A recent New York Times article called attention to the very real crisis of low-income parents scrambling to make family life work in the shadow of unpredictable hours, uncertain living conditions, and fluctuating weekly paychecks. The article highlighted one woman’s struggle to manage a patchwork of family and friends for last-minute childcare when she had short notice of her weekly schedule. When most of the world operates on a 9 to 5, or at least a “same time same day” schedule, being a part-time worker can be difficult. On the one hand, flexible hours can be of benefit for someone with flexible support systems, but a huge impediment to getting ahead for others.
The article called into question the scheduling software used by companies to optimize workforce schedules as part of the problem. There is no question that any system – manual, semi automated, or optimized – used to create a schedule is open to flaws. But the software itself is not the problem. Software does what we tell it to. It’s the strategy that creates the business rules built into these solutions, as well as the company culture and education of managers and employees on how to use them, that needs to be closely examined.
In an ideal world, automated schedule optimization software would take into account the up-to-the-minute updated availability and preferences of every employee, their skills, capabilities and certifications, the roles and requirements of every job position, union regulations, local, state and federal laws and regulations, demand forecasts, financial performance data, and any other input that an organization has determined influences a schedule and pop out a perfect shift plan that would control labor spend, maximize customer experience and return on labor investment, and fit perfectly with the individual needs and plans of every worker.
But we live in the real world. In their zeal for cost reduction, organizations may send workers home from a shift when their software tells them demand is low, disregarding the financial and engagement impact of workers suddenly losing money out of their pockets for hours they expected to work. Managers may have permission to override schedules created based on forecasts and business rules, or delay creating schedules far enough in advance, causing chaos for workers. Or organizational strategy simply is not taking into account the employee experience when creating schedules.
What to Look for
Starbucks — the company highlighted in the New York Times piece — has responded, saying that it will make changes based on the information called to its attention in the article. The company’s response has lessons for any organization thinking about implementing a schedule optimization solution. These include carefully evaluating your solution provider to make sure that all the proper inputs – financial, legal, and employee centric – can be configured in their solution so that the schedules created are truly optimized, not just generated to maximize profitability without regard to any other criteria important to the organization. And organizations need to be clear about their workforce strategy. Any organization has the right to try and maximize its profitability, and is under no obligation to over-staff needlessly. A part-time job is still a job after all, and with a job come certain non-negotiables. But within an acceptable margin of error, organizations need to decide if creating chaos for part-time workers is worth the dollar savings if it will create dissatisfaction.
Stories like this are great reminders that activities like scheduling are anything but mundane administrative tasks. Especially with the transparency provided by social media and traditional media in today’s world, employee dissatisfaction can easily become a brand-bruising social media event.