Workforce management issues heightened during the holidays

Workforce management issues heightened during the holidays

Posted by Lisa Disselkamp on December 22, 2015.

Tis the season—the time of year that takes the challenge to balance personal and professional commitments to new heights. While some of the increased stresses businesses and employees experience can be chalked up to the end-of-year holiday rush, they are often accentuated examples of shortcomings that plague workforce management systems year-round.

For many businesses, the holidays can be a make-or-break time of year in terms of sales and profitability, but the welcome boost in activity can complicate the need to fulfill orders and provide sufficient customer service and support. Just when companies need employees to be at their best, holiday-related distractions and demands on employees’ personal time increase. Many employees seek time off for holiday activities and travel, leaving companies in virtually all industries scrambling to ensure proper coverage.

Businesses often experience extreme scheduling difficulties at peak times, perhaps due in part to flawed day-to-day scheduling practices. Here are some common missteps that can make the holidays—and every day—less merry than they could be.

Not knowing or considering employee constraints and preferences.

While the holidays are often an especially busy time, many employees have constraints and demands that affect their availability and desire for work at all times of the year. Transportation, childcare, school—a number of factors, including simple personal preference, can come into play, as can financial considerations. Some employees may need to work a certain number of hours to pay their bills or would be eager to work extra hours or overtime, while others have no such constraints or desires. Effective scheduling practices mean employers have a way to gather and work around or adjust for employee constraints and preferences on a continual basis.

Failing to cross-train employees.

Particularly at busy times, having employees with the ability to cover for one another can be an invaluable scheduling aid and method for managing labor budgets. Cross-training gives employees the flexibility to do different jobs while they’re on duty, rather than having to, say, call in someone from home to cover or work overtime during an especially busy time or when an unexpected staffing shortage occurs.

Not having a handle on costs.

Cost analysis is an essential element of workforce management that can alleviate guesswork when making staffing decisions and help employers avoid unnecessary costs. Can you answer these questions about your business?

  • Is it more cost-effective to hire contingent workers to fill in during times of peak demand, to give part-time workers more hours, to outsource, or to pay employees overtime?
  • If contingents and outsourcing aren’t an option, and getting workers to work those extra hours is difficult, do you understand how your pay policies are incentivizing workers to accept or refuse work?
  • Conversely, are employees taking advantage of compensation practices that allow them to pyramid their pay during peak times, earning multiple premiums such as shift premium, overtime, holiday pay, call in, or extra duty? Or are managers so busy that they aren’t paying attention to incremental time inflation such as early arrivals, working through meal breaks, and leaving late when added time is not necessary or approved?
  • Do these inequities and practices anger coworkers and hurt morale and customer service when it’s most critical?

Over analyzing.

While it’s important to be able to back up staffing decisions with cost analysis, it’s possible to spend too much time analyzing and adjusting schedules for little benefit. There are times when minor over- or understaffing is preferable to continual tweaking. Research shows that when managers focus too much on demand variability and attempt to optimize in very small increments, there is minimal actual improvement.1

Improving scheduling practices is just one of the components of Labor Cost Optimization—an ongoing process of monitoring, diligence, and corrective action to optimize labor performance while reducing waste in order to realize significant savings. Optimizing labor practices year-round can go a long way toward alleviating holiday-induced stresses and reaping more of the rewards of the season. If you’re tired of the ongoing struggle, now is the time to resolve to update your workforce management practices in the new year.


Lisa Disselkamp CWAM, is a director in the HR Transformation practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP. Her work focuses on workforce management (WFM) business practice and technology design including timekeeping, labor scheduling, leave management, and labor optimization analytics. She has led large and complex multi-state WFM system assessments and deployments. Lisa has authored three books on WFM systems.

1Lambert, Susan J. 2013. “Avoiding over-optimization in Workforce Optimization Systems.” In Workforce Asset Management (WAM): The Book of Knowledge, edited by Lisa Disselkamp. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

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