How Far in Advance Should You Plan a Staff Rota?

01 July 2022
How Far in Advance Should You Plan a Staff Rota?

Knowing how far in advance to plan a staff rota can be a challenge. Begin planning them too far in advance, and you run the risk of having to totally rework the rota when changes occur; leave them too late, and you end up with unhappy employees. So how far in advance should you plan your staff rotas? 1 week? 2 weeks? A month?

Fear not; in this article we’ll uncover:

What UK law says about rota planning*

In some countries, companies are required by law to provide employees with between 14 to 21 days notice of their scheduled working hours for a given timeframe. However, in the UK, that’s not (currently) the case.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) apply to employees in all sectors across the UK and it states that employees have the right to be informed of their working schedules in advance, including any additional hours they will be required to work.

However, the legislation does not specify a minimum timeframe and in fact, a 2016 survey from Citizens Advice revealed that 1 in 5 employers (19%) say they give contracted staff less than 48 hours notice of their shifts; a trend which is especially true of companies operating with zero-hours contracts.

*Please note: This does not constitute legal advice.

Considerations which influence how far in advance to plan your staff rotas

Some articles provide a “definitive answer” of 1 week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks… but the reality is, that the right answer will be different for each business as it will be influenced by a number of factors.

The following considerations can influence how far in advance you need to plan employee rotas:

  • Size of your workforce - juggling more employees takes more time
  • Staff morale - unhappy employees are more likely to call in sick at the last minute
  • Number of team members with given skill-sets - the more multi-disciplined team members you have, the less challenging it can be to find a replacement team member for a shift
  • Past history of last-minute changes - if you know you often have to re-plan schedules due to frequent unplanned staff absences, this will limit your ability to create a reliable rota further in advance

Therefore, if you work in an industry with a stable, happy and long-term workforce, with enough spare resource capacity to easily cope with any changes, you may be able to plan a shift a month (or more!) in advance and rarely experience any issues.

In contrast, a company with an unhappy workforce with a high turnover rate may struggle to keep rotas accurate even if they plan them a few days ahead (Spoiler alert: If you’re planning your rotas 2-3 days ahead, that might be a contributing factor to why you have to higher turnover rate, thus creating a vicious cycle).

For most industries, 2 weeks strikes a fair balance between providing employees with enough stability and peace of mind, whilst allowing them to plan their private life, child-care and social events. It also provides employers with enough time to accurately plan far enough out with minimal risk of changes.

How far in advance is too far?

As touched on above, this really depends on the industry and the company. However, another way of looking at this is in terms of diminishing returns. Does providing your staff with their rota one month in advance provide them with greater security and peace of mind, compared to providing a rota just two weeks in advance? If you regularly have to make a change, albeit a small one, you may find that this is counterproductive as they may lose faith in those early rotas.

It also depends on whether the shifts change from day to day / week to week. If you provide someone with their shift pattern for 4 weeks from now, will they remember it? Chances are, they’ll just be focused on what’s happening this week and next, so providing a full month probably doesn’t provide much additional benefit.

How close to a shift date can you change a staff rota?

From time to time you may need to change a staff member’s rota. However, whether you’re allowed to do this, and the timeframe within which you can alter a rota, depends very much on the terms within the employee’s contract of employment. It also depends on whether the changes are temporary or permanent.

If the employee has a fixed contract, and the contract doesn’t specifically allow for changes to the hours, then technically you will not be allowed to change their working days without first notifying them, and them agreeing to any changes. However, in reality, if it’s an occasional change for a short period of time, many employees will be amenable to a temporary, short term change to their shift pattern (for example, to cover a colleague who is on holiday for 2 weeks)... as long as you approach it in the right way!

For example, as long as you have options, ask them if they would be willing to switch shifts. Emphasise how it would be really helping you out, and consider what you may be able to do to help offset the inconvenience for them. Don’t just tell them you’re going to change their shift, as that’s a sure-fire way to damage staff morale.

If they’re on a shift contract however, you may find that the contract defines the number of hours, but not necessarily the days or times. In this case, it’s more easy to alter a rota without breaching the terms of the contract or upsetting the member of staff.

Regardless of the type of contract, remember employees are a valuable asset; the more notice you can give them, the better it will be for morale.

Tips for planning and sharing your staff rotas

  • Use dedicated rota planning software - it will save you so many headaches!
  • Make your release schedule predictable - decide what day and how far in advance you plan to release rotas, and stick to it
  • Ensure all employees understand your rotation schedule - including details within employee contracts can help avoid confusion in a proactive way
  • Keep rotas and shift patterns consistent and predictable - this will reduce your workload, be appreciated by employees, and can help colleagues if you’re taken sick and someone else needs to create the rotas
  • Share rotas via a method all colleagues have access to - if you’re managing a team of drivers, some may hang out in the staff room, whereas others may rarely get to their home dept. Don’t assume all colleagues have the same access to rotas, and provide a backup option such as email or an intranet post if necessary, or better still, use the RotaOne employee self-service app which keeps employees up to date with their rota in real time.
  • Avoid sharing rotas in a way which can be easily tampered with - rota’s drawn on whiteboards in staff rooms are prime targets for shift swapping pranks!

How to reduce time, hassle and stress when planning employee rotas

As mentioned above, one of the more efficient ways to plan a staff rota is to use dedicated rota planning software as these can make last minute changes and distribution a breeze!

If you’d like to learn more about how RotaOne can help save you time and hassle and your business money, then why not contact us for a no obligation chat or book a demo of RotaOne’s rota planning software.