Anatomy of a Job Benefit: 5 Steps for Flexible Schedules

Anatomy of a Job Benefit: 5 Steps for Flexible Schedules
April 25, 2023 Susan Diepen

Anatomy of a Job Benefit: 5 Steps for Flexible Schedules

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training, Ivar’s & Kidd Valley Restaurants
CHART Past President

If you were to look through 1,000 recruiting ads for hotel and restaurant positions, at least 990 of them would most likely include “flexible schedules” listed among the benefits of those roles. It’s been a hallmark of hospitality workplaces across the country due to a variety of factors:

  • Hotels and restaurants are generally open longer hours per day, and more days per week, than employers in office settings, so offering flexible schedules each week not only allows managers to fully staff all the shifts, but also allows team members to accumulate enough hours to meet their financial requirements AND keep commitments outside of work such as caring for children or pursing an education.
  • Offering flexible scheduling can help businesses comply with labor laws and regulations related to working hours, breaks, and minor restrictions, which can reduce the risk of legal disputes and penalties for non-compliance.
  • The ebb and flow of our busy periods (not only daily and seasonally, but also due to special events such as banquets and conventions) creates a need for employees who are willing to work at different times of the day and of the year, and that is much easier to accomplish with flexible scheduling. Additionally, it also helps companies save money by reducing overtime costs and minimizing the need for temporary staff during these varying peak periods.

This benefit has also proven to be popular with most of the employees who work for us:

Given this popularity, it’s not enough to simply pay lip service to flexible scheduling, especially not these days when hospitality is competing with the gig economy for workers. Uber, DoorDash, and Instacart have upped the ante when it comes to this benefit, as people signing up with these companies become their own boss and work only when they want to work. They have full control of when they clock in and when they clock out and don’t have to negotiate their time with anyone – it’s like flexible scheduling on steroids.

To remain competitive with these services, it’s essential that your workplaces offer the best possible version of flexible scheduling, so here are 5 steps to ensure you are on the right track:

1. Set Standards

Just like your company has standards of operations for service and cleanliness, you should have clear and consistent standards that are communicated to everyone when it comes to scheduling practices. These standards should include weekly timelines, such as when schedules need to be posted and how far in advance an employee should request a day off. It should cover policies as well, which could include examples like “Managers need to get employee consent before changing their schedule with less than a week’s notice” or “Employee time off requests will be prioritized according to the request date (and not by employee tenure).” If you cannot remember the last time your team reviewed and updated your scheduling practices, then that probably means it needs to be done again soon.

2. Ask Employees

Involving your team members should be a priority when it comes to updating your standards. Part of the appeal of a flexible schedule for employees is that it allows them to feel some level of autonomy, and this is essential because adults like to exhibit as much control as they can in situations that affect their lives. If you are creating company training programs, for example, you would include team members and get their feedback during the design process to help assure their buy-in when the training is implemented. The same is true of scheduling – ask your employees if they have any feedback on how flexible it really feels to them, either by using a survey or soliciting feedback via informal conversations when visiting locations. Do your staff members wish they were getting their schedules earlier to have more time to arrange swaps? Do their managers have an open dialogue with them about scheduling needs, and are their managers willing to work with them when unexpected events arise? Do they ever feel like they are being penalized if they ask for too much time off? You can then use the insight to help create a system that really is a benefit for those involved.

3. Research Technology

If your managers are still writing their schedules on paper or creating them with Microsoft Excel, it’s time to recognize that it’s no longer 1995, and there are solutions out there that will make scheduling faster and easier. You should start looking at available software that will allow employees to electronically set and update their work limits/restrictions and then generate a weekly schedule that incorporates these pre-populated requests as well as mandatory breaks and meal periods. These programs also let employees ask for time off, swap shifts with other staffers, and access their schedules at any time of the day and from any place (instead of only seeing it on a piece of paper on the break room bulletin board). If you aren’t sure where to find scheduling software that will accomplish these goals and fit within your budget, your first stop should be this summer’s CHART conference in Orlando, where our partners and recommended vendors will be showcasing their products in the Resource Gallery.

4. Test the Process

After you have updated your scheduling practices and/or launched new scheduling software, it’s time to visit some of your hotels and restaurants and go through the process of dropping or swapping a shift as if you were an employee. Was it easy to do? Was the process consistent between locations? Did everything work correctly, or did you encounter obstacles, challenges, and/or administrative burdens? Were you expected to find coverage for a shift you could not make, or did the manager assist with or take on that responsibility? If it doesn’t go smoothly, then you should revisit the earlier steps in this process and do whatever necessary to correct remaining issues.

5. Track the Results

To understand how things are going, you will need to track the schedule flexibility at your hotels or restaurants – as the old saying goes, “What gets measured, gets done.” But how can you determine “flexibility?” An appropriate place to start would be to monitor statistics such as the percentage of employee time-off requests that are granted, or the percentage of shift swaps that are approved by managers. The numbers could be pulled each week from your scheduling software or tracked manually in a logbook by the management team. Having access to these numbers – and being able to see which way they are trending – will let you know if you are improving or regressing regarding this benefit.

By implementing these strategies, hospitality companies can ensure they are offering flexible schedules that meet the needs of their business and of their team members in the short-term, and lead to increased staff tenure, workplace productivity, and guest satisfaction in the long-term.