HR Insights
Deep Dive
June 14, 2022

Workforce Management: The complete guide to workforce planning strategy

The way we view work has changed, and organizations 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. The pandemic caused widespread social and economic impact on the workforce. From The Great Resignation to the rise in labor unionization efforts at organizations like Amazon, The New York Times, and John Deere’s 2021 strike action, a growing number of workers are sending a clear sign to employers that working conditions need to be better.

Business continuity and agility aren’t possible without the right people to get the job done, yet it’s become more difficult to retain workers and maintain operational efficiency. Organizations are experiencing a complexity crisis, fueled by today’s boundless workforce where work is increasingly fluid, borderless, and always on. Companies are now managing multiple types of work and workers amid growing regulatory complexity.

When leaders don’t have visibility into their workforce performance, worker retention and labor costs are hard to control. Without the right systems in place to match labor to demand, organizations can’t keep up with changing business conditions either.

Workers are likely to jump ship if they don’t have a predictable schedule that supports their wellness and lifestyle. Not to mention, growing compliance complexity opens organizations up to increased risk and difficulty keeping up with ever-changing requirements.

Organizations need a workforce management system that makes it easier to solve today’s complexity crisis and plan for tomorrow’s next disruption. The following guide will help you overcome some of the main challenges of the changing world of work and discover benefits for employees and your organization. 

Chapter 1: Controlling labor costs and making smarter staffing decisions

When you have pressure to reduce spend and increase sales, organizations 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 labor costs. The workers impacted by these unpredictable schedules 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 organization that provides an unpredictable and demanding work experience when they can find better work-life balance with a different employer.

Organizations that effectively forecast and staff to meet demand are more profitable, productive, and efficient with their labor expenses. Nucleus Research found that the right workforce management implementation pays 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 you can effectively staff your workforce to meet both customer and employee demand. When you have a system that can satisfy both, the right system can show returns in both employee engagement and profits.

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Navigating the workforce balancing act

Looking ahead, organizations 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 optimize labor spend without sacrificing the customer experience. Read about the three ways that better scheduling can maximize labor spend.

Chapter 2: Increasing scheduling flexibility for employee wellbeing

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

The right scheduling solution can help you handle on-the-fly changes and create an optimal schedule for the team. Managers want the scheduling process to be simple, and employees want to feel in control. Ceridian’s Pulse of Talent 2022 Survey found that 40% of employees want more flexibility in their schedules so they can have better work-life balance.

Proper workforce scheduling can prevent your managers from accidentally overbooking associates and triggering overtime premium pay. When people can freely trade shifts and account for unavailability, managers can find coverage without additional administrative work.

Using a system with set rules also helps support compliance by automatically accounting for regional legislation and union policies. With hundreds of moving parts and people every day, organizations can reduce their level of risk while leveraging a system that works alongside them.

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Digital and in-person scheduling

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

Increasing sales through better schedules

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

Improving turnover with scheduling

Scheduling 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 scheduling.



Forecasting in unpredictable conditions

If there’s one thing the pandemic taught organizations, it's the importance of agility. While forecasting the next disruption is nearly impossible, organizations know that a new roadmap for change is essential for success. Josh Bersin says “...some technology shift, competitive move, or customer change will interrupt [your current business]. Building a company that is ‘architected for change’ is critical.” 

Dealing with uncertainty means organizations need to identify opportunities and quickly evolve employee staffing to match any scenario. 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 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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Leaders talk forecasting during changing demand

Delivering on customer expectations is a difficult task, especially as consumer behavior is ever-changing. Sephora and Designer Shoe Warehouse have transformed their people operations to effectively meet business demand, while also supporting their employees’ needs. Read more about their intelligent workforce strategy.

Intelligent insights

Having access to the right data helps leaders match staffing to demand. Machine learning 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 scheduling and forecasting are key for creating a resilient workforce and operations strategy.

Tracking spend with time and attendance

Legacy platforms weren’t built for today’s pressures. Does your system allow you to visualize and validate all time data from one place as it’s being scheduled and recorded? Time-tracking tools have evolved to allow real-time visibility, which help you meet financial goals. It’s hard to look back as competitors move forward with up-to-the-minute punches that help reduce time loss.

Not all organizations have visibility into their labor spend across operating regions. HCM Technology Report found that 56% of 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. With mobile clocks, employees can punch in and out wherever they are. A continuous time and attendance system allows you to visualize and validate data as it’s being scheduled and recorded from anywhere.

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Tracking hours through unprecedented times

Organizations with an hourly workforce need to track employee time and pay accurately and in compliance with labor legislation. Read more about employee time and attendance through disruption.

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 scheduling.

Chapter 3: Supporting compliance and reducing risk

Compliance requirements are never static. Workplace scheduling and pay legislation is changing all the time, along with union rules and internal policies. Keeping up with all these changing requirements is a lot of work, but doing a poor job of it opens your organizations 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 legislation adds additional complexity to your HR data. Compliance requirements may also include budgetary compliance, operational policies, and different union policies. And on top of that, your system needs a plan for ongoing governance across all your operating regions.

Maintaining a compliance system to protect your organization requires time and effort, standardized processes, and careful tracking of deadlines and changing legislation.

Scheduling practices

Just-in-time schedules 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. American Sociological Review research found that erratic schedules 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 plan for commutes and childcare in advance.

In recent years, some of the requirements around scheduling has become stricter so as to provide hourly workers with more predictable schedules and pay. Many of these fair scheduling laws address concerns about the employee experience, including:

  • Advance notice of schedules
  • The right to request schedule preferences
  • Fair allocation of hours
  • Minimum rest periods

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

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The upside of fair scheduling

Fair scheduling requirements can be difficult to keep track of. With the right strategy, scheduling can be a powerful way to boost employee engagement and keep operating costs down. Read more about scheduling trends in the United States and Canada.

What was the impact of Brexit?

Leaving the European Union on January 31 2020, means United Kingdom residents are no longer bound by certain obligations. Read more about changes to workers’ rights from Brexit.

The cost of scheduling non-compliance

Non-compliance with employee scheduling laws can not only cost organizations financially, and it can negatively impact employee engagement and their experience. Read more about better ways to manage predictive scheduling laws.

Accurately paying your workforce

Inaccurate time tracking quickly complicates your payroll process. When employees make mistakes punching in and out, managers may be tasked with manually correcting their timesheets and reconciling pay. This adds administrative work onto the recurring payroll processing.  

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. Organizations with an hourly workforce need a reliable time-collection method that employees can use quickly and access frequently.

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

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Compliance challenges in retail

In the retail industry, payroll, tax, and labor laws change frequently and make it difficult for retailers to maintain a consistent pay experience for their employees. Read more about common payroll compliance errors.

How time tracking has changed

Health and safety protocols have transformed many aspects of the workplace, including time collection processes. Read more about how COVID-19 has changed employee time tracking.

Chapter 4: Improving the employee experience to support your workforce

The employee experience has become a key part of the employee value proposition for organizations struggling to hire and retain their workforce. Companies are focusing on improving their employee experience to reflect changing employee values and to support the resilience of their workforce.

Eighty-four percent of business leaders say they’re focused on talent experience like they’ve never been before, according to Randstad Sourceright’s 2022 Talent Trends Report. Creating a great employee experience is an effective way to support and retain your workforce.

So what are the latest employee values? Ceridian’s Pulse of Talent survey found that employees want professional development opportunities, workplace flexibility, and support for mental and physical health from their employer. The power has shifted to the worker, and employers know they must make changes to win talent back. The right solution can help improve employee engagement, work-life balance, and ultimately worker retention.


The rise of remote work has given many people more flexibility on when and where they choose to work. Industries including retail, hospitality, and manufacturing have struggled the past two years, as many workers have quit jobs and changed industries during The Great Resignation in search of positions that offer more flexibility.

The good news? Harvard Business Review did a study of hybrid workers and found the main motivation was a desire for autonomy, not just flexibility. People want the ability to control their working hours and set more boundaries around their work-life balance. Employees with greater autonomy are likely to feel more satisfaction, fulfilment, and engagement. It can also serve as an intrinsic motivator to perform better.

Even if your employees have to come to a physical location, you can still offer greater amounts of control over when they choose to work.

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Gig work has become a desirable option for people frustrated with the limitations of the traditional employment model. About a third of the U.S. workforce now freelances. 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. Employees can become burned out from overscheduling 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 scheduling requirements, and scheduling compliance legislation. Organizations that rely on manuel scheduling may find it difficult to balance all these requirements, wasting managers’ time and failing to meeting employees’ needs.

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

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Improving the employee and customer experience

Retailers are finding new ways to be agile by prioritizing 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.

Boosting work-life balance with better scheduling

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

Mobile self-service

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

Most people have a smartphone in their pocket every day. With the addition of scheduling software apps, they can punch 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 seamless way to 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 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 organization to care about them and treat them with more respect. This comes down to providing regular updates that keep your workforce in the loop.

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How to support employees through disruption

Regular communications can go a long way in building trust, respect, and understanding of how an individual employee can make an impact on organizational goals. Read more about strategies for supporting employees during disruption.

Why a mobile workforce management system matters

People want a seamless 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

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

Without visibility into real-time labor data, companies can easily make mistakes calculating pay, especially in industries with hourly workers who have variable schedules. The 2021 EY Global Payroll Survey found the top compliance challenges in payroll were inaccurate employee source data. Maintaining clean data that is accurate and timely can be difficult for organizations operating in multiple jurisdictions, all of which have different legislative and tax requirements.

It’s clear that organizations need a better plan for sourcing and sharing data within payroll and finance functions. When all workforce payroll data is accessible in one system and validated in real time, you’re able to forecast and calculate your labor spend more accurately and efficiently. When your systems are centralized and already built for a global perspective, your processes can grow alongside your organization 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 organizations drive their corporate performance by improving employee engagement and controlling labor costs. The right tool helps you forecast demand, schedule 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 labor planning results in lower operating costs and can drive higher profits. The financial returns are one of the core benefits for organizations to capitalize on, but advanced workforce management systems 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 scheduling processes

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

Increased employee self-service

Self-service technology allows employees to request schedule 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 scheduling unavailable employees or overspending on overtime premium pay.

Reduced employee turnover

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

Reduced risk of compliance errors

Every workforce decision needs to be compliant with local, regional, and federal employment laws, as well as individual union agreements and specific company policies. This also includes tracking requirement certifications for specific roles, labor standards, leave requirements, and more. Non-compliance can 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 and benefits administration by accurately calculating payroll with hourly time data. Further analysis into attendance data can allow organizations to identify potential gaps in coverage, address absences and leave planning, and better predict changes in demand.

This blog was updated on April 3, 2024. It was originally published on June 14, 2022. 

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