No business owner ever intends to be disorganised, but building a staff rota without considering the number of employees you'll really need for a given period is a recipe for disaster, often resulting in too many or too few staff being scheduled to work.
Not only that, but poor staffing levels are bound to have a big impact on staff morale — something that could cost you dearly in the months and years to come.
That's why, in this blog post, we'll be exploring the negative impacts that haphazard rota planning and poor forecasting can have on your business — and what you can do to fix it.
When you're an employee who works to a rota, the number of shifts you work and the days on which they fall can sometimes feel like a bit of a lottery. You're expected to show up when your manager needs you, but precisely when that will be is often a mystery until just a few days — or sometimes hours — before.
You can probably imagine how frustrating it would be, then, to show up to work only to find that there are either so few staff around that you're stuck with the shift from hell, or that there are so many employees that your boss sends you home early — with you earning a fraction of what you expected to for that shift.
But don't just take our word for it; here's a small selection of tweets from real-life employees who were so bemused or exasperated by their bosses' rota forecasting ability that they felt the need to take to their Twitter accounts to vent.
Sometimes it's just a minor inconvenience when there are too many staff...
But sometimes it can be a major annoyance for your staff.
Employees don't take fondly to having to do the work of two or more people.
And it's even worse when they're the ones feeling the brunt of customers' anger when understaffing occurs.
Sometimes, you don't realise you're going to struggle until it's too late...
Even if they don't mind missing out on shifts, you've still wasted their time.
But how does all this affect you, the small business owner? Let's look at a few of the ways that poor staffing can put in a spanner in the works for your business.
Poor customer service
It stands to reason that, when you're understaffed, the level of service you offer your customers drops. Even if you excel in every other aspect of your business, keeping your customers waiting — whether it's to place orders, pay for products, or simply getting help choosing — is bound to leave a bad taste in their mouths.
Increased running costs
Let's say you've scheduled too many staff on to work. If you decide to let your scheduled staff stay for the entirety of their shifts, then you're essentially paying two people to do one person's job. This happens to every small business from time to time, but if it's a common occurrence then it could cause serious financial trouble further down the line.
Picture the scene: you plan your day around your shift, travel to work, then get sent home barely an hour later because there's nothing for you to do. To add insult to injury, you don't even get paid for the whole of the shift, and it's too late to make other plans. You'd be disgruntled too, and would probably start looking for work elsewhere...
If your staff are regularly being either rushed off their feet due to understaffing or sent home early because they're not needed, there will come a time when they've had enough. You might shrug this kind of turnover off as par for the course, but numerous studies have shown that retaining employees is significantly more cost-effective than taking on new staff, so it really is in your business' best interests to keep your people happy.
It's not regulation in the UK quite yet, but predictive scheduling laws — which are already in effect elsewhere — are almost certainly on the way. Amongst other things, these rules state that staff are entitled to penalty pay if their shifts are cancelled or reduced without fair notice. There may soon come a day when sending employees home early will still cost you money — that is, unless you want to risk them taking legal action against you.
Pretty much every manager gets caught off guard at some point or other. A member of staff calls in sick; another gets caught in traffic or misses their bus to work; a large party walks in unexpectedly and your team are rushed off their feet.
But a startling number of staffing problems can be avoided by putting a few additional steps in place.
If you're struggling to find a happy staffing balance, consider doing one or a combination of the following:
1. Record peaks and troughs
You probably have a fair idea of which seasons and times of day are your busiest. But by recording slow or especially busy periods right the way through the year, and plotting them against historical staffing and payroll data, you'll be able to spot any clear disparities or trends wherein you had too many or too few employees around for a given situation.
2. Release your rotas well in advance
As well as making life much easier for your employees, by releasing your rotas well in advance of the date they take effect, you give yourself ample time to make any changes to it that may become necessary.
3. Have an on-call member of staff
Rather than forcing the rest of your team to scrabble around in the event that you find yourself shorthanded, it's a good idea to have one or two dedicated staff who would be able to come in at short notice.
4. Use rota planning software
Unlike spreadsheets, rota planning software such as RotaCloud provides a simple visual representation of when your staff are scheduled to work each day, making it easy to check that your busy periods covered. It also makes delivery of rotas far simpler, allowing managers to send staff their shift information direct to their smartphones, reducing instances of rota-related mixups and staff showing up at the wrong time or day.
Forecasting can be difficult sometimes, but when your margins are narrow and the success of your business relies on the quality and efficiency of the service you provide, it's essential that your rotas are based on realistic data and that you always have a backup plan.
Make frequent use of any past sales and booking data you might have when planning your rotas to reduce the need to send staff home early, and have a go-to member of staff who can provide additional support if you're ever caught short.
Your rotas arguably form the backbone of your entire working day, so beware leaving them to the last minute or using the same patterns over and over, lest you find yourself wishing you had a few more hands on deck!
Read more: Why it Pays to Build Your Rotas Around Your Staff [Rota Crimes]