A good staff roster doesn’t just record employee hours and job duties; it is a business tool to help you meet customer demand and your business targets.

Smart rostering can increase efficiency, and reduce your turnover rates and direct and indirect payroll costs (uncertainty and variation in work-patterns can drive payroll calculation costs). The better your rostering is, the more management time you free up for other business tasks. Rostering is a balancing exercise that needs to be done with a view to doing the best by both your business and your employees. Effective rostering (and communicating with your employees), will help you to recruit and retain good staff.

Plan the roster before allocating

Decide what skills and responsibilities you need for each shift and how many people with each skill set you will need

Every industry and business has its own sales patterns, busy periods, quiet times and rush hours. You need to identify these patterns in your business. Analyse historical hourly, daily and weekly activity and work demands in the context of what was going on outside and well as inside your business.

In some industries the weather influences peaks and troughs, in which case you may want to consider long range forecasts when finalising rosters. Look at local and national information and event calendars, social media and business association updates to find out about any events going on that might affect your business. Consider the impact of the seasons on sick leave when you are rostering.

Look at employee guaranteed hours, availability, experience, skill set and preferences to allocate individuals to each shift

Have leave and holidays request (and approved leave) details on hand so you know not to include these employees in the roster. An employee taking one day’s annual holidays can throw out your whole roster, so encourage employees to request annual holidays as far in advance as they can to reduce having to make changes later to accommodate time off.

Make sure you are clear about which employee is in charge during the shift. Make sure that when you are rostering you are also considering opportunities for individuals to grow their skills and learn from more experienced staff to future proof your business and develop your employees.

Here is a template to help you prepare. [DOC 90KB]

Share roster options and seek preferences

People may have preferences based on availability or because they are more productive at certain times and certain days. Wherever possible, match shifts to employee preference; this will benefit productivity and workplace culture. Employees will always have their favourite and least favourite shifts. This might be because of the time of day, the particular day of the week, how busy the shift is, any penal rates, the shift manager, who else might usually be rostered on at the time or the potential for (or lack of) tips.

Ask each employee what their favourite and least favourite shifts are and if there are trends, make sure you rotate popular and unpopular shifts around all employees. Act in good faith and avoid favouritism in your rostering.

Roster busy shifts with experienced and skilled employees

If you have peak periods or shifts, make sure you have some experienced employees on shift. Balance this with some employees who are developing so that they can observe how to deal with the extra pressure. If employees are not keen to work these busy shifts, rotate them fairly so that the workload is kept fair and individual employees don’t have the responsibility of all the critical tasks.

Clearly communicate with employees

Make sure the whole team understands the basis for the roster and the mix of skills and experience required

If an employee doesn’t have or understand their roster, they may not show up to work on time or at all. Make sure everyone knows where and when the roster is available, the process for advising any updates and the process for swaps, change requests etc.

It makes sense to let employees check their rosters remotely (without coming in to work), this saves them hassle, time and transport costs. You could use specialist rostering packages, email rosters, load into applications such as GoogleDrive or use online kiosk functions. If you have more than 1 staff member with the same name, make sure that each person is clear on how they are identified in the roster.

Look at employment agreements

When you are allocating employees to the roster, make sure that you are meeting all of the requirements of their employment agreement. The employment agreement:

  1. may contain specific hours or days that the employee can or can’t be rostered or has to be or doesn’t have to be available. An availability clause must meet the legal requirements for it to be valid (including there being genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds, and reasonable compensation for availability).
  2. may have a number of guaranteed hours (if the employee must be available for any work that is offered by the employer, they must also have guaranteed hours).
  3. should have valid shift cancellation provisions (with a reasonable notice period for shift cancellation and a reasonable amount of compensation payable for cancelling with, and without, giving the notice). You must use these provisions if you roster too many employees on a shift and want to cancel an employee’s shift. Otherwise you must pay the employee what they would have been paid if they had worked the cancelled shift.
  4. should specify what the employee gets paid (and it must be at least the relevant minimum wage) including any penal rates or overtime payments.

Make rosters predictable and well in advance

Employees will have multiple commitments and interests outside of work such as care of dependents, sports, clubs, etc. They need to budget and make sure they can pay their bills and meet liabilities. Making rosters as even and predictable as you can and advising employees of the roster as far in advance as possible is best practice. This will help your employees successfully organise their lives and attend shifts, reducing unplanned absences and last minute changes.

Scheduling breaks in advance

All employees are entitled to set paid rest and unpaid meal breaks based on the number of hours worked, to be able to perform at their best.

You have legal obligations to provide employees with a chance to rest, refresh and take care of personal matters. It is advisable to have the time of the breaks in the employment contract, particularly if you have a collective agreement.

Employers and employees should agree when the breaks should be taken. If the employer and employee cannot reach an agreement on the timing of breaks, the law will require the breaks to be taken at times as specified in the Act, so long as it’s reasonable and able to be done.

Rest and meal breaks

Promptly reply to requests for time off and give everyone time off

Try to agree to requests for time off where you can (even if it means bringing in temporary employees to cover gaps). If you don’t give employees their leave and holiday entitlements fairly, this will impact on workplace culture, sick leave and employee turnover.

Don’t forget that each employee gets at least four weeks’ annual holidays (as well as sick and bereavement leave) once they have become entitled.

If your employees are consistently doing excessive overtime or working more than 5 days a week, you should consider bringing on additional employees. From time to time deadlines and business peaks may mean employees work additional hours or days, but if this is happening frequently, you are probably understaffed. You have a responsibility to look after the health and safety of your employees while at work, and prevent burnout and stress (with associated reduced performance).

Think about how employees work together

You might want to consider the mix of people you roster on together. Some employees work better together than others. If there is a major conflict or tension between two people, you may want to avoid rostering them on the same shift until this has been resolved.

Begin rostering on your busiest day

There is no rule that you must start your rostering on a Monday. If your busiest day is a Wednesday, start your rostering on this day. That way you make sure you have the right balance of skills and experience on your busiest day and if you are tracking over budget, you can reduce employee requirements for slower days.

Calculate predicted wage costs

Looking at wage cost at the same time as rosters will help you to stay within budget and accurately forecast. Knowing how you are tracking against (and keeping within) budget is an important aspect of management. Remember to factor in potential minimum wage increases from 1 April each year when you are rostering.

Be prepared for the expected and unexpected

You should be familiar with the peaks and troughs of your industry and business and be able to roster accordingly. If there is a quiet period coming up, and employees have unused annual holidays available this might be a good time for them to go on holiday (and reduce your leave liability balance at the same time).

Most of your rostering should be able to be predicted well in advance but there will always be events that are unexpected. There will be day to day ‘emergencies’, eg employees get sick, have a bereavement, have family crises, or miss the bus from time to time. Don’t forget to factor in parental leave (including special leave for pregnant women).

Make sure you’ve got a backup plan for short term urgent cover or demand that is higher than expected.

Casual employees don’t have to be available for work, so you can’t always rely on them to provide cover in emergencies. Have a list handy of who’s available or might be available to cover which shifts. Holiday times like Christmas and Easter can be popular for employees to take time off, so ask about everyone’s holiday plans for the year and roster well in advance. You can either rotate popular times off to make sure it’s not the same people having to work each year or operate a first come first served basis (but make sure employees know which method you are using).

Some employees may be happy to work over holiday periods so ask people before you roster them and accommodate preferences if you can. To fill any gaps, ask employees who wants to pick up extra shifts and then fill the balance with casual employees.

Rostering on too many employees

If you have rostered too many employees on or hit an unforeseen quiet period, you can use this time for employees to catch up on tasks and duties such as restocking, stocktaking, cleaning etc. Make sure you are not allocating tasks to employees that don’t fit within the scope of their job or are unreasonable (or unlawful).

Consider using quiet times for training and developing employees in new duties. If you cancel a shift before the employee starts, you will have to either give them the reasonable notice or compensation contained in their employment agreement; or pay them for the whole shift. If the employee is already at work, you can’t cancel their shift or send them home early; without paying them for the whole shift, so it is in your best interests to get your rosters right.

Make sure you record unexpected quiet time and the possible reasons why so that you can learn from this for next time and adjust future rostering.

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