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Flexibility: The Key to Employee Satisfaction in a Labor Crunch

Because most hospitality organizations are staffed with a large contingent of hourly workers, they’re ready-made to offer flexibility. A system known as flexible self-scheduling can easily make that happen.
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Today’s biggest stressor for employers everywhere? The pandemic side effect of too many job openings and too few workers to fill them. The U.S. Labor Department recently reported 10.9 million unfilled jobs at the end of July, including more than 1.5 million in leisure and hospitality.

Between May and July 2021, the When I Work Hourly Workforce Indexan economic benchmark that examines how millions of shift workers across the nation are fairing has seen a 45% drop in hours worked in the industry as businesses have struggled to fill available jobs. In addition, monthly turnover among hospitality shift workers increased from 5% in January to 12% in May 2021, signaling that the Great Resignation is not just a phenomenon impacting health care and tech jobs.

To make staffing even tougher: A recent EY survey shows that nine in 10 employees returning to the workplace want flexibility in when and where they work, and more than half would consider quitting if not offered the flexibility they’re seeking.

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It’s no wonder then that flexibility is the new premium workplace benefit, including for hourly workers. The good news? Because most hospitality organizations are staffed with a large contingent of hourly workers, they’re ready-made to offer flexibility. A system known as flexible self-scheduling can easily make that happen.


What is it?

Flexible self-scheduling is a proven technique that’s been around for a while. Prior to the pandemic, its use was growing at a rate of 20% annually among the 10 million hourly employees. However, in Q2 2020, this growth rate increase 10-fold among customers, particularly as industries figured out how to cope with COVID-19 employment challenges.

In a flexible self-scheduling environment, managers determine staffing needs based on customer demand and other relevant business factors. Instead of being assigned specific work times, employees are allowed to choose the shifts they want, or trade shifts with others. The practice empowers employees to fit work around a variety of factors, like the demands of their private lives, qualifications or overtime considerations.

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While employees are the biggest beneficiaries of flexible self-scheduling, employers also win with:

  • Fewer problems with no shows
    When employees choose their own schedules, they are more likely to show up for their shifts.
  • Increase in productivity
    We each have different times of the day when we’re more productive. Employees can choose a schedule that matches their most productive time.
  • Good for recruitment and retention

Self-scheduling can be positioned as part of a healthy work-life balance, and it’s a perk hourly workers are looking for. In a recent survey from MyWorkChoice, 78% of hourly workers said workplace flexibility was slightly to very important to them.

How it works

Managing self-scheduling manually can be challenging and slow. One of the most effective ways to implement the practice is to use an hourly workforce management software that allows for self-scheduling and enables managers and employees alike to develop and manage shifts from their mobile devices.

The practice begins with whoever creates the work roster. Once the shifts are created, employees receive an alert on their mobile devices. Employees can then use the app to select the shifts they want. Using the same system, employees also can communicate with one another to trade shifts. Finally, a manager assigns any remaining shifts.

Before getting started with flexible self-scheduling, you first need to know the type of schedule you’ll be offering employees:

  • Split shifts that divide a full shift into parts throughout the day.
  • Flex time that gives employees leeway in start and stop times.
  • A results-only focus, which is less about the total time and more about completing productivity goals.

Next, choose your tools. Cloud-based applications make it simple to notify employees of available shifts. Employees can use the same app on their mobile devices to view, claim and swap shifts. To minimize last-minute swaps, be sure to look for an app that allows the scheduling manager to set time limits on when employees can drop or swap shifts.

Successful flexible self-scheduling requires good communication between managers and employees. If customer demand unexpectedly picks up during the week, employers using a cloud-based app can send a notification about additional shifts that employees can pick up and add to their work schedules. The key here is real-time, or as real-time as possible, engagement with the team. Whether you rely on text messaging, email or a mobile app, some level of communications technology is necessary.

The bottom line

The unprecedented labor shortage resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us in myriad ways how vital flexibility is for coping in business and in life. And, because it gives employees more flexibility and autonomy, flexible self-scheduling has become a competitive advantage for shift-based businesses, as well as key to survival and revival during these uncertain times.

Chad Halvorson, founder of WhenWeWork
Chad Halvorson

About the Author

Chad Halvorson is the founder and chief experience officer of When I Work, a provider of workforce management for shift-based workplaces that provides a fully integrated scheduling, time tracking, and team messaging solution to over 200,000 workplaces.


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