HR Insights
Deep Dive
June 5, 2024

Workforce Management: The complete guide to workforce planning strategy

The way we view work has changed, and organisations are moving past traditional systems. In this guide, learn how leaders can intelligently manage operations so it’s easier to make decisions that are better for the business and the workforce.

Table of Contents

The way businesses run has changed. Today’s workforce is increasingly fluid, borderless, and always on, creating a complexity crisis for operations leaders. Organisations are experiencing an explosion of different types of work and workers, such as contingent and gig workers. There’s also a growing mismatch between available skills and evolving roles with the emergence of new technologies like AI.  And organisations are facing increased regulatory complexity that changes across regions.  

Business continuity and agility aren’t possible without having the right people to get the job done, yet it’s become more difficult to retain workers and maintain operational efficiency. When leaders don’t have visibility into their workforce performance, worker retention and labour costs are hard to control. Without the right systems in place to match labour to demand, organisations often can’t keep up with changing business conditions either.  

Workers are more likely to jump ship if they don’t have a predictable roster that supports their wellness and lifestyle. On top of these concerns, growing compliance complexity opens organisations up to increased risk and makes it difficult for them to keep up with ever-changing requirements. 

Organisations need a workforce management system that makes it easier to plan for tomorrow’s next disruption. The following guide will help you conquer today’s complexity crisis and simplify your operations to benefit your employees and organisation.   

Chapter 1: Controlling labour costs and making smarter staffing decisions 

In response to pressure to reduce spend and increase sales, organisations often set aggressive goals to go after opportunities without considering workforce inefficiencies and payroll leakage. When unpredictable spikes in demand do happen, there’s more risk of unnecessary overtime costs and scrambling to find people to cover. People don’t want cost-cutting measures to impact their experience at work, and managers want to have sufficient coverage to meet operational goals.  

Financial officers aren’t the only ones frustrated with uncontrolled labour costs. The workers impacted by these unpredictable rosters are often stressed about making a reliable salary and may struggle to plan their time. The Great Resignation has shown that workers won’t stay with an organisation that provides an unpredictable and demanding work experience when they can find better work-life balance with a different employer. 

Organisations that effectively forecast and staff to meet demand are often more profitable, productive, and efficient with their labour expenses. Nucleus Research found that the right workforce management implementation can pay back an average of $12.24 for every dollar spent, reported in their Research V21. 

The value of the right workforce management system shows when it can enable you to effectively staff your workforce to meet both customer and employee demand. When you have a system that can help you satisfy both, you are likely to see returns in both employee engagement and profits. 

Related Content 

Navigating the workforce balancing act 

Looking ahead, organisations must balance two priorities: empowering their workforce with greater control of their work-life balance while meeting the needs of the business. Read more about workforce management strategies to drive engagement and control costs

Creating the best customer experience 

Retailers are always searching for new ways to optimise labour spend without sacrificing the customer experience. Read about the three ways that better rostering can maximise labour spend.  

Chapter 2: Increasing rostering flexibility for employee wellbeing 

When your organisation has hundreds of hourly workers to staff across multiple operating regions, rostering and tracking labour spend becomes complex. Labour needs to be matched to demand, which can vary based on supply chains, consumer behavior, and seasonality. 

The right rostering solution can help you handle on-the-fly changes and create an optimal roster for the team. Managers want the rostering process to be simple, and employees want to feel in control. According to Dayforce’s Pulse of Talent research, 52% of surveyed employees said flexibility is the job attribute they value the most. Having more flexibility in their rosters can help people find better work-life balance. 

Proper workforce rostering can help prevent your managers from accidentally overbooking associates and triggering overtime premium pay. When people can freely trade shifts and account for unavailability, it’s easier for managers to find coverage without additional administrative work.  

Using a system with set rules also supports compliance by helping organisations account for regional requirements and union policies. With hundreds of moving parts and people every day, organisations can better reduce their level of risk while leveraging a system that works alongside them. 

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Digital and in-person rostering 

Retailers can reach customers in new ways by offering e-commerce solutions in addition to brick-and-mortar businesses. Associates play an important role in this system of digital and in-person operations. Read more about the omnichannel experience

Increasing sales through better rosters 

Better rostering is key to improving sales lift while getting the best performance from your workforce. Read more about maximising labour spend through scheduling software

Improving turnover with rostering 

Rostering has the power to help your hourly associates create a better work-life balance and gain more control over their day. Read more about improving turnover rates with rostering. 



Forecasting in unpredictable conditions 

While forecasting the next disruption is nearly impossible, organisations know that a new roadmap for change is essential for success. According to Josh Bersin, “... some technology shift, competitive move, or customer change will interrupt [your current business]. So building a company that is ‘architected for change’ is critical.”  

Dealing with uncertainty means organisations need to identify opportunities and quickly evolve employee staffing to match potential scenarios. Leaders need to be able to forecast accurately to avoid stressing out employees or overspending on payroll. All these complex conditions can make preparation even more challenging.  

How effective is your forecasting strategy? McKinsey found that 40% of CFOs surveyed believe their forecasts are not particularly accurate and the process takes too much time. To understand the true impact of forecasting, leaders need to measure operational outcomes rather than simply financial measures. This includes assessing your service and product quality, employee and customer retention, and overall operational efficiency. 

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Intelligent insights 

Having access to the right data helps leaders match staffing to demand. AI-enhanced technologies can add additional insights with the wealth of key performance indicators available, such as sales, foot traffic, transactions, units, and other metrics based on historical data trends. Read more about insights from a total workforce management system

Preparing for change 

Maintaining business continuity can be difficult in a world of unpredictable disruptions. Read more about why rostering and forecasting are key for creating a resilient workforce and operations strategy.  

Reflections from a seafood giant

CEO of Seattle-based Trident Foods talks managing 9,000 employees worldwide and keeping a seasonal workforce aboard. 

Read more 

Tracking spend with time and attendance 

Legacy platforms often weren’t built to manage today’s complexities, from different pay types to local compliance requirements. Does your system allow you to visualise and validate time data from one place as it’s being rostered and recorded? Time-tracking tools have evolved to allow real-time visibility, which can help you meet financial goals. It’s hard to look back as innovators move forward with up-to-the-minute clocking in capabilities that help reduce time loss. 

Not all organisations have visibility into their labour spend across operating regions. HCM Technology Report found that 56% of surveyed deskless workers reported using outdated methods for time tracking, such as wall clocks, paper forms, and punch cards. Using spreadsheets for reporting doesn’t provide a complete picture of the true cost of your workforce until those funds are already spent. 

Real-time accuracy 

The experience of clocking in and out has changed as well. This is another aspect of the standard workday that can offer more flexibility to your full-time, gig, and seasonal workers, especially since Dayforce Executive Survey research found that 80% of surveyed businesses around the globe currently use contingent workers. With mobile clocks, employees can clock in and out wherever they are. A continuous time and attendance system allows you to visualise and validate data as it’s being rostered and recorded from anywhere. 

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Taking time off during the holidays 

The holidays are a slow time for many companies, but one of the busiest for retailers. Managers need the right plan to account for time-off requests while balancing coverage during the shopping season. Read more about how to manage retail holiday rostering

Chapter 3: Supporting compliance and reducing risk 

Compliance requirements are dynamic. Organisations are grappling with requirements that vary from region to region, and employing different types of workers can add even more complexity. Workplace rostering and pay requirements are changing all the time, along with union rules and internal policies. Keeping up with key requirements is a lot of work, but doing a poor job of it can open your organisation up to risk. Compliance errors and missed deadlines can lead to costly issues, damage to brand reputation, and a poor pay experience for your employees. 

When your business is operating at a global scale, regional and country-specific requirements add additional complexity to your HR data. Compliance requirements may also include budgetary compliance, operational policies, and different union agreements. And on top of that, your system needs a plan for ongoing governance across all your operating regions.  

Managing compliance to protect your organisation requires time and effort, standardised processes, and careful tracking of deadlines and changing legal requirements. Organisations that win will invest in digital transformation that helps them simplify operations and reduce risk across their workforce planning activities.  

Rostering practices 

Just-in-time rosters make sense from an employer’s point of view, when the goal is to precisely match staff to demand, but a variable and unpredictable approach can take a brutal toll on your employees’ work-life balance. National Institute of Health research found that instability in work rosters can interfere with family life, resulting in poor sleep, psychological distress, and lower levels of happiness. People want to ensure they’re working enough shifts to cover bills each week and can plan for commutes and childcare in advance. 

In recent years, some of the requirements around rostering have become stricter in certain jurisdictions so as to provide hourly workers with more predictable rosters and pay. Many of these fair rostering laws address concerns about the employee experience, including: 

  • Advance notice of rosters 

  • The right to request roster preferences  

  • Fair allocation of hours 

  • Minimum rest periods 

Adhering to applicable rules can have positive benefits for employers as well. Predictive rostering helps leaders create optimal rosters to try to avoid unplanned overtime pay while still ensuring coverage. Leaders can better budget and plan labour spend, which is one of the highest controllable expenses for most companies.  

Accurately paying your workforce 

Inaccurate time tracking quickly complicates your payroll process. When employees make mistakes clocking in and out, managers may have to manually correct their timesheets and reconcile pay. This adds administrative work onto the recurring payroll processing. Organisations need to find a pathway that reduces the burden on their teams and helps lower their risk profile.   

You want to ensure your workforce is paid accurately and on time. This is key for employee trust and retention, as it’s a critical motivator in the employee-employer relationship. Organisations with an hourly workforce need a reliable time-collection method that all of your worker types can use quickly and access frequently.  

Workforce management can also be more efficient and accurate when you have end-to-end visibility into when employees are rostered and what they are paid. It can be challenging to stay up to date with changing legal requirements in multiple regions and jurisdictions. This takes additional time and effort and can open your organisation up to the risk of potential errors and non-compliance. Having your workforce and pay data in a single system can help you avoid disjointed silos and get direct access to clear and actionable reporting.  

Chapter 4: Improving the employee experience to support your workforce 

Organisations are caught in a balancing act between employee expectations and the budget realities of running operations. The employee experience should be a key focus for organisations struggling to hire and retain their workforce. While leaders have multiple priorities in addition to improving their employee experience, there are key activities they can focus on to support their workforce resilience and increase performance as a positive outcome.  

So, what do employees say will make them more productive? Dayforce’s Pulse of Talent Survey found that surveyed employees want better work-life balance, more flexibility in when they work, and skill development opportunities from their employers. The right solution can help improve employee engagement, worker energy levels, and ultimately worker retention.  

Fair rostering 

Labour shortages can disrupt business continuity and your organisation’s ability to keep operations running. Employers need to consider the role rostering plays in the employee experience to help boost retention and attract skilled talent. Industries including retail, hospitality, manufacturing, and the public sector have often struggled to offer the flexibility that employees now expect after the rise of remote work opportunities.  

Fair rosters are an essential part of your employee’s everyday experience at work, especially for hourly and frontline workers. When employees have more control over their working hours and work-life balance, they are more likely to feel more satisfaction, fulfilment, and engagement. Even if your employees work at a physical location, you can still offer greater amounts of control over when they choose to work to help provide them with a work rosters that fits into their life better. Fair workweek laws aim to make employee rosters more transparent and predictable for employees. Organisations can benefit from rostering automation that helps them build more fair and predictable rosters, while helping simplify the effort of managing compliance. 

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Lessons from the gig economy
Gig work has become a desirable option for people frustrated with the limitations of the traditional employment model. Read more about what employers can learn from the gig model to improve their employee experience

Employee wellness and burnout 

Supporting employee mental health can help build a stronger workplace culture. Dayforce’s 14th Annual Pulse of Talent Survey found 81% of our respondents reported experiencing symptoms of burnout. Employees can become burned out from overrostering or look for work elsewhere if they’re not getting enough hours.  

But managers are tasked with creating schedules that account for a variety of competing factors, including meeting demand, individual employee rostering requirements, and applicable rostering laws. Organisations that rely on manual rostering may find it difficult to balance all these requirements, wasting managers’ time and failing to meet employees’ needs.  

Ignoring workplace mental health can have a devastating impact in the form of disengagement, absenteeism, and turnover. Without the right talent, organisations can have difficulty delivering on strategic goals or ensuring business continuity.  

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The employee is the new customer

Retailers are finding new ways to be agile by prioritising people who provide a great customer experience and keep their operations going. Read more about improving the employee experience as well as the customer experience.  

How your schedule impacts your life

Erratic rostering gives associates less control over their workday, which impacts how they plan commutes, childcare, and appointments. Better rostering can affect workforce engagement, retention, and ultimately, performance. Read more about improving work-life balance with better rostering.  

Mobile self-service 

Employers often overlook the amount of communication and collaboration their front-line workers want. A great strategy for engaging with workers is through mobile technology.  

Most people have a smartphone in their pocket every day. With the addition of rostering software apps, they can clock in and out, trade shifts, and receive company-wide communication wherever they are. For large enterprises with a borderless workforce operating in multiple regions, this is a smooth way to help ensure a consistent employee experience and streamline the efficiency of your mobile workforce management. 

When the majority of your workforce doesn’t use a computer, mobile technology is a crucial means of communication with your people. For a deskless workforce, the right solution is available as a mobile app on their smartphone that travels with them.  

Visier found that corporate transparency is key for employee and consumer trust. Nowadays, workers are pickier about who they choose to work for. Demand for corporate communications is higher than ever before. People want their organisation to care about them and treat them with more respect. This comes down to providing regular updates to better keep your workforce in the loop. 

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Why a mobile workforce management system matters 

People want a smooth experience interacting with technology, just as they would in other aspects of life. The technology you choose becomes the foundation of your workforce management system that your people interact with every day. Read more about mobile workforce management

Chapter 5: The combined power of WFM and payroll 

Labour is one of the highest controllable expenses for most organisations. Yet, many companies have different systems to manage their workforce, payroll, and HR functions in each location.  

Without visibility into real-time labour data, companies can easily make mistakes calculating pay, especially in industries with hourly workers who have variable rosters. The 2021 EY Global Payroll Survey found that one of the top challenges in payroll according to survey respondents was poor source data. Maintaining clean data that is accurate and timely can be difficult for organisations operating in multiple jurisdictions, all of which have different legal requirements.  

It’s clear that organisations need a better plan for sourcing and sharing data within payroll and finance functions. When workforce payroll data is accessible in one system and validated in real time, you’re able to forecast and calculate your labour spend more accurately and efficiently. When your systems are centralised and already built for a global perspective, your processes can grow alongside your organisation as it expands with new opportunities.  

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The challenges of a siloed payroll system 

Many companies address each regional workforce’s payroll individually. Over time, this leads to fragmented payroll systems with widely different experiences. Read more about the benefits of a single global payroll solution.   

How salary benchmarking can help improve retention 

Salary benchmarking tools can help companies build more competitive job descriptions, a key talent management strategy for industries with high turnover. Read more about attracting and retaining talent using salary benchmarking data.  

Chapter 6: Choosing workforce management software 

What is workforce management software? 

Workforce management software helps organisations drive their corporate performance by improving employee engagement and controlling labour costs. The right tool helps you forecast demand, roster the right people to complete a task on a given day, and make strategic decisions. 

Key features and their benefits 

An advanced workforce management system gives leaders real-time access to actionable insights from their own data to make better decisions. Better labour planning results in lower operating costs and can drive higher profits. Financial returns are one of the core benefits for organisations to capitalise on, but advanced workforce management systems can drive even more opportunity. 

Key benefits include: 

Better forecasting and budgeting 

Strategic forecasting allows leaders to confidently staff the right people for a particular job during a specific time, day, or season. As demand fluctuates, workforce management systems assist companies in quickly adjusting their staffing spend to meet workloads.  

More efficient rostering processes 

Shift rostering software can help automate manual processes and leverage rules to create an optimal roster for both the business and employees. 

Increased employee self-service 

Self-service technology allows employees to request roster changes, collect pay slips, and manage HR data through a mobile app instead of filling out paperwork. Some tools allow managers to easily accommodate changes within set rules to prevent them from rostering unavailable employees or overspending on overtime premium pay. 

Reduced employee turnover 

When organisations give employees more control in the rostering process, employees can achieve more autonomy and better work-life balance. When they are staffed more fairly and predictably, retention can improve. 

Compliance support 

Every workforce decision needs to consider local, regional, and national employment laws, as well as individual union agreements and specific company policies. This also includes tracking requirement certifications for specific roles, labour standards, leave requirements, and more. Non-compliance can potentially result in costly fines, employee lawsuits, and damage to brand reputation. 

Increased time and attendance accuracy 

For industries with hourly workers, a workforce management system can help reduce manual payroll efforts. Further analysis into attendance data can allow organisations to identify potential gaps in coverage, address absences and leave planning, and better predict changes in demand. 


Organisations are facing a complexity crisis, especially for businesses that operate globally – or are planning to expand globally. In a world with legal requirements that vary from region to region and an increasingly boundless workforce that is borderless and always on, companies that win will focus their digital transformation efforts on helping simplify their workforce planning, reduce risk across their operations, and unlock more value.   


This blog was updated on June 5, 2024 with new information. It was originally published on June 14, 2022. 

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