A good employee roster does not just record employee hours and job duties; it is a business tool to help employers meet customer demand and their business targets.

Smart rostering

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 to do the best for both your business and your employees.

Effective rostering (and communicating with your employees), will help you to recruit and retain good personnel.

Planning the roster

Decide what skills and responsibilities you need for each shift and how many people with each skill set you’ll 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 as 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 when you are rostering.

Look at employee guaranteed hours, availability, experience, skill set and preferences to allocate individuals to each shift. Have leave and holiday request (and approved leave) details on hand so you know not to include these employees in the roster. An employee taking one day’s  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 employees to future proof your business and develop your employees. Use our template to help you prepare.

Roster template [DOC, 90 KB]

Record keeping

Share roster options and seek preferences

People may have preferences based on availability or because they are more productive at certain times and on 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 , 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.

Good faith

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.

  • If employees with similar skill sets want to swap shifts, you should agree where you can (but make sure that there is no undue pressure on an employee to swap).
  • Spread out rostered hours so that shifts are a reasonable length. Remember that the employee will have travel time and costs as well as commitments (such as dependent care etc) to organise before they arrive for each shift, so make sure the shift length is long enough to justify the employee coming in.
  • Most employees value having predictable rosters that they know plenty of time in advance. You can give employees flexibility at the same time as giving them certainty (for example, you may agree to an employee working the same number of total hours per week but over fewer or more days each week).

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 do not have the responsibility of all the critical tasks.

Make sure the whole team understands the basis for the roster and the mix of skills and experience required. If an employee does not 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 and change requests.

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 Google Drive or use online kiosk functions. If you have more than 1 employee 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:

  • may contain specific hours or days that the employee can or cannot be rostered or has to be or does not 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)
  • 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)
  • 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
  • should specify what the employee gets paid (and it must be at least the relevant minimum wage) including any penal rates or overtime payments.

Hours of work

Employee rights and responsibilities

Rostering too many employees

If you have rostered too many employees 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 cannot 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.

Employee leave and holiday entitlements

The more predictable the roster is, the easier it will be for you to determine your employees’ leave and holiday entitlements, this will reduce your time costs and reduce your risk of not complying with the Holidays Act 2003.

  • One of the requirements of the Holidays Act 2003 is that each employee gets 4 weeks annual holidays each year. To provide this entitlement you need to work out what a ‘week’ is. Where a work pattern is predictable or can be identified, it will be much easier and take less time to calculate the correct leave and holiday entitlement for your employees.
  • To comply with the Holidays Act 2003, you will also need to work out which days are ‘ ’ for an employee. This is easier and will take less time if work patterns or rosters are predictable.
  • To pay employees for unworked public holidays, alternative holidays, and sick and bereavement leave, working out their relevant daily pay will be simpler to work out if you know what hours the employee would have been rostered on each day and what overtime they would have worked (if they had worked the day).

If you have mastered rostering (in line with peaks and troughs in your business) you should be able to predict in advance when you are likely to need overtime or employees to temporarily increase their hours (by agreement), the earlier you communicate with and involve your employees in this process, the more successful it is likely to be for both of you.

Holidays Act 2003 - New Zealand Legislation(external link)

Managing annual holidays

Leave and holiday pay

Scheduling breaks

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 breaks in the employment agreement, particularly if you have a collective employment agreement.

Collective and individual agreements

Employers and employees should agree on 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 breaks

Calculate predicted wage costs

Looking at wage costs 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.

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