The pros and cons of scheduling software

Operators and employees say the latest options provide greater control and freedom.
management keyboard

The appeal of labor-scheduling software over rudimentary spreadsheets for restaurants is clear: Operators find that it saves time and headaches, and empowers both managers and employees to have more control over the scheduling process. Yet, while in many ways this technology appears to be solving labor issues, in other instances it could be creating them.

Scheduling apps allow employees to swap shifts with managerial oversight and request time off from the comfort of their smartphone;  they don’t have to call in to check the schedule or ask a manager to help cover a shift. Messages can be exchanged through the app, and employees get alerts when a shift is up for grabs. Employers say millennial staff, in particular, are smitten with the system.

“As far as on the hourly staff, most have smartphones, computers and Internet access, and they love it because they are able to get their schedules immediately,” says Sal Delorenzo, district manager for the Common Man Family of Restaurants in New Hampshire. Delorenzo led the Common Man’s 16 concepts away from Excel and handwritten schedules to app-based systems about four months ago.

This transparency makes for a smoother scheduling process, says Rob Sanchez, owner of an outpost of The Melting Pot in San Mateo, Calif. “We have a clear and consistent process that helps our management team to be fair with everyone when it comes to approving time-off and shift-trade requests,” he says.

With new and pending overtime regulations, careful time management and tracking can save operators in profit margins and legal fees. Most scheduling software alerts managers when employees approach overtime. Other software goes even further, blocking off the schedule and tallying projected extra hours in real time.

Some software combines scheduling capabilities with sales and labor forecasts, so managers can better predict the number of employees needed—reducing the need for on-call personnel. This feature, Delorenzo says, gives his managers more control to build smarter schedules. “It’s all right there on the computer screen, whereas before you could get that data but had to pull from a bunch of different areas,” he explains. “It’s all kind of tied right into the module.”

On the other hand, the scheduling analytics may allow operators to take unfair advantage of their labor force. The New York Times and The Boston Globe have cited scheduling software as the driver behind more erratic scheduling practices for low-wage workers in the service industry. The tool is powerful, says Jeff Langeland, instructional designer at Minneapolis-based Granite City Food & Brewery, and managers need to choose to protect their employees.

“Taking advantage of scheduling analytics to treat employees as commodities likely increases turnover and inefficiency,” Langeland says. “You make the choice. Blaming the tool isn’t necessarily right.” 

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