Shift Happens: 3 Ways to Overcome Top Shift Scheduling Challenges

By: Myranda Mondry

6 Minute Read

Jan 03, 2018

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Shift work is tough.

Last-minute schedule changes, back-to-back shifts, and unexpected call-outs take their toll on you and your employees. For managers, overseeing the weekly shift schedule, dealing with no-shows, and scrambling to get missed shifts covered is a full-time job in and of itself.

One missed shift can throw a wrench in your otherwise smooth operation, causing the entire night to take a nosedive. In fact, missed shifts cost employers an average $7,500 each year, according to a 2017 survey by TSheets of five hundred US business owners and one thousand US shift workers.

As for your employees, this same survey highlights that shift workers too face major challenges. Unpredictable schedules can make even the simple things in life — pursuing hobbies, spending time with friends, regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and getting a good night’s sleep — unnecessarily difficult.

Shift work costs employees much more than just shut-eye, though. Last-minute changes and canceled shifts can cost shift workers up to seven percent of their annual earnings in lost income, as well as travel and childcare expenses, among others.

That’s a lot for any employee to sacrifice, not just shift workers.

Consider this: The number one shift-scheduling challenge employers face is retaining their best employees. Workers who care more about their mental, physical, and financial health than they care about shift work aren't likely to put up with these challenges for long.

It should go without saying, but happy, healthy employees financially benefit a business, whereas unhappy employees cost US business owners $550 billion each year on average in hiring, replacement, and training costs. The restaurant industry and other shift-run industries are no exception.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to improve the shift work experience for your employees and get them to stick around longer. After all, shift work isn't as transient as you might think. Over a third of shift workers believe they will definitely still be doing shift work in ten years’ time. Only seventeen percent say they definitely won't.

Here are three ways to keep your shift workers on the schedule for the long haul.

Free Resource: Everything You Need to Know about Finding, Hiring, and Managing Restaurant Staff

1. Provide employee schedules in advance

Only fifty percent of shift workers get their schedules at least two weeks in advance; the other fifty percent have just one week or less to plan around their upcoming schedule. Seven percent say they receive their schedules less than twenty four hours before the start of their next shift. That's less than twenty four hours to schedule personal time (or reschedule social events), prep meals, hit the gym, and get a good night's sleep.

You can solve this problem by providing your employees with their schedules well ahead of time. This gives them a chance to plan for the weeks ahead and budget time for the things that make them healthy and happy! 

Happy employees, those who can successfully balance work and life, are more productive at work — and they’re likely to provide your customers with a more pleasant experience (we don't have to tell you why that's so important).

Aside from having employees who are happy to work, and ready to provide the best service, posting employee schedules in advance has other major benefits for your restaurant. 

When your employees have the opportunity to plan ahead, they're less likely to no-show or show up late to their shifts (a $7,500-per-year problem ten percent of employers claim they deal with each and every day). 

Fun fact: Happy employees take ten times fewer sick days than their unhappy counterparts.

If you hire shift workers in Oregon, California, Illinois, Washington, or New York, providing advance notice of an employee’s schedule is the law. Predictive scheduling laws require employers in certain cities and states to provide employee schedules at least two weeks in advance ... and penalizes those who fail to do so. Some of these laws also ban "clopens" (or back-to-back shifts), on-call scheduling, and unhealthy work hours.

Complying with these laws (even if they haven't yet reached your state) is a healthy first step in the direction of happier employees and more manageable schedules.

2. Use a scheduling software 

A shocking forty five percent of employers still plan the weekly shift schedule using pen and paper; for some of them this process takes up to twelve hours! Another forty percent create a spreadsheet, draft up an email, or write the weekly schedule on a whiteboard.

 If you're one of these folks, you're subjecting yourself to unnecessary missed shifts and no-shows.

Old-school handwritten schedules run a high risk of being lost, forgotten, or misread. And it's nearly impossible to quickly and efficiently communicate important schedule changes with your employees using a pen and ink.

That’s a BIG deal, considering one the biggest challenges, along with payroll for restaurants, is according to employers comes to shift scheduling and "finding replacements for missed shifts".

Do yourself and your employees a favor: Invest in a shift scheduling software that not only helps you plan and build the weekly schedule quickly and easily, but also allows you to share it instantly with your employees. No more "I lost my schedule" excuses, and no more missed shifts. (That's one way to put $7,500 back in your bottom line.

In the event that an employee does call out (let's be real, shift happens), scheduling software allows you to more easily reach out for back-up and rearrange your shifts.

Best of all, scheduling software helps you comply with those oh-so-important predictive scheduling laws we discussed earlier. Even if they aren't "law" in your state (yet), they're probably heading your way — and who doesn't want happier, healthier employees, anyway?

3. Give your employees a break

Science says breaks are important; you should too. Over twenty percent of employers don't allow their employees to take regular breaks during long shifts. On top of that, only fifty four percent provide workers with a break room or rest area, and a meager twenty five percent have healthy snacks on hand to keep employees full and focused at work.

We get it, taking a break can be difficult to maneuver for restaurant workers who have tables to serve and kitchens to run. A short break is necessary for your employees to recharge, and ensure they're putting their best foot forward on the job. 

Happy employees are twelve percent more productive, and businesses that employ them tend to outperform their competition by nearly twenty percent.

Plus, as if that weren't enough, allowing your workers to take a break is the law. Twenty-one out of fifty states mandate meal breaks for employees — nine of which mandate both meal and rest breaks. Failure to comply with these laws could land you with a major Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuit.

Designate a break area for your employees (preferably somewhere other than the mop closet), buy some snacks, and encourage your workers to take a fifteen minute break when they can. You will find it actually raises your bottom line.

Improve shift scheduling, improve your business

Shift scheduling is tough — for you and your employees. Forty percent of employees surveyed say they have no control over their schedule. And while, no, not every special scheduling request can be accepted, you can improve your employees’ experience by adopting predictive scheduling practices, using smart scheduling software, and keeping their health at heart. 

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