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Team-Based Scheduling (For Team Based Employee Retention)


Clint Maun, CSP

Does your organization have problems getting people to show up for work on time, weekends and holidays? If so, you might consider changing the way you prepare the schedule. We find many organizations still use a centralized scheduling model where one "poor soul" tries to develop a "perfect" schedule for the facility. They’re supposed to keep the government happy, the employees happy, the customers happy and the budget happy.

It’s likely they will not succeed in accomplishing any of these because the central scheduling attitude still relies on the old parent/child model. Consider putting in place an adult/adult type of situation where everyone is involved in success for the organization, the customers and themselves individually.

To begin a pilot project of team-based scheduling, select a specific unit, shift or department to be involved as a team in schedule development for a specific period of time. This allows the team to share in the responsibility for "happiness" regarding the individuals or groups mentioned above. The understanding must be that the schedule needs to be good for the customers first, the organization second and the coworkers a close third. You cannot set up a system where everyone runs for their days off and leaves the customers or organization hanging, which then requires patching together a work schedule on a daily basis.

Many organizations find themselves spending time at the start of each shift or day trying to find enough help to successfully get through the day. This leads to morale problems, overtime issues, agency utilization and quality of care concerns. We need to instead say; we’re all involved in providing a quality day for the customers and the organization. It is possible to work together as a team and provide many of the individual coworkers’ needs.

A team-based scheduling process should include the following principles:
  1. A central scheduling person should remain involved and act as a facilitator for the team in the development of the schedule.
  2. The unit, shift or department might initially schedule for a shorter period of time than normally scheduled. We suggest trying a 2-week schedule that is in sync with the payroll period. Then we’re able to measure success of the team scheduling in line with organizational objectives concerning efficient utilization of payroll dollars.
  3. The scheduling process should allow for maximum participation by all team members on the unit.
  4. The rules for team-based scheduling should be set and revised as needed by the team at the level of where the work is being performed.
  5. The team-based scheduling process should be tracked to significantly measure successful outcomes. There should be a program to determine if we have successfully reduced absenteeism, lowered overtime, increased involvement/morale and eliminated the need for agency utilization.
  6. The team-based scheduling process should fit with an overall process for continuous quality improvement at the unit, shift or department level. This allows us to also work on other quality improvement issues at the level where the opportunities are presented. We should use this process to develop specific methods to develop rewards/recognition for the team in their successful accomplishment of team-based behavior. In other words, we should set goals to be achieved by the team and they should receive recognition as a team for improving attendance, lowering overtime, eliminating agency usage, producing quality success, etc.
  7. The team-based process should ensure no overly aggressive individuals take control of the schedule and hold back the weaker team members from communicating their needs.
  8. Management should remove itself from decisions unless there is a compelling reason (a union contract). Instead, develop an attitude that you need to work with your team to determine the appropriate days off in sync with the organization and our customers’ needs.
  9. The team should design the system so there is a logical final determination by the team of how employees are moved on the schedule after the first draft is completed. There will be a time and place where the schedule is not filled in totally by the team and changes are required. The rules for revising the schedule needs to be determined by the team. Those rules might include:
    1. Employees who have called in over the last two weeks must take last pick for the next two weeks.
    2. Employees who worked extra, performed special duties or additional chores such as new employee mentoring, receive first pick on the next two-week schedule.
    3. Individuals who have had an opportunity for certain days off (like weekends) must rotate to another position during this two week cycle to allow other qualifying individuals an option for picking up preferred days off.
    4. Determinations need to be made related to part time versus full time status and individuals that float onto a certain unit or shift.
    5. The team must determine the consequences for individuals who are not compliant with participation in the scheduling process or for not showing up for work when appropriate.

Call In Behavior

The team must decide how to address call in behavior. It is recommended that the individuals who need to be absent for the day call their own replacement for work that day. That rule sets up a policy that the facility is not responsible for finding replacements. It reinforces adult/adult behavior and sets up an absence management program where we do not punish with points or demerits individuals that find their own replacements. Instead, we give points or demerits to individuals who cause the organization to find their replacement.

If you as a co-worker expect the facility to find a replacement for you, then that is a demerit in the absence management process which if repeated, often leads to disciplinary action and possible termination.

However, if you find your own replacement, you only suffer the consequences of team peer pressure. It is possible you might not be paid for that day, but you will not receive any points or demerits from the facility because you found your own replacement, and did not cause overtime. That supports the definition of teaming which requires individuals to work with small groups of coworkers to share responsibilities for assuring the organization has enough individuals to be successful on a daily basis.

Reward Success

The organization must recognize or reward successful team self-scheduling. If there are 14 days in a pay period times 4 individuals needed per day, that is 56 slots to be filled for the 2-week period. The organization should measure the success in having the team schedule themselves for the 56 slots. We should also measure and reward how much success we experienced in having people show up for work, which reduces overtime and eliminates agency, etc. Then we can set up rewards/recognition against goals for the team. This allows us to keep it as a team based incentive rather than individual acts of success. There can be another level of reward/recognition for individual attendance, but we prefer a team-based process during these scheduling cycles.

Schedule Ownership

It is possible for the team to review longer term scheduling strategies such as future holidays, 3-day weekends, vacation time, etc. We find when people sign their own name on the schedule there is a psychological difference in terms of involvement. When a scheduling person or management individual places your name on a schedule, there is less chance for success for the organization or individual because they don’t own the responsibility for that slot. We need for people to take ownership for the days they said they would work. This sets up a principle that the organization needs to be worried about days on, and the individuals need to be worried about their days off. This keeps it from becoming a parent/child relationship as mentioned.

Final Approval

The final approval of the schedule should be by management in line with labor law principles. It’s important that management give this approval so they can provide the appropriate reward/recognition to the team for their accomplishments.

Ground Rules

All ground rules as mentioned need to be in line with company policy. When setting up a pilot project on a unit, department or shift, allow the team to set new policy and procedures to accomplish a successful pilot project. They might be given permission to try something different for a period of time to see if it works. When you create a team project that is successful use team members as mentors or teachers for other units, departments and shifts.

The Scheduling Coordinator Position Changes


The scheduling coordinator position becomes one of sharing and facilitating the scheduling process on a team-based level. They would be involved in last minute changes as issues arise. However, they’re not to run around scurrying to find individuals. The person involved in scheduling can then be involved in other worthwhile activities for the organization.

This means when a team on a unit needs to borrow an individual from another, they have to go directly to that unit or shift to borrow that individual. It sets up the float person to be appropriately compensated and receive recognition from the group that borrowed them. This keeps one central person from having to steal another individual from another unit or shift. Sending individuals in that parental mode leads to frustration and morale problems. And, sending the newest individual on the team guarantees higher turnover for the organization.

We believe when you borrow from another unit or shift you learn to give the appropriate respect and recognition to that individual and the team during that "borrowed" situation.

Monitoring Success

Set up methods to monitor the success of this program including as mentioned previously; agency reduction, overtime reduction, turnover reduction, attendance success, float employee reduction and a general sense of elevated morale. If the organization spends its time recognizing appropriate positive behavior, then it keeps it from being the parent over all scheduling woes and issues. It also sets up joint responsibility for other types of team-based activities in the future.

The number one obstacle to get over is the ability for team members to sit down in a rational manner and logically work through the issues of time off as a team. This teaches assertive skills and how to let go of significant issues.

How It Works…Review

The self-scheduling process literally begins with team individuals meeting with a blank two-week calendar on the wall or in front of them. They then work with each other to plan. If some members of the team can’t be present they could give a proxy with their requests for time off. The team then works through issues of who wants what time off as a collective conversation. Posting people on the schedule then sums it up.

Look at vacancies or openings in the schedule and begin working through a team negotiated process to determine who is to work certain days. Some people might be willing to work a Friday, take off Saturday and work again Sunday and then take off again Monday. Move away from the 2-day off in a row process and determine what is best for the customers and the organization. We are then meeting our needs as an individual by working with our coworkers.

In Conclusion

If we apply rules of behavior, where the team sets the rules, we have a chance for a schedule that is complete and has been signed off by the team. This allows the next group meeting to go much smoother because they have experienced participation, been assertive, involved and worked with their coworkers. Many individuals find this more refreshing because they’re able to work through things rather than setting up a system of who can run the quickest to the scheduling coordinator for time off.

Team-based involvement may not work perfectly all the time, but it moves us in the direction of breaking up the parent/child model. We can measure success by the unit, shift or department on a frequent basis and reward or recognize the team for its success. This has a great appeal for today’s organizations that are searching to deal with absences and scheduling.

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