Operations Insights
October 21, 2022

A retail manager’s guide to fair holiday scheduling year-round

Many companies slow down during annual holiday periods, but for retailers, those can be some of the busiest times of the year. It’s critical that employers properly manage time off and work requests so they can fill coverage gaps, ensure the right tasks are completed, and reduce associate burnout.

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As other companies wind down during seasonal highs and lows, retail businesses are ramping up in preparation for heightened demand and traffic in-store and online. During this period, businesses must be prepared to staff their locations adequately and adhere to scheduling laws and regulations in various cities and countries, while also delivering predictability and fairness in work-life balance.  

Improper and inconsistent scheduling can be detrimental to the business, often leading to associate burnout and even damage to the brand, as customer service is often impacted as a result. Here are several tips for retail businesses to better manage time-off requests and ensure predictability and fairness in schedule coverage no matter the time of year.

1. Empower associates to manage their own schedules

The retail industry has been widely adopting innovative solutions and technology to enhance the customer experience, however, many associates are still relying on manual or paper-based systems. When it comes to scheduling, this can often cause roadblocks and frustration for both them and employers. On the employer side, it hinders the ability to optimize scheduling, and from an associate’s perspective, they lack visibility and the ability to effectively communicate over their schedules, which can lead to challenges such as disengagement and absenteeism. Harvard Business Review found that more stable scheduling increased sales, better labour productivity, and improved customer service.

Leaders in the retail industry can provide their workforce with a consumer-grade experience through mobile self-service solutions. These solutions help associates manage their schedules on the go at any time.  When employees have greater control of their own schedules – like easily switching shifts, viewing upcoming schedules, and communicating time-off requests – they’re more likely to be engaged, which, according to Gallup, can lead to 21% greater profitability and 59% less turnover.

Related: How to improve your hourly associates’ work-life balance with better scheduling

2. Plan ahead, and provide advance notice

Planning and scheduling labor in advance is a challenge for many retailers. In fact, only 12% of retail organizations strongly agree that their company has the capability to properly predict and plan for labor needs.

Dysfunctional scheduling practices such as “just-in-time scheduling” or “call-in-shifts” – where employers provide tentative schedules and cancel or make last-minute changes – leads to unpredictability. These practices not only make it difficult for workers to schedule doctor’s appointments, arrange childcare, and manage other jobs, but the fluctuation in hours can also result in significant variations in pay, causing income instability. 

Employers must work to provide their associates with fair and stable schedules to lessen the effects of stress and instability. If associates will be required to work on a holiday or work longer hours, employers must ensure they’re providing plenty of advance notice. In some states, changes to associates’ schedules must be communicated two weeks in advance of the scheduled shift. Plan ahead, communicate, and stay on top of changing legislation to ensure you’re adhering to fair scheduling laws.

Related: What retailers need to know about predictive scheduling laws

3. Provide flexible options for associates

Flexible work arrangements can help businesses attract workers and increase engagement over long weekends and during other busy seasons as well. In fact, 62% of retailers recognize that a greater focus on flexibility and associates’ work-life balance is crucial for overall engagement.

Flexibility can mean different things for different employers. For example, one business may allow associates to work from an alternate location while another may give associates mobile or online access to create their own work schedule. Flexible arrangements like these can improve morale and alleviate stress during times of heavier workloads and long hours.

4. Ensure the right associate is assigned to the right task

Task management tools can help ensure workers with certain skills are doing the right tasks, for example, rolling out new merchandising displays, auditing inventory, and setting up promotional campaigns. Tying task management into labor planning and scheduling will ensure retailers have the right number of hours allocated to tasks that need to be completed, while skilled associates are scheduled to perform the right job.

Without accurate labor planning and forecasting, you might not have the right people assigned to the right task. This can impact the overall customer experience, as your business risks not completing tasks efficiently or on time.

5. Create a standardized time-off policy

Employers must ensure time-off policies and practices are well-documented and communicated to the entire workforce. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when creating or updating a time-off request policy:

  • When can associates start submitting their time-off requests?
  • How will time-off requests will be submitted? For example, via email or workforce management software?
  • When is the deadline to submit time-off requests before annual holiday periods?
  • Are there are any blackout periods where associates are not allowed to book time off?
  • What is the protocol is for emergency time-off requests?

6. Determine a policy around unused vacation time

As the year ends, businesses also need to think about how they’ll handle their associates’ unused vacation time and banked hours. While most associates want to make the most of their hard-earned days off, only 54% of American workers use their eligible vacation time. If businesses don’t determine the policy around unused vacation hours ahead of time, associates can panic and schedule their time off all at once.

There are a number of different options employers can choose to implement, such as rolling unused time over to the next year, paying associates for the unused time, or even setting a certain date by which the hours must be used. Whichever option is best for your business, you should communicate the policy around unused vacation hours well in advance to prevent associates from being left in the dark.

7. Check in with your workforce

As stress intensifies and workload increases, the end of the year for retail businesses is a critical time to show associate recognition. An impactful way employers can show appreciation and raise morale during a stressful holiday season is by sharing successes and accomplishments and thanking associates for their contribution and commitment to the business and to customers.

Using human capital management software to manage time-off requests properly while promoting predictability and work-life balance will help you run your business efficiently over busy and slow seasons. As a result, your associates will be more satisfied during different statutory holidays and customers will be given the dimensions of service quality they want, need, and desire.

Related: Managing regulatory compliance in retail and hospitality

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