What is scheduling abuse and how can you avoid it?

While zero-hour contracts and jobs in the “gig economy” provide flexible opportunities for employers and employees alike, the dirty business of scheduling abuse is growing. More than just an inconvenience, scheduling abuse makes employees feel undervalued, disrespected and frustrated, leading to lower workplace morale and productivity. If they consistently feel that there is no regard for their personal life and that nobody is listening to their need to balance a second (or third, or fourth) job, even the most dedicated team member is likely to walk out, leaving their employer with the cost and hassle of replacing them.

While (devious) rota practices have been around since shift-work began, the current job market means that more workers than ever are vulnerable to manipulative abuse in the jobs they desperately rely on. Whether you are an employer hoping to turnaround your turnover rates, or a worker that is consistently frustrated with their schedule, read on to find out exactly what constitutes and scheduling abuse, and how you can avoid it.

What is scheduling abuse?

Scheduling abuse typically involves an employer or manager taking deliberate steps to force shift employees to work certain hours. Carefully structuring the shifts so that an understaffed team is stretched to the limit (while still remaining legal) is one example, or excessively scheduling “on call” hours so that staff are forced to keep hours free without paid.

Scheduling abuse includes:

  • Requiring an employee to work overtime without prior consent or additional payment.
  • Scheduling shifts just a few days (or even hours) in advance.
  • Changing shifts at short notice, with or without informing the employee.
  • Cancelling shifts last minute, so an employee travels to work only to discover they are not needed and will not be paid for that day.
  • Forgetting or disregarding formal holiday requests


Why does scheduling abuse happen?

Often, scheduling abuse is used to save the company money by carefully avoiding overtime payments or keeping employees on stand-by, rather than committing them to work. In some cases, it is used as a form of punishment (like reducing the hours of an unknowingly out-of-favour employee). On occasion, it may be committed unintentionally, but to the same effect of putting one or several employees at a disadvantage.

Who is in control of scheduling abuse?

It can vary. Usually scheduling abuse is committed by the individual in charge of staff rotas, but the decision may have been made at a higher level. In workplaces with several managers, poor rota management may be the result of miscommunication as much as deliberate sabotage, while an employee deciding that another colleague will cover a shift - without having consulted them - is also committing abuse.

How to avoid scheduling abuse

The best way of dealing with scheduling abuse, particularly as an employer or scheduler, is to avoid it in the first place.

  1. Invest in a staff scheduling software, pronto. There is a whole heap of benefits for schedulers - like managing holidays, reconciling payroll and monitoring compliance, on top of being able to quickly and easily plan your weeks according to the staff available. Your employees will be grateful too, as they can check their shifts remotely, swap-shifts more reliably and have more control over their work overall.
  2. Be consistent in when you release new rotas, so staff can create a habit of checking new shifts. If you are erratic then staff are more likely to miss changes and updates, which is only going to create problems for yourself.
  3. Make sure your team is big enough. If you insist on working with the minimum number of employees, you’re going to be under unnecessary pressure when someone calls in sick or you are unexpectedly busy. Curveballs can appear out of anywhere; be prepared.
  4. Schedule “on call” hours sparingly and as necessary. Some industries cannot operate without workers being on call, but keep in mind that this is generally inconvenient for them. If possible, hire specific team members for on-call positions who are aware and comfortable with what that entails.
  5. Respect your employees’ time off requests. If zero-hour staff become increasingly unavailable then you may need to have a discussion about whether their schedule is compatible with the role.
  6. Give ample warning if a worker will need to stay late - the sooner the better. If you’re concerned about needing cover for a no-show, ask your present worker if they would be happy staying. Be prepared to cover the shift yourself, occasionally.
  7. Look out for tired, unhappy or stressed employees and maintain an open dialogue about their hours.
  8. Understand how many hours your employees expect and require. A college student will have different requirements from someone trying to feed a family of four. Do they need a steady income, or are they happier picking up ad hoc shifts when you need numbers or cover?
  9. Try to make consistent shift patterns for staff that need to work around education, family or other jobs. Speak to your employees about how the job fits in with their lifestyle, and don’t expect them to make huge adjustments, particularly if your employment is minimum wage.
  10. Know your traffic. No matter what kind of business you are running, use your POS reporting to understand when your busy periods are, and plan accordingly. It will help you decide when you need your strongest team-members, and when the quieter times are for new staff to learn.

Remember, a respectful relationship works two ways. If you actively demonstrate that you care about your employees, they will be more likely to help you out with accepting extra shifts, late-notice cover or occasional scheduling mistakes. Building a strong relationship with your staff will only benefit your business with a lower turnover, happier staff and greater productivity.

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