clock showing overtime
Fixing them may help with retention & outcomes
by Derek Jones

Shift planning in homecare agencies is not an easy task. Business managers who want to provide quality care must learn how to juggle many tasks: They have to set up schedules, assign shifts, deal with call-offs and handle overtime—all while making sure they meet staffing needs and fix attendance issues. Each step can bring on a wide range of problems that can make the whole process inefficient.

To help homecare business managers set up an efficient scheduling process, let’s review the five most common shift planning mistakes and how to fix or avoid them.

1. Built-in Overtime

Many homecare businesses that operate on a 24/7 basis have built-in overtime. In most cases, this is to ensure that there is enough coverage to keep the agency running, even at full capacity. For health care business managers running a tight ship, built-in overtime can complicate a planned schedule and budget.

Previous studies have found that long-term health care providers are already facing low overall margins; that has gotten worse with the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering this situation, homecare managers should refrain from including built-in overtime in the master plan that they use to schedule staff. Unless it has been scheduled intentionally and there is a real need for it, avoid scheduling overtime by default.

Relying on built-in overtime in your schedule template increases the chance of spending your already-tight budget on something you might not even need. Moreover, if certain employees are getting extra hours more often than their peers, it could be seen as favoritism, which saps staff morale and satisfaction.

2.Using Physical Logbooks or Spreadsheets

If you are still manually managing your agency’s schedule using the traditional pen and paper, logbooks or spreadsheets, you are definitely missing out. While these systems worked in the past for shift planning, they are completely outdated in a world where real-time data is crucial.

Additionally, physical logbooks or spreadsheets can be a headache to manage. It’s a time-intensive activity that leaves the door open for errors.

One smart way to simplify your homecare shift planning is by using staff scheduling software. Most scheduling apps give you greater control over your workforce by helping you manage last-minute replacements and accurately recording time worked.

Scheduling software also often offers automatic shift planning and can even be used to manage more locations. Using dedicated scheduling software can help you achieve ideal staffing levels for optimal patient care and can thus make your homecare business more efficient. In the long run, it will save you time (and money) on administrative work.

3. No Scheduler Backup Plan

One of the most common shift-planning mistakes that health care businesses make is not having someone in place to prepare schedules and make last-minute changes to the schedule that can arise when the main scheduler is absent.

That means that when your dedicated scheduler is out of the office, your administrative team is left scrambling to pull the pieces together.

The easiest way to tackle this problem is by training several alternative schedulers. Ideally, you would have a designated scheduler for each shift, plus back-up staff members who are responsible for handling shift planning needs when the main scheduler is off.

Hiring multiple back-up schedulers may look like the easiest way out, but to make your operations even more efficient, invest in training some members of your existing staff. Cross-training a few key individuals to create employee schedules would ensure that there is always someone available to deal with the scheduling process when your main scheduler cannot make it.

4. Not Posting Schedules Far Enough in Advance

Employees frequently realize they need a specific day off or will have to come in later than usual after they actually see their schedule. When this happens, accommodating their last-minute changes can become difficult due to the tight timeframe. You’re then left scrambling to find a last-minute replacement, draining your administrative resources and potentially providing less-than-optimal patient care.

Consider making it a policy to prepare and post staff schedules at least a couple of weeks in advance. This gives employees enough time to notify schedulers about possible clashes with their personal timetable and also increases the likelihood of finding a replacement in time.

This can even increase employee retention and engagement because your workforce can get a better grip on work/life balance. As previously discussed, using a scheduling software can considerably ease the process by enabling you to find the best possible last-minute arrangements with a couple of clicks.

5. Relying on On-call Scheduling

Since staffing needs strongly depend on patient volume and needs, some businesses rely on on-call or standby employees. In general, this involves getting your staff to call in before their shifts begin to confirm whether they should come in or not. If a shift appears to be relatively calm and staff already on the job can handle it, the worker calling in could be told they are not needed and shouldn’t come in.

This practice can be extremely frustrating for employees as it does not allow them to properly plan their home and work life. A study by the International Labor Office revealed that workers employed under these conditions are more likely to be absent or quit their job compared to those who have a schedule to follow. Other research has shown that working one or more on-call nights per week can lead to significant health issues, such as anxiety.

If your homecare business relies on stand-by or on-call employees, you should strongly consider reviewing your employment policies. Many early adopters of this concept, including Starbucks and Abercrombie & Fitch, have pledged to drop this practice.

Off You Go

At the end of the day, properly planning the shifts for your agency comes down to organization and communication. Tapping into technology will help you with both, and can even give your business a boost in productivity and patient care. Homecare businesses should focus on the long-term game instead of short-term fixes.

Derek Jones spearheads key initiatives at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets and communication. With a focus on health care, Jones helps business owners and workforce leaders simplify employment law compliance, keep labor costs in line and build award-winning workplaces. He has more than 16 years of experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource.