How to make a fair rota — 5 quick & easy tips

Phil Kendall

Mar 2021 ⋅ 6 min read

A pewter statue with a blindfolded woman holding the scales of justice

It might be just a collection of names, dates, and times, but the humble staff rota can cause no end of trouble in the workplace.

Whatever industry you’re in, it pays to create rotas that work for your company and are fair to your employees — to not only reduce disputes, but to have a positive effect on staff engagement and morale.

But what does a ‘fair’ rota look like? And what are the benefits of building rotas that your staff will approve of, rather than frown at?

Join us as we share our top tips for building staff rotas that work for everyone.

Five tips for building a fair rota

Building a fair rota is easier than you might think. Often, that ‘fairness’ has less to do with the actual shifts an employee is being given, and more to do with the way the rota is distributed, and the thinking behind it...

#1 Consider your staff’s availability

As a manager, you’ve got enough on your plate without trying to accommodate your employees’ every request to work — or, as is more often the case, not work — a particular shift.

But fail to consider your staff’s commitments outside work when planning your rota and you’re only setting yourself up for problems down the line — not to mention sapping employee morale.

Before sitting down to plan your next rota, invite your staff to tell you their shift preferences for the coming period, listing any days they’d find difficult, or shifts they’d especially like to work. Set a deadline for providing this info, and formalise the process for doing so — whether it’s via email, WhatsApp, or filling out a form in the workplace.

Use this data when planning your shifts, working around any days or dates that, if worked, would make life difficult for your staff.

You might not be able to accommodate every single request, and some (for example, childcare commitments, school/college exams or essay deadlines) should always be given priority over less pressing requests. But be sure to speak directly to any staff whose requests you couldn’t work around, rather than just delivering the bad news via the rota itself.

That might sound like a lot of extra work for you, but there are plenty of tools available to make all that much easier.

In RotaCloud, staff can communicate their availability and unavailability by marking it on their individual calendars within the app. RotaCloud will even show employee availability on the rota as it’s being built — making it easier for managers to plan shifts with this in mind.

Screenshot of RotaCloud staff scheduling software with employee marking their availability in green and unavailability in red
An employee marking availability in RotaCloud

#2 Create a rolling rota

If you have some shifts that are particularly demanding, or shifts that everyone always wants to work for one reason or another, then it’s usually best to apply a ‘rolling’ rota.

A rolling rota is when your staff alternate things like their days off or whose turn it is to work the early, mid or late shifts.

A simple example:

  • On week one, Anne works the early shift, Pete the mid-shift, and Asim takes the late shift.
  • On week two, Anne works the mid-shift, Pete the late, Asim the early shift,
  • On week three, Anne works the late-shift, Pete the early, Asim the mid-shift.

Once everyone's had a turn, the cycle repeats. Easy.

The same process can be applied to things like days off, so that each member of staff gets a chance to rest on the most popular days.

By employing a rolling rota system, your staff are much less likely to begrudge those who happen to be working the more popular shifts. It also makes it clear that no one on your team is receiving preferential treatment, as everybody will work the exact same shifts eventually. Your staff will also appreciate the predictability of such a rota pattern, as it'll allow them to make personal plans further in advance.

In RotaCloud, creating rolling rotas is as simple as using the Copy Custom Range tool and applying it across any date range you like, saving you hours of admin and fiddly data entry.

Animated GIF showing RotaCloud staff scheduling software's 'copy custom range' tool
Pasting a custom range of shifts into future weeks in RotaCloud

#3 Share your rotas early

Much of the reason that staff are so often unhappy about the shifts they’ve been given is that they’re usually given little notice of when they’re expected to work.

Clearly it’s not fair on staff if they only find out on Sunday evening that they’re working the early shift on Monday — but that’s the reality for plenty of employees.

With more time to organise their personal lives around their shifts, staff are much less likely to take issue with their rota. They’re also much more likely to show up on time and less likely to call in sick or tell you that they can’t work the shifts they’ve been given.

Aim to send out your rotas at least one week in advance whenever possible. This will make life much easier for your staff, but you’ll also have more time to make any necessary adjustments to your schedule and communicate them to your team.

Check out our blog for more on the benefits of sharing your staff rotas in advance.

#4 Rebalance your rota

You probably already have a good idea of when your busiest shifts are, but do you use hard data when scheduling shifts?

When planning your rotas, pencil in your projected earnings for each day or shift, based on previous shifts’ data, before you start scheduling staff to work. That way, you’ll have a much better idea of the number of employees you’ll need for a given shift, and how much you should be spending on staffing.

Rotas based on past revenue and projected earnings data (RotaCloud's built in budgeting tools can help here!) are much less likely to result in periods where your staff feel overwhelmed (and your customers frustrated) or slow days where you’re paying staff to stand around — their morale sapped and your wage bill ever growing.

You can also try staggering shifts so that team members start work one another the other, helping meet demand as it picks up.

In RotaCloud, managers can set a weekly estimated revenue, set labour costs as a percentage of that revenue, and see right there on the rota whether the shifts they’re creating would exceed that figure.

Animated GIF showing daily estimated revenue being entered into a rota in RotaCloud
Set your estimated revenue and see staffing costs in real time as you build your rota

#5 Let your staff swap shifts

You can’t please everyone. If all else fails and some of your staff still aren’t happy with the shifts that they’ve been given, letting them arrange shift swaps with other members of their team could be the answer.

Shift swaps should of course require approval from a manager, and you’ll have to make sure that there’s a process in place for making requests and updating the rota. But by empowering your staff in this way, you’ll not only be making life easier for them, you’ll also be taking much of the administrative burden off your own shoulders — the onus is now on the employee, not you, to find a replacement if they really can’t work the shift they’ve been given.

Shift swapping is by far one of RotaCloud’s most popular features — and with good reason. Using the RotaCloud mobile app, staff can propose shift swaps with other eligible members of their team. If their teammate agrees, the request is then sent straight to their manager to either approve or deny with a click or tap of a button. The rota even updates itself based on the manager’s response, so there’s no additional admin to take care of.  

Screenshot of RotaCloud staff scheduling software: a swap request is being consider by a manager
Handling shift swap requests in RotaCloud is as simple as clicking a button

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