Self-Service Scheduling Apps Benefit Hourly Workers and Managers

By Dave Zielinski February 4, 2020
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​The digital revolution has benefitted many employees in the workforce, but one group has often been left behind: hourly workers. Now, there are shift-scheduling apps that can make the lives of hourly employees easier and give them a bigger say in workplace decisions.

HR leaders and line managers can benefit from reduced administrative workloads and help with engaging and retaining workers.

Shift-scheduling apps give hourly workers more control over their work schedules. These apps, available as stand-alone solutions or as part of vendors' broader workforce management platforms, let employees set their preferred availability or shifts, swap shifts with co-workers and request time off; all with little or no manager involvement.

"Hourly workers have been the last ones to benefit from a company's investment in modern technology," said Chris Amani, CEO of Humanity.com, a San Francisco-based company that provides a cloud-based employee scheduling platform. "Giving them more control over their schedules can lead to more engagement and greater work/life balance. Think of all the times working parents want to attend an event involving their children. Instead of panicking and trying to text or call 10 different people to get a shift covered, they can do it more efficiently by pulling up an app and finding a replacement."

Without the use of self-scheduling apps, employees' scheduling requests often languish in their manager's inbox until the manager sits down to create the schedule for a given period, said Chris Mullen, director of strategic HR advisory services for Kronos, a workforce management software company in Lowell, Mass. "That model doesn't work for anyone. Employees find it challenging to plan their lives, yet managers often don't have time to address these requests as they come in because of all the factors that may go into approving such a request."

The use of such apps is part of an ongoing movement to improve the employee experience, experts say. "Everything is moving toward an app world in HR software because good apps create a level of usability and personalization employees demand," said Michael Rochelle, chief strategy officer and principal human capital management (HCM) analyst for the Brandon Hall Group in Delray Beach, Fla. "Providing self-service options in scheduling apps can enhance the employee experience and give you another tool to help retain workers."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements]

Manager Oversight and Regulatory Compliance

While some may fear that giving employees more control in creating their own schedules can lead to staffing problems or create compliance issues, these platforms have built-in checks and balances that protect against employee abuse and ensure compliance with wage and hour laws.

"Organizations find making the switch to self-scheduling a scary proposition because they think everyone is going to want to work the same couple of shifts," Mullen said. "But what actually happens is you learn that oftentimes employees have been working a schedule that is wildly different from the one they wish they could work—and at the end of the day, every shift still gets filled with the right people with the right skills. It's really a win-win."

Most modern scheduling platforms have features that let line managers or HR know when a scheduling action might violate a federal or state law related to employee hours worked, time between shifts, break frequency and more.

"Ensuring such compliance is table stakes for surviving as an employee scheduling platform," Rochelle said. "Another concern with this category of apps is being able to authenticate that the person using it is who they say they are. That's why you're seeing more tools like geofencing being used to protect against things like people clocking in for co-workers."

Geofencing uses GPS technology to allow companies to set a "perimeter" for employees, letting them know whether workers are within a certain boundary when they're supposed to be or are in the proper location for a job. Experts say the technology also can help ensure employees aren't presented with work-related information during their off hours, which in many cases would require compensation.

Will Eadie, a global vice president with WorkJam, a provider of employee scheduling platforms in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, said use of "shift awareness" algorithms can help track overtime liability, as well.

"Algorithms that transmit schedules and schedule changes to employees based on local laws and regulations pertaining to how far in advance a worker needs to be informed of schedules also can help keep employers compliant," he said.

Other industry vendors use artificial intelligence (AI) to manage shift-swapping. "There's nothing worse than asking a co-worker to swap a shift and having them say 'yes,' only to have the manager say you can't swap because your co-worker doesn't have the right skills or may incur overtime," Mullen said.

In those cases, AI can be used to identify and recommend employees most likely to accept a shift based on their existing work schedule, stated shift preferences, skills and even their history of accepting shift swaps.

Some experts also believe self-scheduling tools can help reduce managers' subjectivity. "Manager favoritism is a problem in some industries and can hinder an employee's ability to pick up or swap shifts," Eadie said. "Consequently, employees can leave the job because they feel mistreated by their managers."

Benefits for Managers

Employee self-service technologies can have peripheral benefits for managers. In its 2019 Hype Cycle for Human Capital Management Technology report, research and advisory firm Gartner identified "automation of the manager experience" as an emerging technology that will significantly impact HR in coming years.

By 2022, 50 percent of large companies will have invested in a major initiative to improve their manager experience by automating multiple work-related HCM tasks, the Gartner study found. The technologies are designed to reduce the amount of time managers spend on administrative tasks; not replace a manager's role or authority with automation, according to the study.

One such technology are next-generation workforce management platforms featuring employee scheduling tools.

"By empowering employees, managers are unburdened from the barrage of schedule change requests, which takes up hours of their time every week," Mullen said. "Managers can now reallocate this time to more impactful activities like training and development, customer service, or solving more pressing issues to drive the business forward."

These platforms also can give HR improved visibility into which employees are working—when and where—as well as contribute to more accurate headcount reports. HR can pull data from employee scheduling platforms and combine it with other HR data sources for consolidated reports on staffing metrics.

HR leaders can choose from employee scheduling tools that are part of a vendor's workforce management platform or are stand-alone applications. Many stand-alone tools that integrate with an existing HCM system charge by the user. Humanity's starter package, as one example, starts at $2 per user per month with a $60 per-month minimum, while its package designed for midsize companies is $3 per user per month.

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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