Why it pays to build the rota around your staff

Anna Roberts & Clea Grady

Mar 2023 ⋅ 5 min read

Screenshot of RotaCloud's staff availability tools for easier rota planning

Putting together a rota is hard enough without having to accommodate individual preferences for particular shifts or days off.

Duty rotas are necessary for many businesses to function, but it's likely that many employees will have days or times that they can't or would prefer not to work. Perhaps they have exams to study for. Maybe they have kids to pick up, or find it difficult to travel at certain times.

When your staff have agreed to work to a flexible rota, it can be tempting to take a "like it or lump it" approach to shift planning. But ignoring their requests can impact both their morale and performance, as well as the future success of your business.

Let's take a look at some real-life examples of when bosses failed to accommodate their employees' shift preferences and the effect it had. And then explore the ways managers can strike a balance between keeping their staff happy and successfully running their business.

The Complaint

A quick trawl of social media shows just how often people are frustrated by their managers denying or ignoring their requests.

Here's a small sample of the complaints shared with the world via Twitter.

Tweet reading "It's literally 1 half day I can't work and what do they do? Rota me on cool thanks guys x?
Was this employee's request ignored or just forgotten?
Screenshot of tweet reading "Me: Can I get Saturday off please? Work: Ignores. Rota gets released, have to work Saturday."
Staff are unlikely to help you out if you don't help them in return.
Screenshot of tweet reading, "Why does work feel the need to rota me in for every evening that I need off?""
Sounds like someone's moving the goalposts...
Screenshot of tweet reading, "Why does work find it so hard to understand that I'm on holiday and can only work weekends because of uni?" with gif of little girl crushing a drinks can.
Another frustrated employee.
Screenshot of tweet reading: "Why have work put me on the rota this month even though I've told them I've left"
And then there are mistakes like this.

It's pretty clear from these examples that ignoring requests, or having no system in place to accommodate their needs, is incredibly frustrating and demotivating.

The Fallout

So, what are the consequences of allowing this at your business?

The following are commonly seen at companies where employees' shift requests are forgotten, ignored, or flatly denied:

Frustrated staff. As the above tweets show, when managers repeatedly forget that their staff aren't free to work on certain days, or ignore their requests entirely, it can be incredibly frustrating. This can lead to...

Low morale. It's hard to feel valued when your boss schedules you in for shifts that you've already told them are difficult for you — especially if the first you hear about it is when your name appears on the work rota.

You can't expect your staff to show up for work with a positive attitude if their shifts negatively impacts upon their personal lives.

Constant rota changes. Give your employees shifts that they can't work, and more often than not you'll end up having to find cover for them and then update the rota. This can cause rota mixups between staff, missed shifts, and even legal problems if those providing cover end up working more than their contracted hours.

High turnover. Ultimately, if staff become so frustrated they'll jump ship the minute something better comes along. That means more costly recruitment, interviewing, and training for you.

See your staff's availability — right there on the rota

RotaCloud lets your staff communicate when they are, and aren't, free to work via our free mobile app — making it easier for you to plan rotas that work for everyone.

Explore RotaCloud

The Solution

It's impossible to please everyone 100% of the time, but routinely ignoring staff's requests for shifts or days off can be damaging for your business.

Here's what you can do to more easily accommodate employees' preferences for shifts, without it eating into your time.

Make availability part of your recruitment process

Ask candidates during the interview process whether they have any particular days or shifts that they can't work, and keep a log of them — especially when hiring for part-time positions.

As well as helping you decide whether you're a good fit for each other, this will give you something to base your rotas on should you decide they're right for your team.

Stick to a pattern

Rather than mixing shifts up every week, try to establish a pattern for your staff rota and stick to it. Create a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly template, and use this as the basis for all future rotas.

This way, your staff will be better able to plan their personal lives and you'll have fewer last-minute requests for changes every time you publish a new rota.

Set up a process for making shift requests

A great many staff shift requests go unfulfilled because they get forgotten about.

Rather than relying on memory or scraps of paper, set up a formal process for your staff to follow when requesting shifts, whether it's by sending an email, filling out a form, or through software like RotaCloud. Choose whatever's best for your team and for you, but definitely ensure there's a record and a clear process to follow.

Set a deadline for making shift/availability requests

Be sure to set a deadline, ideally 3-5 days before you publish your next rota, for requests to allow yourself enough time to plan shifts accordingly.

Make your staff a deal: you'll do your best to meet their needs, as long as they give you plenty of notice. A win-win for you both!

Let staff swap shifts

If you decide that you'd rather let your staff trade shifts they're unable to work than create the rota around their preferences, it's important that you formalise the process so that nothing is left to chance.

If your staff can swap shifts or have colleagues provide cover, you need to ensure that this is documented and, ideally, signed off by a senior member of staff before the rota's updated.

Again, you'll need to set some kind of deadline for shift swaps — for example, they must be received no less than 48 hours before the shift in question starts.

Use a cloud-based rota system

Online systems like RotaCloud allow staff to communicate their availability and request days off through an app — which is free to install on their phones.

Managers have this information available when planning the rota, and the system alerts them if they're about to schedule a shift for someone who's not available. No more mistakes or forgotten holiday requests!

Staff can also use the app to organise shift swaps between them, saving their managers hassle and admin time. The rota manager receives a swap request notification which they approve or reject, and the rota updates automatically.

Final thoughts

Like all aspects of staff management, rota planning is about give and take.

You expect your staff to show up on time and ready to go, but you'll only get the best out of them if you keep their preferences in mind when assigning shifts.

True, this may take up a little more of your time than simply slotting staff members into shifts ad hoc. But you'll probably save yourself countless hours of tweaking and updating once the rota's actually published. Plus, you'll have a team of people who feel valued and respected enough to want to stick around.

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