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8 Ways to Manage Shifts at your Small Business

Shift Management for Small BusinessesShift Management for Small Businesses
min read
August 21, 2023

Most small businesses are ready to call it a day when regular work hours end. But for some organizations, that simply means a change in work shifts.

If you want to keep your business open 24/7, you'll need to hire employees to work these extra shift hours. But remember, they have obligations outside of work. Parents need to drop off and pick up their kids from school, and students may need to take classes during the day (or night).

So, how do you keep your employees happy while making sure you have enough workers at any given time to handle the demands of your business? 

That's where shift management comes into play. We'll cover all there is to know about it—so you can make sure you have the team you need, when you need it. Let's dive in!

What Is Shift Management?

Shift management is where you oversee the smooth transition of employees from one shift to the next. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down shifts into three categories: morning, evening, and night.

As we'll see in the next section, industries that use shift work (and therefore need shift management) include manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and food service.

What Are the 3 Types of Work Shifts?

We typically divide shift work into three eight-hour periods: first, second, and third shifts. 

Here's a quick breakdown:

Work Shifts
Shift Also Known As Runs From
First Shift Day, Morning, or Early Shift 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Second Shift Afternoon or Evening Shift 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Third Shift Graveyard or Night Shift 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Let's take a closer look at each one:

First Shift

During the first shift, employees report to work in the morning and leave in the afternoon.

It's usually the opening shift and the most common work schedule. Most employees prefer first shifts instead of second or third shifts. That's because they can provide a better work-life balance and fit in with the body's internal clock.

This shift is typically ideal for full-time employees like office workers, store managers, bank clerks, general contractors, and construction workers. 

Second Shift

The second shift can be suitable for people with commitments, like other jobs or school. It's also a good alternative for people who aren't early birds. They get to avoid rush hour and don't have to stay up all night. 

Some jobs that work well with second shifts include retail associates, salon workers, servers, personal trainers, and bartenders. People in sports, broadcast, or media might also work the second shift.

Third Shift

The third shift requires you to work against your natural sleep schedule. That's why a lot of people don't prefer this shift. So, employers often have to increase their budgets to incentivize employees with higher pay to work third-shift hours.

For that reason, the third shift is an excellent way for night owls to earn more cash through a shift differential.

The most common jobs that work third-shift hours include emergency room staff, security staff, air traffic controllers, police officers, and firefighters.

Top 8 Ways to Manage Work Shifts and Staff Scheduling 

Conflicting schedules, understaffing, and unplanned absences can quickly complicate things if you don't manage employee shifts well. Some ways to manage work shifts and staffing include employing reliable workers, setting schedules that are easy to follow, and using shift management software.

Let's go over these points and more so you can ensure your shift planning is effective.

1. Employ the Right Workers

Managing shifts can be a headache if you don't have the right people working for you. 

So, the easiest option is to go with those who've already shown experience in similar roles but are adaptable and eager to learn new skills.

For example, if you want to hire someone to work the night shift, the first thing to look at is if the person has worked that shift before. If they have, chances are you can trust them with that position. They'll be a safe and reliable option compared to an employee who's never worked that shift.

Offer complete onboarding once you've hired the ideal team members. Detail the purpose of their role, the products or services you sell, and any digital or management tools you use daily to get them up to speed.

2. Set Schedules That Are Easy to Stick to

One way to make scheduling easier is to use the exact same shift schedules each week. That way, employees know what hours they'll be working and when their shifts end. This allows them to plan their lives around their work schedule, making them more likely to show up consistently. 

You can also use rotational shifts if your business functions on extended hours to make sure you're always covered. 

In this case, employees work different shifts every week. For example, an employee can work the night shift for two days, have two days off, and work the day shift for the next three days.

It's important to note that when using rotational shifts, you need to set the schedule ahead of time and send notifications to employees. That way, they can plan non-work activities around their shifts. Again, that makes it more likely they'll be able to make it to work.

3. Understand Your Employees' Needs and Responsibilities Outside of Work 

Before assigning shifts to employees, talk with them to understand their needs and when they'd like to come to work. For instance, some employees live far from their workplace. Commuting may be challenging if you assign them the first shift since they'd have to deal with rush hour. 

Although it's not always easy, recognizing your employees' needs can help your business in the long term. Employees who feel appreciated and heard will be more willing to go the extra mile for you.

4. Use Shift Management Software

Employee scheduling software will help you plan shifts ahead of time and notify employees so they can prepare (and it's much easier than using a Microsoft Word doc or Excel spreadsheet!).

A shift management system lets workers swap shifts by showing them which ones are available and allowing them to suggest a trade with a coworker. 

Some even have great automation features, like approving time-off requests if staffing levels are OK and an employee has the time in the bank. 

With this software, you can avoid scheduling conflicts and the last-minute logistical nightmare of getting employees to cover their colleagues when they're sick or absent.

5. Incentivize Your Employees to Produce High-Quality Work

Everyone is unique, so the best type of incentive depends on the individual worker.

For example, a financially motivated employee might be more inclined to do higher-quality work if you offer them a bonus based on their performance. But an employee who values privileges or rewards may respond better to increased vacation time or opportunities for career development.

6. Determine How Your Team Will Communicate about Shifts

There'll be chaos when some people receive texts, some get emails, and others see notes on a shared Google Calendar about their work shifts. 

So, if everyone has a cell phone, texting may be the most effective method of communication. You can use group SMS or an app like Slack to make sure everyone is on the same page if multiple workers want to swap shifts. 

Alternatively, you can have a designated person that employees can contact instead of reaching out to the entire team if they want someone to cover their shift.

It's also important to plan for absenteeism. Workers may need last-minute sick leave or time off. A backup plan for last-minute replacements is crucial to avoid hiccups.

7. Analyze Different Shifts to Figure Out What's Working Best

When assigning shifts to employees, you need to look at your income and sales during each shift.

For example, say you own a restaurant in the city's business district. Scheduling experienced team members to serve customers, operate the cash register, and stock supplies during lunchtime (when you're busiest) would most likely generate more sales and ensure better customer service than if you scheduled new employees during that time.

So, when assigning shifts, aim to put your best workers on your high-volume service times and use slower sales times to train new employees or cross-train workers in other positions. And then, take a look at your revenueprofit and any other relevant metrics to see if you need to make any tweaks.

8. Check in with Your Shift Workers Often

While shift work offers flexibility for both employees and employers, there's no denying that it can have some negative mental and physical effects on workers—especially those working the graveyard shift.

Research shows that shift work and long working hours can cause sleep disruption, a wide range of chronic diseases, obesity, injuries, and reduced job performance.

For that reason, hold weekly check-in meetings with shift workers to understand how their shift hours impact their health and personal lives. 

You can also boost their morale and well-being by:

  • Encouraging regular exercise breaks to help with alertness, especially during the night hours
  • Making sure all essential facilities and services are accessible 24/7, so shift employees can benefit from them regardless of their schedule
  • Keeping fruits and veggies handy for shift workers to snack on during work hours

Flexibility Is Key When It Comes to Shift Management

The main goal of managing shifts is to keep team members in the loop so they know when they are working, and for how long—and can plan their lives outside of work too. 

And when you create shift schedules, consider your team's preferred days and times to work. That will make it more likely they'll show up on time and in good spirits. 

And if employees need to make changes to their shifts? Have a system in place that makes this easy and straightforward—rather than a headache for everyone. Shift management software and mobile apps like Slack or WhatsApp can really help with moving this process along quickly.

So now that you know all there is to know about shift management—all that's left to do? Get out there and start scheduling your team!

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