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Scheduling Employee Shifts

Avoid Scheduling Conflicts During Holidays

Scheduling employees during the holiday season can be an administrative headache. In addition to secular holidays like Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, almost every major religion celebrates at least one holiday between November and January. Here are some tips to make holiday scheduling easier for you and your employees:

Find out employee availability early in the season. Most employees know their holiday plans ahead of time, so ask your staff to update their availability or submit time-off requests about a month in advance. Since there are several different religious holidays throughout November and December, don’t ask employees about their Christmas plans; instead, ask them if they’ll need to take any time off during those two months. If you’re planning on expanding your hours, you’ll need to inform your employees as soon as possible so they can update their availability accordingly.
Communicate your holiday pay policies clearly. As an incentive for workers, some businesses pay their employees time-and-a-half for working on holidays. Make sure your staff is informed of your company’s policies and which days, if any, are eligible for bonus pay. This will either motivate workers to come in or head off any disappointment over paychecks.
Find out who wants to work. Some employees may prefer to work on holidays to help out coworkers or earn extra pay. Ask your employees to let you know if they would like to be scheduled for holidays.
Closely monitor overtime during your busy weeks. If you offer time-and-a-half on holidays, keep your costs down by limiting or not allowing overtime during your busiest weeks. Ask all employees to clear shift-swapping requests through management to keep a close eye on overtime hours.
Release schedules for peak weeks earlier than normal. While many workers will know their holiday plans far in advance, those who don’t have big plans may still want to celebrate in some way. Create and give your employees their schedules earlier so they have more time to make plans.

Common Scheduling Complaints

If you’re responsible for creating employee schedules, you’ve probably dealt with your fair share of complaints from employees. While you can’t eliminate these problems entirely, you can eliminate a few before they escalate. Here are the most common employee scheduling complaints and how to handle them:

“I’m not getting enough hours.”
Even the biggest businesses can’t afford to give every employee full-time status – but that doesn’t mean employees should be shortchanged on hours. Try to distribute hours evenly among employees by rank or seniority. For example, schedule more working hours for managers and employees with seniority than new employees or entry-level staff, if possible.
“You’re always scheduling me during times I’m not available.”
Keeping track of your employees’ availability can be especially hard if you’re making schedules with Excel or, worse, pen and paper. With employee scheduling software, however, your employees can update their availability through the system, which prevents scheduling errors. Allowing shift-swapping lets your employees work around any last-minute scheduling conflicts, too.
“Why can’t I ever work overtime? I want time-and-a-half.”
While it may be tempting to prohibit overtime, you should try to limit it rather than outright ban it. If an employee wants to work extra, try to occasionally accommodate them, but put a weekly cap on hours to avoid paying too much in overtime. This will also help you distribute hours more evenly among your employees, rather than having one person earn ample overtime while others remain under-scheduled.
“I don’t want to work on New Year’s Eve.”
Getting employees to work holidays can be difficult – if you’re not giving them any incentive to come in. While paying time-and-a-half for holidays isn’t legally required, it can make you a more competitive employer and motivate your employees to work holidays. Consider offering overtime for certain holiday shifts, if the budget will allow.
“I can’t work on Tuesday; I already made plans for that day. You should have provided our schedules sooner.”
If your employees are always complaining about getting their schedules too late, you have two options: First, you can schedule further in advance. Creating employee schedules two to three weeks in advance gives your employees plenty of notice to make appointments or other plans while still ensuring you’re covering the needs of your business. Second, you can continue scheduling on short notice, as long as your employees, both current and new hires, understand that this is a business practice that won’t change.
“There are only two of us working Monday morning, but that’s our busiest time!”
You can’t always predict when your business will be busy, but if there are certain times when business usually picks up, try to schedule extra staff for these shifts. Make a note on your calendar so you know to schedule a few extra employees during your busiest periods.
“Why do I always have to work on Friday nights? I never get to have fun on my weekends.”
It’s not surprising that your employees want a social life! Unless your business has recurring schedules or your employees have limited availability, try to rotate who works on nights and weekends. Look over the previous schedule to make sure you’re not selecting the same person for two Friday nights in a row.

Scheduling Breaks

Phone calls, bathroom breaks, coffee runs, lunch… All are part of a normal day for most employees. But are you required by law to allow or pay for these breaks?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t require employers to give any breaks, meals, lunch or rest periods to employees. Unless your state or local laws require you to give employees breaks, these rules come down to company policy, not laws.

Although the FLSA doesn’t require you to give breaks, the law does have certain pay requirements for breaks, if you offer them. Breaks that last less than 20 minutes are considered short breaks and count toward working time, meaning they’re paid breaks. Even if these breaks are unauthorized, you must pay for them. You can discipline or terminate employees who regularly take longer breaks than they’re given or who take breaks too frequently, but as long as each break is under 20 minutes, employees must be paid for this time.

Meal breaks, which are typically 30 or 60 minutes in length, are unpaid – but only if employees are completely relieved of their duties and the breaks are uninterrupted. If any work is being done, even a minor task, or if the employee’s break is interrupted or cut short, the employee must be paid for that time.

If you work in an office that has a break room, lunch room or cafeteria, get employees in the habit of taking meal periods away from their workstations or desks. It’s much easier to ensure employees are taking their full breaks if they’re not surrounded by their work.

While not required by federal law, giving your employees breaks is a good thing. Having downtime or mental breaks can help employees refresh and recharge before getting back to work. If you offer breaks, make sure your break policies are clear and consistent, and communicate your company’s rules to your employees. Also, using time clock software can help you maintain accurate records of break times so you don’t end up paying for time that wasn’t spent working or shortchanging employees who didn’t get their full meal periods.


Flexible schedules allow employees to work hours outside of the regular company start and stop time (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for most offices) but still achieve their required hours, whether full-time or part-time. This can be achieved through either a compressed work week or flexible hours.

In a compressed work week, employees work fewer days while still maintaining their hours. The most common example for full-time employees is working four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. By compressing their work into four days, employees can gain an additional day off for errands, appointments or vacations without taking time away from work.

Employees who work flexible hours can start and finish their days earlier (for example, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) or later (a 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule) than normal work hours. Changing work hours allows employees to meet family obligations, avoid stressful commutes or attend recurring appointments without needing to request and use time off.

Both options improve employee work-life balance and boost engagement, which in turn improves employee performance. While flex-scheduling has obvious benefits, you do need to set some boundaries to make sure it works for you and your employees.

Face time is important for most businesses. If your employees want to work compressed work weeks, set one or two days per week that all employees must be in the office. Most workers want Mondays or Fridays off on compressed work weeks, so make a rule that all employees must be in the office on Thursdays. For employees working flexible hours, create a block of core hours where all employees must be at work, like 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This way, there’s overlap between employees on early schedules and employees on late schedules.

Employees on flexible work hours or compressed work weeks should set their regular schedules with managers and discuss any deviations far in advance. For example, if an employee wants to work a compressed work week of Monday through Thursday, he or she must get approval before changing to a Tuesday through Friday schedule. Employees working flexible hours should create regular schedules, too, so managers are aware when employees are late or absent.

For flex-scheduling to work, there has to be a high degree of trust and accountability. It’s especially important for managers and supervisors to set measurable goals and clear expectations for employees working flex schedules since employees are being granted more independence.

Once you start implementing flex-scheduling at your company, you should take the time to create policies and guidelines for when these benefits are allowed to be used, what kinds of employees can use them, and what the approval or request process is for switching to flex-scheduling.

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