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Is there a "perfect work schedule"?

Early in my leadership career, a mentor told me that two things mean a lot to team members and that if you get them right, you're off to a good start.

Those two things were, and continue to be:

  1. Compensation and being paid on time

  2. Having a good schedule and knowing it in advance

That's not to say that if you get these two things right, that's all you have to do, and people should be happy. But over the years, I have learned that if you get everything else right and either of these two things wrong, you'll hear about it pretty quickly.

As leaders, it can be easy to see these two things as just another process. However, we should consider these could be the most impactful pieces to your employees away from work. Messing either of these up for your team members will immediately affect how much time and money they have to pay bills, take care of family, or do something they enjoy.

There is a lot of talk about being competitive, giving wage transparency, and ensuring wage equality, so when I decided to run a series of surveys, my workforce planning brain took over, and I decided to focus on schedules.

Is there such thing as the "perfect schedule?"

What do team members actually want as their schedule?

I had to find out more!

The five questions I decided to ask were:

  • What type of work week do you prefer? (five 8's vs. four 10's, etc.)

  • How many hours a week do you think should be required?

  • How do you like to take your days off? (split vs. consecutive)

  • How far in advance do you need to know your schedule?

  • Why do you want the days off that you prefer?

If we look at it from purely a "majority rules" point of view,

the perfect schedule would be:

  • Scheduled four days a week

  • Working up to 10 hours, but not over 40 a week

  • With an ability to leave when the work complete

  • Preferably with days off that are consecutive

  • And days off matching when I need to do things in my life

  • Oh, and I need all this at least two weeks in advance, thanks!

Pretty straightforward, huh? No!

I can promise you workforce planning will never be that straightforward unless that's all your business is open. The complexities around scheduling are why we dedicate entire teams and customizable software to getting it right because it'll never be just that easy.

Just consider how different the statements above could look to every one of your team members, and you'll start to understand the complexity you need to solve. Next, consider that for some questions, only 50% of people wanted what was listed, so doing just that and assuming it was what everyone wanted would leave a lot of team members upset.

Oh, and let's not forget that we haven't even started talking about the needs of the business!

With all of this to consider, it's easy to see how one could quickly become lost with where to begin. If nothing else, we must start by eliminating the stigma that the only schedule anyone wants is 9 am-5 pm with Saturday and Sunday off, an idea that became standardized in the early 1900s.

For those interested, let's start at the 'beginning'... (expand to see short history)

For nearly 100 years, the societal normality became working Monday-Friday with Saturday and Sunday off. What started as a need for religious reasons heightened as government agencies, schools, stores, and other events were all opened accordingly.

Based on my surveys, 23% of respondents wanted weekends off because their family raised them to believe that's just what it's supposed to be! Only 6% still wanted to observe weekends due to religious reasons. Most, at 58%, want days off when they can get stuff done. Which, because of society, tends to be weekends.

But wait!

If the numbers repeatedly show that working over 8 hours in a day reduces productivity, why would employees and companies agree to work 10-hour work shifts, which received 60% of the votes in the survey?

Several reasons for this shift existing seem likely:

  1. The work analyzed by Ford and others was physical labor. In today's workforce, many positions are creative and mental based more than they are physical, thus allowing employees to work longer at a higher level of productivity typically.

  2. Many workers' mentality has shifted, focusing less on what is 'right' by the company and focusing more on what is 'right' for themselves. By no means is this a selfish shift in mentality, but it would explain why we start to have so many variants to the "perfect schedule." We're no longer solving for one problem (the company's); we're solving for 100 (the teams').

  3. Finally, we have society to thank, yet again, for some of the changes;

    1. Couples must hold down 1-2 jobs each to make ends meet.

    2. Single parents need to juggle daycare and schooling.

    3. Team members are getting an education while working a job.

All now play a more significant role in schedules than they did even 50 years ago. These factors leave many companies scratching their heads on precisely what to do to make everyone happy.

By the end of the surveys, the only thing that became evident was that pleasing everyone was nearly impossible. There were far too many variables!

But what does this mean for scheduling?

As leaders, our responsibility is to balance doing what is suitable for the company while trying to help our team members. Perhaps, at times, what is ideal for the team member is what's best for the company. It may not be in the same way or for the same reasons.

As team members, it's okay to want to do what is ideal for your needs, and we shouldn't feel guilty for wanting it. However, it cannot become the company's responsibility to make up scenarios tailored to your needs.

Most would consider it unreasonable to get into banking and expect them to give you an overnight shift or to get into nightclubs and not to expect to work a Friday and Saturday night. You need to consider the business you're entering and make an early decision on whether it'll work for you. Businesses and employees must realize that they can do what is right by them while granting a bit of grace and flexibility to the other side. Companies can move away from offering rigid schedules and more flexibility, but team members must do the same for this scheduling model to be effective. If only one side is willing to meet in the middle, that side will always find itself standing there alone.

Inevitably if neither is willing to walk to the middle, then it's time to walk away entirely.

In all cases, clear communication and setting expectations can go a long way!

Talk to one another and work to find common ground.

Every company, every employee, every role, and every time will be different.

It's never one size fits all, especially these days!

Happy Scheduling!


Integrated Experience Consulting has experts in Workforce Planning and Optimization!

With over 40 years of combined experience, we have implemented software and strategies in big box retailers and contact centers. We pride ourselves on having a <3% variance in our long-term and short-term forecasting, ensuring your company has the staff needed to meet SLA without overspending.

If your workforce planning could be better, let's jump on a call to find your success!


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