Four expensive problems created by scheduling your staff outside their availability

7/5/16 7:00 AM Natalie Appleton


This is how it starts: Your eyes dart back and forth from the blank schedule on your screen to the notebook filled with handwritten time-off requests from everyone, it seems.

Cheryl has an exam. Jeff’s grandma died. Erica’s sister is getting married in Mexico.

And yet your ears hear the sounds of a bustling restaurant or store: laughter, beeping debit machines, rushed footsteps in the aisles. 

How will you get enough bodies on that floor, when everyone wants the weekend off?

Juggling availability and time-off requests—the fixed kind, like when Cheryl has her bio lab Tuesday afternoons; and the variable ones, the weddings, funerals, ski trips and birthdays—is an incredible feat for managers who do the schedule.

And while the sales numbers and your dwindling roster suggests you just need bodies on the floor (this is a business!), forget their availability…your gut knows scheduling against employee availability is apt to backfire.

How does it affect your team and your restaurant or store when you schedule against availability? What can you do to help ensure you won’t face that scenario?

The impact of ignoring availability and time-off requests

It’s easy, in the day-to-day of just getting customers in and out and smiling, to forget that your employees are people outside the store.

They have kids. They’re going to school. They live on McDonald Street and they have rent to pay.

And because their lives include both worlds—in and outside the store—they need some predictability.

When all of that is in flux and an employee gets scheduled to work a Monday even though they don’t have childcare that day, or you don’t let them off for that family reunion, several potentially devastating things begin to happen:

1. It’s not good for employee satisfaction

The schedule is up. Employees race to see it and make notes, make sure they’re off when they need (or hoped) to be.

And then they see that they’ve got a Monday shift and they’re working all weekend, despite submitting their availability and time-off requests.

What happens?

To put it politely, employees are not happy.

In this Globe and Mail article about erratic and unforgiving scheduling for part-time workers, labor economist Jim Stanford says focusing on your business needs instead of employee needs is bad for morale.

“…If you’re treating people like a disposable input, you’re not going to elicit a lot of loyalty and creativity.

And that leads us to the next point.

2. It’s not good for customer satisfaction

When you lose goodwill and loyalty, you also risk losing service standards among employees who, prior to time-off requests being ignored, were always happy to go above and beyond for customers.

Zeynop Ton, adjunct associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management has studied retail operations and says, in the same Globe article, that “lean staffing strategies” prioritized for business needs hurt companies more than they realize.

“…Employee morale is lower, turnover is higher, workers are not engaged, they make more errors and they’re not as productive.”

As Ton suggests, when employees aren’t happy, there’s a good chance they’ll walk.

3. It’s not good for retention


Let’s take a look at this example from, in which an employee who works in fast food describes how the new store manager writes the schedule late, often the day before it starts, and schedules against employee availability.

It sounds like this worker already has one foot out the door.

In this article about outdated employment standards “holding workers hostage,” it’s clear there’s an upshot to keeping staff happy when it comes to their schedules.

At Costco Canada—where the national bulk goods chain ensures scheduling stability by guaranteeing full-time staff 40 hours a week and part-timers 25 hours, with schedules posted one week in advance—the company has “one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the industry—12 per cent, compared with the retail average of about 21 per cent.”

Ross Hunt, VP of Costco’s human resources in Canada, says employee-friendly scheduling “gives (workers) a better quality of life. And if they’re stable and they stay with us, it’s great for us, too,” he told the Star.

4. It’s not good for profits and sales

When your resentful employees stay and don’t do their job up to standards, it impacts sales and profits. 

When your employees leave, it impacts sales and profits because they take with them the dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars you’ve invested in their training, as well as a poor brand experience that could ultimately impact sales in other ways.

Ton, the MIT professor, says there’s a business case for treating staff well, more like assets rather than liabilities: “If you invest in your people, and complement that with a great work design so that people are productive and can do work without making errors…the result is better jobs, higher customer service, lower prices and great returns to shareholders.”

Now that’s it’s clear why scheduling against employee availability is more than just a faux pas, it’s bad for business, how can you foster employee-friendly scheduling?

How to schedule with staff needs in mind

An article about work schedule abuse highlights data released by the Employment Instability, Family Wellbeing and Social Policy Network (EINet) that shows, “46 per cent of women say their employer determines their work schedule without any of their input.”

For most managers, consistently scheduling against availability isn’t a method of operation. It’s an oversight or it’s seen as a one-off necessity, but it’s a slippery slope, and an expensive one as we’ve outlined above.

Thankfully, it’s almost completely avoidable with these three steps:

1. Communicate with your team and create a process

As we discussed in a previous blog post titled: 6 Common Restaurant Scheduling Mistakes – make sure you are taking staff needs into account.


To keep staff happy and effective, and your restaurant running smoothly with a schedule staff adore, start with a good system for keeping track of employee availability as well as handling any changes to that availability. 

“Communication is key. Find a reliable way for staff to communicate their time-off requests and honor them.”

In his article Restaurant Scheduling for Success, writer Richard Saporito agrees: “Constant communication with the staff while staying abreast of their available work shifts will facilitate the scheduling process immensely.” 

So, how can you make it easier to do that? This article on employee scheduling suggests this process:

“Give employees a chance to tell you the hours they are able to work. Create a form for employees to fill out at specified times. Set guidelines and let them know when requests must be turned in.”

2. Prioritize time-off requests

Where availability should largely be seen as something that should always be adhered to, time-off requests have nuances best backed up by a solid policy.

“Obviously you won’t always be able to accommodate every request, so prioritize the requests based on their importance (for example, a family wedding is more important than taking a day off to go shopping).” 

3. Schedule mindfully

We’re in an age where we’re meant to shop, eat, play and travel ‘mindfully.’ Now there’s good reason to schedule this way too.

When you approve employees’ availability and time off requests, and schedule with your employees (and their lives outside work) in mind, you’ll see a host of benefits.

Most importantly, the expenses tied to employee satisfaction and retention, and customer satisfaction and loyalty all go down.


Looking to reduce the challenges of your staff scheduling?  Scheduling software can help and to assist you with finding the right solution for you, download a free copy of our buyer's guide.


Topics: Restaurant Scheduling, Restaurant Culture