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Eradicating Erratic Schedules: Putting People First in a Digital World

Usually, when you read news stories about hourly workers, the topic of conversation is wages. Recently, however, The New York Times brought another issue to the surface – erratic schedules. If you haven’t read it, the article, titled “Working Anything but 9 to 5,” followed Jannette Navarro a part-time employee for Starbucks and single mother […]

Usually, when you read news stories about hourly workers, the topic of conversation is wages. Recently, however, The New York Times brought another issue to the surface – erratic schedules. If you haven’t read it, the article, titled “Working Anything but 9 to 5,” followed Jannette Navarro a part-time employee for Starbucks and single mother who was dealing with the effects of an erratic and unpredictable work schedule.

The article resonated rather loudly with hospitality companies and employees alike, even prompting Starbucks to rethink the functionality of their current scheduling software. As one might predict, it’s also put scheduling technologies as a whole, under the microscope.

We believe technology providers and the companies that use them should welcome the dialogue. The stories of people dealing with erratic schedules are real and occur every day around the country if not the world.

Moms with two part-time jobs. Single dads finishing night school. High school seniors striving to be the first in their family to go to college. An employee on the verge of burnout.

And so it begs the question: in an effort to make the business operations more efficient through technology, have we forgotten to put people first?

The answer … it depends.

Automation Nation

Many industries have turned to technology in an effort to save costs and operate more efficiently. Retail, manufacturing, even human resources. The restaurant industry is actually a little late to the game, but we’re catching up; because we want to be smarter and because external forces, like the Affordable Care Act, are putting additional pressure on companies to further automate labor.

Owners and big franchises have taken notice, moving their spreadsheet-driven labor solutions into the cloud where information is available at anytime and anywhere and data is analyzed faster than ever. That speed has given managers and owners (and depending on the technology, the employees) better tools. Technically speaking, it should be a match made in labor management heaven.

Yet, we’re witnessing what happens when you lean too hard on automation. Inevitably you lose sight of the people behind the profitability.

Shifty Schedules, Shifty Lives

Years ago, HotSchedules co-founder Ray Pawlikowski found himself in one of these unpredictable-scheduling situations.

He was finishing a computer science degree in San Marcos, Texas and also working as a bartender at PF Chang’s. Each week, he drove to the restaurant to pick up his paper schedule. It was an hour there and an hour back. (A little frame of reference – Austin was the fourth worst city for traffic in 2013.) If the schedule changed – which it always did – it was back on the road for another two-hour road trip or calling to pester someone at the restaurant to read him the new schedule.

I was the manager at the time and needless to say, Ray was not satisfied with his inefficient work schedule. I agreed. Neither of us liked the idea that he had to make his life fit around his work schedule rather than the other way around. He wanted his time back. I wanted him to have it back.

So when a class project to create a website came up, he decided to develop a site where employees at our location could log-on and view their schedule from their computer. It was a huge hit.

Better Scheduling For the People, By the People

What we learned after that experiment at PF Chang’s (and what we’ve known all along) is that employees don’t want to be shackled to their schedules. It’s not good for their lives and it’s not good business.

So what do we do to fix it?

Simply stated, we need to put people first. Just because someone’s name is next to a number and a dollar sign doesn’t mean we don’t care about his or her well-being.

We must work to empower ourselves, our managers and our technology to schedule people with the understanding that people have personal lives, professional goals, rents, mortgages and mouths to feed.

Like any service-based technology, HotSchedules handles the heavy lifting. It gives shift leads, general managers, owners and corporate offices a lot of control over everything from scheduling, sales and labor forecasting, and company-wide communication.

But it’s also a diplomatic approach. It empowers employees to take control of their own schedules through functionality like shift swaps – which allows one employee to trade a shift with another employee.

Employees have the ability to submit time-off requests and weekly, monthly or annual availabilities. So if employees can’t work because they have class or another part-time job, it’s built-into the system. Managers also share the responsibility. They still have the ability to approve the swaps, requests, and availability notifications.

To give you an example, one of our users in Hawaii puts in time-off requests for “time with GF.” It’s the same time each week and he’s planned it. It’s a perfect example of how he’s time blocked the important things in his life and given appropriate notice to the employer. The employer gives him that time, because quite frankly, he’s probably a happier guy when he’s spent adequate time with his significant other.

People Work

HotSchedules exists today because Ray’s simple website solved a real issue for the people who were deeply affected by every aspect of an ancient scheduling process.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot of things. We learned that our original concept only scratched the surface of what was possible in terms of a scheduling software.

We also learned that no matter what, our passion for helping our users – the hourly workers – live better lives through a more stable, secure and reliable schedule will never change.

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