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How to Successfully Schedule Retail Staff for the Holiday Rush

Scheduling is one of the hardest parts of managing retail employees — and that goes double (if not more so) during the holidays. Retailers scheduling during this busy time of year must maintain a delicate balance between permanent workers' need for stability, their seasonal counterparts' desire for flexibility, and the extended demands on all team members that come with peak season.

Savvy retail managers know that planning the right employee scheduling strategy can make or break a business during the holidays. And because staffing hiccups can turn even small personnel problems into a downward productivity spiral, some retailers have gotten creative in their scheduling, with a few going so far as to adopt on-call work schedules. However, studies show that an unpredictable work schedule (especially over the holidays) can be truly challenging for the 10% of the American workforce in retail.

Working irregular, on-call, and split shifts makes it hard for retail employees to succeed — they are typically more stressed than employees with stable schedules and often report experiencing more conflict at home, which can affect their ability to do their jobs to the best of their ability. In the long run, this can end up costing retailers money in the form of lost productivity and staff turnover. Retailers seem to be getting the message: On-call shifts are quickly becoming a thing of the past, with leading U.S. retailers like Disney, Aeropostale, Carter's and PacSun leading the charge to eliminate the practice altogether.

Additionally, both state and local governments have begun introducing legislation that protects workers’ rights to request a flexible, predictable, or stable work schedule, such as The Schedules that Work Act. These laws state that employees forced to adhere to on-call scheduling policies face daily disruptions in their lives outside of work.

Take the case of the Starbucks barista and single mother, for example. Her story about her complicated process of a daily commute and childcare planning prompted Starbucks to change its scheduling policies for 130,000 employees nationwide. Companies are realizing that in order to maintain the best talent, they can't let scheduling issues develop into an unbearable burden.

Whether your retail business is shifting its scheduling methods or simply gearing up for another busy holiday season, it’s hard to ensure coverage at all times. Here are a few ways to make sure your store is properly staffed during the busiest time of the year:

1. Allow Employee Self-Scheduling
Give your employees a bit more control over their own schedules by offering them some self-scheduling options. Doing so will increase their brand loyalty as well as give them some of the workplace flexibility they want over the holidays. Using a cloud-based scheduling solution allows employees to check their schedules, switch shifts, adjust their availability and preferences, and communicate with their supervisors or co-workers. It also takes some of the scheduling burden off retailers and puts it in the hands of their workers — leaving everyone happy.

2. Be Proactive, Not Reactive
A basic supply and demand approach is not always the best way to handle holiday schedules. While it does minimize retailer costs, this planning method is often responsible for creating erratic and unpredictable shifts for employees. Instead, review your last holiday season’s shopping patterns to outline your staffing needs. Once you’ve identified peak times, generate a flexible work schedule that fits the data.

3. Pool Talent for Multilocation Retailers
If you’re a multilocation retailer, you can learn a lot from the “substitute teacher” model. Hire seasonal employees in a pool instead of assigning each of them to specific store locations. This not only gives your seasonal hires a flexible schedule with more hours, but it also helps each of your locations boost or reduce staff as needed over the holidays.

4. Incentivize Hard-to-Fill Shifts
Whether it’s an unpopular time slot or a last-minute change to the schedule, every retailer knows that some shifts are harder to cover than others. Keep those shifts filled by incentivizing employees to work at those specific times. Instead of worrying about overtime, think about the benefits of keeping a good worker happy versus paying to hire and train a new employee.

Scheduling is never an easy task, but it is one that makes a crucial impact on both retailers and their employees. In their increased efforts to be employee-centric, more and more retailers have left on-call scheduling behind. You too can provide your workers — both permanent and seasonal — with flexibility and stability. Retailers that incorporate cloud-based scheduling technology and other thoughtful staffing strategies are sure to get the best talent — and keep it.

Anati Zubia is the director of marketing for AppointmentPlus. Her passion for SaaS and cloud-based applications has only continued to grow throughout her 16 years of marketing within the technology industry.

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