You’re trying to schedule next week’s shifts. Employees keep informing you, at the last minute, that they can’t work certain days. You’ve also noticed a lot of shift swapping lately. Basically, scheduling is a nightmare.
How long has it been since you’ve had your employees update their availability forms? And, do you even refer to the availability forms while you’re creating schedules?
Employee availability forms (that are updated and current) reduce your shift scheduling nightmares. Make sure you’re using them the right way so they aren’t a waste of time.
What Are Employee Availability Forms?
They’re exactly what they sound like - forms for employees to tell you when they can and can’t work. These availability forms should be used as a reference when it’s time to build schedules.
Employee availability forms should include the following:
- Employee contact information
- General availability - what days and times the employee is available
- Shift preferences - what is the employee’s preferred schedule
- Unavailable - when can the employee absolutely not work
- On call availability - when can the employee be on call
- Future adjustments - sections for future availability changes
- Notes - designated area for explanations and notes
- Signatures - for the employee and manager
If this seems daunting, there is an easier way to keep track of employee availability. Investing in a scheduling software takes care of all the availability tracking for you! This saves time, money, and paper by eliminating human error and the inconvenience of getting out a form every week.
Employee Availability Is Never “Set It And Forget It”
Usually employee availability forms are filled out during the hiring process. But for many managers, it ends there. They leave it, file it away, and never revisit the forms. People’s personal lives and schedules inevitably change, and that means their availability changes as well.
So the big question is - how often should employee availability forms be filled out?
Your employee policies or handbook should have employee availability issues built into it. Making the right policy means knowing and observing your employees.
- Know that school schedules change. If you have high school or college students as employees, they should fill out employee availability forms at the beginning of each semester. Their class schedules, extracurricular activities, and other involvement will be changing periodically - meaning their work availability will also change.
- Use employee reviews. Take advantage of employee review time or any time you’re meeting individually with an employee by discussing availability changes or issues. If the need arises, have them fill out a new form right then and there. Lots of communication is key.
- Keep an eye out for consistent shift conflicts or changes. If you notice employees consistently swapping shifts or are late during particular shifts, revisit the employee’s availability before taking disciplinary action. You probably still have a great employee, who was trying to make their schedule work when availability became an issue.
- If your business changes, it could affect the schedule. Anytime you make changes to your business, your shifts could change. Some shifts may need more availability than others. Holidays, sales events, a change in management, or store hours are all important times to consider availability.
Planning for the unplanned availability changes.
Your availability policy obviously can’t account for every situation that could affect an employee’s availability. To account for the unknown and unplanned, you should make a “change of availability” form available to your employees should their schedules dramatically change.
These forms are optional and up to you - they can really help avoid availability conflicts though! There are a few rules you may want to put in place when employees use these forms:
- Limit how many can be filled out within a set time frame. This ensures employees only use the forms when absolutely necessary, instead of filling them out on a whim.
- Requirements for discussing new availability. Rather than having employees drop off the form and move on, it's a good idea to ask them to a meeting to discuss why their availability has changed. It’ll help you understand changes and give you a chance to uncover any problems within your work environment.
Of course, with a smaller team these steps may seem a bit much. Simply having them fill out the form and leaving it on your desk might be perfectly fine if you touch base every shift. When you’re in charge of a larger team or complicated shifts, it's a good plan to have some sort of conversation about availability changes when they occur.
Make sure you USE the forms.
Seriously. What good are availability forms if you never use them?
- Use them when creating schedules. The more employees you have, the harder it gets to handle availability. Find a system to use while creating schedules that actually factors in employee availability for every single shift - whether its referring to an excel spreadsheet while building schedules or using an employee scheduling software that automatically factors availability in. It’s not feasible to open every single employee file for building every schedule, so don’t leave all the vital availability information stored away on a form.
- Use them to hire more effectively. Knowing your current employees’ availability will help you when it comes time to hiring new employees. You’ll know what you’re looking for in new hires. Having multiple great employees who can’t work morning shifts doesn’t help you much. If you know where you need the coverage, you can factor that in your job advertisements.
Get your employees to fill out availability forms and make sure they’re current, then actually USE them!
Scheduling Unavailable Times
It can be tempting for a stressed manager dealing with a tricky schedule to drop an employee name in a time slot even if it’s outside of the employee’s available. Shift scheduling is time consuming and verifying every shift with every employee seems too tedious. Anything to finish the schedule, right? Wrong.
Don’t do it. Never schedule an employee without knowing if they can work the shift.
Always check with employees before scheduling them outside of their documented availability. Here’s why:
- It’s courteous. If you have received and accepted an employee’s availability, it isn’t right to demand more from them out of the blue. Think about it, your employee assumes their availability was acceptable and not a problem. Scheduling at a time they’re unavailable without communicating it first is faulty management.
- You’ll cause less stress. While some employees are fine saying “no”, others will bend over backwards just to have a happy manager. Causing employees pressure to readjust their non-work life in order to make you happy scheduling is damaging to employee morale. Sure, you can rely on those employees to fill in when needed, but they’ll end up being overworked and overstressed.
- You avoid bad scheduling habits. After a while it’s easy to start scheduling employees when they aren’t available “just this one time.” In reality, you end up scheduling them multiple times on the wrong shift just because it’s convenient. Eventually your employees will find employment elsewhere if they’re able to. At the very least, employee engagement will decrease.
- You learn when employees need to fill out the forms again. If you discover that your employees are available to cover these shifts when their forms say otherwise, that’s a good sign that it’s time to refill out the employee availability forms.
Focusing on employee skills and qualities is easy while seeking new hires and while managing your team. On the other side of things, availability is usually forgotten until it’s time to build a schedule.
Having employee availability forms and policies, and revisiting them when needed, keeps availability issues from straying too far out of mind during hiring and management considerations.