Tim Dees
Author: Tim Dees

Of the many tasks that fall to first line supervisors, making out the duty roster may be among the most thankless. Having a computer to relieve some of the heavy lifting associated with this may not inspire more gratitude, but it does make the process faster and more manageable.

When public safety employees worked more traditional eight-hour days, creating a duty roster wasn’t much more complicated for a police sergeant or fire captain than for a factory foreman. Everybody got the same days off every week, and maybe the supervisor had to ensure there were 25% more troops on evenings than on overnights. Put in everyone’s vacation schedule once a year, and you’re done.

Tired cops are commonplace

Today, most public safety employees work nine to twelve hours per day, rotate between day and night schedules, and are often mandated to have a minimum number of rest hours between shifts or when moving from day to night or vice versa.

This minimum rest requirement has consequences more far-reaching than just being taxing for the overworked employee. If an officer falls asleep at the wheel and crashes a patrol car because they had insufficient rest, you can bet there will be an investigation. If the employee was over-scheduled due to an error, the civil and career consequences can be grave.

This is further complicated by FLSA rules mandating the payment of expensive overtime after X number of hours over Y days, training schedules, and possibly internal rules, such as a requirement to have an EMT or DRE on duty around the clock. Before long, preparing a schedule by hand begins to look like one of those logic problems on a college placement test:

Mary, Bob, Joe and Ellen have two canoes between them. If Mary can’t ride with Joe, the red canoe was made in Canada, and Ellen is a vegetarian, how can Bob make sure he’s home in time to watch Judge Judy?

Scheduling software can track all of the requirements and limitations that work rules have to follow and produce a “best fit” duty roster for as far in advance as the user desires. Unresolved conflicts become immediately apparent, and the software can usually suggest solutions, rather than leave the user to figure them out themselves.

Eliminating perceived bias

An automated system offers a greater perception of fairness, giving rise to greater employee satisfaction. Many systems include automated notification systems for both taking call-ins from employees reporting they are sick or otherwise unavailable to work, and for notifying replacements of extra shifts available.

When this task is left to humans, there is always a potential for favoritism or punitive actions. If Officer Jones complains that he is never offered any overtime, can the supervisor show that Jones was called just as many times as everyone else? An automated system provides for greater transparency.

The same principle of transparency and fairness applies with an automated system of call-ins for employees reporting they are not coming to work. The time and date of the call can be logged automatically, something in-person call takers might not do reliably.

Mobile computing component

Most modern scheduling systems have an online component that can be used for checking schedules, reporting changes, or both. Employees can bring up the work schedule on their smartphones and know the staffing situation before they get to work. They can also look forward as far as the system projects to plan vacations and other scheduled time off. This just isn’t possible with an entirely in-house system.

If the scheduling system also reports actual hours worked, the convenience expands to the payroll office. Rather than chase down time cards and overtime authorization slips, the payroll clerk can see each employee’s hours on duty and calculate the appropriate compensation with a minimum of paperwork.

Scheduling software used to be only for large, complex operations, where there were so many people to manage that one person couldn’t track it all. Now, even smaller operations contend with intricate 10- and 12-hour shift schedules that change every few days and are never the same from one month to the next. FLSA requirements, training needs and special staffing mandates cause the scheduling task to confound a mere human supervisor. Computerized scheduling systems make everyone’s job easier and more empowering.

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