How to do it ..Better staff scheduling

 Choose a solution that's both intuitive and easy to use for both managers and employees, experts emphasize. 

“If it's cumbersome, it will be just like any other policy, program or software that sounds and looks good but just collects dust,” says Martha Abercrombie, Vikus Corp.'s VP of Strategy. 

“Smart” software solutions notify supervisors through text or other alerts when staffing is low or too high — the latter a budget buster — she adds. 

“Look for software that offers predictive and proactive capabilities for things like overtime and over/under-staffing situations so you can take corrective action before the problems ever occur,” suggests OnShift CEO Mark Woodka. 

Ensure the program is customizable with configurable dashboards that allow schedulers to view their preferred lists, meters and monitors, adds Marina Aslanyan, CEO of SmartLinx Solutions.

2 Your solution is no better than a simple spreadsheet if it doesn't integrate real-time with other key systems such as payroll, accounting and even patient records, experts observe. Integrated solutions provide maximum visibility not only on scheduling, but also labor costs, skills mix and coverage requirements.

“Seamless integration with the time and attendance system decreases duplication and errors, increases visibility to staff approaching overtime, allows for actual hour versus scheduled hour reporting and provides the data to monitor hours for Affordable Care Act employment status definition monitoring,” says Carol Ballou, senior healthcare marketing manager at Kronos. 

Integrated solutions also allow supervisors to manage labor costs on the fly and avoid overtime costs, Aslanyan adds.

3

 Tracking and matching features are at the heart of the best scheduling systems. Accurately matching staff skills to resident acuity levels and census thresholds, and tracking and maintaining employee-resident assignments are a critical part of care and continuity, and staff satisfaction, adds Abercrombie. 

At the end of the day, “scheduling tools help you focus most on the needs of your residents,” says Udi Polonsky, the CEO of LINTECH.

4

 Chances are very good many staff are part of the Millennial generation, so your scheduling system should be feature-rich in online and mobile access. 

“It's no longer request and wait,” says Aslanyan. “The workforce is being managed in real-time today.”

This will go a long way to creating transparency, decreasing absenteeism and increasing staff acceptance, experts say. Such transparency can quickly mitigate issues where a “scheduler [is] playing favorites and loading up a handful of ‘BFFs' with all of the facility's overtime,” adds Woodka. “More even distribution of open shifts and necessary overtime can make a significant impact to improving staff morale and retention.”

Many systems allow staff to not only view their hours online or by phone, but also self-schedule when shifts open and request vacation or personal time off or shift changes, says Randell Johnson, marketing director, Prime Care Technologies, Inc. Communication also is paramount. 

Your automated system should allow staff to receive alerts of shift changes and openings and communicate to supervisors and one another, he adds. 

“Online and mobile scheduling can help improve employee engagement as they gain more control over their work preferences and schedules,” Woodka notes.

5

 The first 30 days
deploying any new system inside an organization generally determines how successful it will be.

“The rollout of the system is critical,” says Kirby Cunningham, RN, vice president of strategic clinical initiatives at AOD Software.

Staff meetings and training are essential to the effort, he adds. n

– John Hall