Rostering pitfalls: The pros and cons of app-based shift plans


  • Technology
  • Tuesday, 12 Nov 2019

Smart rostering apps can make switching shifts easier and prevent a string of phone calls when someone falls ill. — dpa

Anyone who works shifts knows duty rosters can leave everyone feeling hard done-by. With ever more flexible and diverse working patterns, and the need to help achieve work-life balance, rota patterns are becoming increasingly complicated.

There is now a range of online answers to this problem. Apps like Papershift, Shyftplan and Planday are designed to make modern work schedules simpler and faster. But the digital planning tools themselves pose some new challenges.

Basically, these kinds of apps can make a lot of things easier, says industrial psychologist Gottfried Mueller, who advises companies on how to organise working hours. This is particularly the case when employees are unable to coordinate their work personally.

The apps, for example, make it possible to coordinate the swapping of shifts without an endless telephone ping-pong getting out of hand.

If the app has a documentation function, Mueller says that disputes can be avoided. The function makes it possible for everyone to see who worked where and when.

“Transparency increases, which clarifies many potential disputes in advance,” he says. “Now employees don’t have to go to the duty planner with a request, but can enter things themselves according to agreed rules. And they can do that anytime, anywhere.”

But without fixed rules, automatic rostering can become problematic, because it can only ever be as good as the parameters that are entered, and some some functions of the apps may break national employment laws.

Christoph Schink, from Germany’s Food and Catering Union (NGG), says automated duty scheduling can become a “weapon” where there are irregular shift patterns – for example in the hotel or restaurant sector.

He gives the example of a delivery company that introduced an automatic rostering system, with an algorithm that sorted employees according to performance. The fastest employees were allowed to register for new shifts first. The election of a works council put an end to this, however.

If you feel that you have been treated unfairly when planning your shift, it helps to name the facts objectively first. “The crucial thing is to communicate one's own need without turning it into a blame-game,” says Gottfried Mueller.

He recommends making specific requests, for example to distribute Saturdays more fairly in future. If that doesn't help, you can fall back on tried and tested methods. Employees can, for example, call in the works council or the trade union – where these are available – so that algorithms don’t end up setting the agenda. – dpa

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