What practices can you deploy to reduce the stress of seasonal workforce management scheduling — both right now and next year?

Now is the time when thousands of people are in the market for seasonal work in the retail sector.

Existing employees and seasonal workers alike are looking for flexibility in their schedules while getting as many hours as possible. All this while customer demand and store activity are peaking.

Effective workforce scheduling becomes critical to balance the needs of current workers and new hires, support on-the-fly-flexibility and ensure that critical tasks are completed ahead of holiday rushes. Here are five ways to streamline scheduling and reduce staffing stress.

1. Pinpoint Peaks and Valleys

Recent data suggests that holiday retail spending will rise this year despite uncertainty in global and local economic climates. This means that seasonal staffing won't follow the usual equation. The ideal number of employees (enough to assist customers quickly without leaving any team member idle) can change, both day-over-day and hour-over-hour.

While experienced managers have the skills and knowledge to create big-picture schedules, the unstable nature of seasonal retail sales demands greater precision. New workforce optimization technologies are capable of codifying this standing knowledge by combining historical store traffic data, conversion data, average transaction sizes and overall sales reports to predict critical peaks and common valleys. This can empower managers to more closely align the staffing curve to demand by deploying workers with the right skills to the right jobs, in 15-minute intervals.

2. Tackle Key Tasks

Customer service is an integral part of retail success, but it's not the whole story. Tasks range from serving customers to stocking shelves to setting up holiday displays, and successful completion of all tasks is necessary to meet corporate and consumer expectations. Here, organizations need scheduling optimization solutions that are capable of identifying worker skills and certifications, and applying them to both front-line and behind-the-scenes tasks.

Consider holiday display setup: What steps are involved, and how long will this task take? How many employees are required, and what skills do they need? When is the ideal time to perform this work? While it's possible to assign additional employees to the task until it is complete, over- or under-estimation of the time and effort required can lead to shortfalls elsewhere. By leveraging solutions capable of assessing task requirements, understanding the schedule and matching competent staff, businesses can get this work done at just the right time.

3. Confirm Compliance

Scheduling must account for both state and corporate compliance expectations. For example, the Department of Labor notes that several states mandate specific rest and meal periods based on the number of hours worked regardless of the temporary or full-time status of employees. There are also minor work laws to consider, especially during peak retail season where employment of teenage workers may spike.Corporate headquarters, meanwhile, often expect regular reports on holiday promotions, in-store displays and overall sales.

While it's possible to track employee breaks and required staffing levels to account for these breaks by hand, this can quickly become problematic when businesses attempt to balance the requirements of full-time, seasonal and minor-age staff during the holidays. Even small mistakes can lead to large compliance fines if underage staff are scheduled for too many shifts in a row or workers aren't given their assigned breaks.

Automated scheduling solutions can be pre-configured to understand the rules, and can warn and even prevent managers from creating situations that violate them. Managers could receive optimized workforce data and be better equipped to schedule staff in accordance with compliance regulations.

New tools can also confirm the completion of corporate-required projects by tracking individual task steps — and automatically reporting on the status. Delays can be minimized because issues such as missing parts can be reported and resolved through the system, saving managers the time and effort it takes to track down components that don't exist.

4. Who's Who?

To navigate seasonal workforce management scheduling, it's critical to balance the needs of full-time staff against the scheduling demands of temporary employees. Accomplishing this goal requires a three-step approach:

  • Identify Willing Workers — Who wants an extra overtime shift, and who has family waiting at home? Deploying tools that allow staff to indicate when they are looking for extra work or need specific time off can help streamline scheduling and boost staff satisfaction.
  • Empower Collaborative Scheduling — Many scheduling solutions take a passive approach to employee interaction. For example, static time clocks and punch cards force managers to handle every employee request for a shift change or swap, no matter how minor. During the holiday season, however, time spent micromanaging staff assignments is better spent ensuring that key tasks are completed, inventories are fully stocked and stores are prepared for increased foot traffic. Solutions that deliver mobile scheduling access let employees view schedules, time off requests and shift switching. This information, combined with a current database of employee qualifications and skill sets, can help managers ensure that they never lack critical competencies.
  • Personalize Performance — Performance matters during the holiday rush. Who are your top employees, and who's lagging behind? Who should you schedule during peak demand, to help maximize conversion? Workforce optimization tools that are capable of tracking both top performers and neutral workers can help you get your best and brightest on-deck for the busiest days of the year. They can also provide the data necessary to offer pay or scheduling compensation to encourage them to stick around all year or come back next season.

5. Review, Adjust, Repeat

While holiday scheduling naturally varies, the ultimate goal for most organizations is to establish business processes that improve year after year instead of forcing you to start from scratch every season. But optimizing recruitment, scheduling and then revising each year requires an essential perception shift. Take the time after the busy season to look back and see how you did. How good was the forecast? How did actual hours compare to scheduled hours? Taking the time while the results are fresh can help you account for factors that may have had an impact, so that you can consider them the following year.

To meet customer expectations and support increased conversion, your business needs the right people doing the right work at the right time. This will require next-gen solutions that let you access staffing data anywhere at any time and provide everything from names and pictures to performance statistics and schedule preferences. Employing this kind of solution can help inform effective decision-making that shows your staff they are part of a team and not cogs in a machine.

As the National Retail Federation suggests, seasonal sales numbers represent 20% of total yearly sales on average for retail stores. During this critical time, agile, intelligent and data-driven workforce management scheduling can help meet customer demands, ensure corporate compliance and promote staff satisfaction as you work to develop reliable and repeatable seasonal processes.

Learn More

The future of workforce management has arrived, and with it comes myriad complexities that will affect which companies survive. Get the guide: The New Generation of Workforce Management.

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