s notice—especially if a worker is a no-show. So we asked shift managers what medium they use to notify staff of these updates. Most managers who use scheduling software rely on automatic notifications to inform workers of shift changes.

Meanwhile, most non-software users post changes on a board or wall at work.

How Managers Inform Employees of Schedule Changes

How How Managers Inform Employees of Schedule Changes

In this case, the benefits of automation are two-fold. On one hand, managers don’t shoulder the burden of informing workers about changes—the software handles this for them.

But more importantly, workers receive real-time alerts with the most up-to-date information at home or on their phone. This eliminates confusion over shift schedules.


Shift scheduling is a multi-faceted issue, and managers’ headaches can differ wildly depending on the business. For a hospital, it can be making sure doctors with the right skill sets are available at any given time.

For manufacturing, it’s ensuring workers with required certifications are filling shift gaps. And small businesses want to make sure their only employees know when to come in.

Perhaps that’s where shift scheduling software truly trumps other options: It allows businesses to manage the factors that matter most to them.

As we’ve shown, here’s how specialized software can eliminate scheduling headaches:

  Ease of use. With automatic shift-conflict identification and copy-and-paste schedule templates, managers can eliminate the tedium of schedule creation and get shift assignments out faster.

  Greater scheduling flexibility. With worker availability and preferences more easily available, and with options for open and on-call shifts, users can better strike a balance between staffing needs and worker preferences.

  Notifications and reminders. Notifications about shift changes and reminders happen automatically, so workers stay informed without managers needing to shoulder the burden.

  Employee empowerment. Online self-service portals allow shift workers to stay in the know outside the office, while also giving them the tools to change their availability or trade shifts with someone else.


Among our sample of shift-worker respondents, 62 percent are female and 41 percent are between the ages of 26 and 35.

Employee Respondents by Gender
Employee Respondents by Age

Most of the shift managers in our sample come from organizations in customer service (32 percent), health care (10 percent) and business services (10 percent). Most commonly, managerial respondents come from organizations with between 50 and 1,000 employees (38 percent) and less than $100 million in annual revenue (62 percent).

By Industry: Managerial Respondents
By Number of Employees: Managerial Respondents
By Annual Revenue: Managerial Respondents

To collect the data in this report, we conducted two seven-day online surveys of 15 questions each, and gathered 226 and 192 responses from shift workers and managers, respectively, within the United States. We screened our sample to only include workers who primarily do shift-based work part- or full-time, as well as managers who handle scheduling of shift workers. Software Advice performed and funded this research independently.

Results are representative of our survey sample, not necessarily the population as a whole. Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent client vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.
If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact brianwestfall@softwareadvice.com.


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