Last Updated On / Written By Daphne Blake

Retail Employee Scheduling Best Practices

Over the past decade, internet start-up culture has infused best practices for employee management. Provide workers with flexible scheduling options! Allow more remote work! Sound familiar?

But if you're a retail outlet with specific, well-established needs regarding shift coverage, how do you attract and retain the right kind of worker?

According to Bloomberg, employee retention is one of the biggest problems the retail sector faces. As rates soar to 5% per month, frequent employee turnover can cost retailers as much as $3,400 per employee.

Even if you have strict needs for shift coverage, it's possible to create a scheduling practice that's fair, transparent, and predictable for all your employees – making them happier and more productive to boot. Here's how.

Be Predictable

Whether they're "on call" or waiting for managers to post schedules, 17% of retail workers have unstable work schedules.

"There were days I would work 48 hours in a row," Tia Raynor, a former retail employee at Portland International Airport, told Vox. "Then I would go to my other job and sleep for an hour or two in parking lot. When that was done I would sleep for another hour or two and then go back to the coffee shop."

This instability makes it difficult for employees like Raynor to plan for child care, family vacations, and other everyday needs, leading to greater dissatisfaction in the workplace, lower productivity, and higher turnover – all of which cost you in the long run.

During the interview process, make it clear to your new hires what your scheduling needs are. Of course, those needs should be realistic and grounded in data. Don't just assume your weekend mornings will be swamped – use the predictive capabilities of your POS to forecast sales and foot traffic based on past transactions.

Once you develop a workable shift calendar, stick to it, giving employees plenty of notice if you plan to change what an average shift looks like.


In states like California, New York, and Massachusetts, on-call scheduling practices from major retailers have led to lawsuits – and it's easy to see why.

The practice puts an incredible amount of pressure on employees to make themselves available during their down time, leads to uncertainty about income, strains employee-manager relations, and, at worst, can violate state labor laws.

According to Forbes, New York City Council members introduced legislation in 2016 to ban on-call scheduling practices altogether and advocated workers have at least two weeks' advance notice of their schedule.

Avoid potentially sticky situations by posting your schedule 3 to 4 weeks in advance. Make your scheduling decisions based on a variety of input - employee interaction, specific shift needs, and shift data you've collected.

By making data-driven decisions, you'll be able to put your best salespeople on the floor when you need them most. Forecasting will help you become more effective at anticipating your store's needs, and cut down on labor costs, too.

Make Transparency a Goal

Gone are the days of paper schedules made during your spare moments in the back office.

Use new technology to design shift calendar templates and share schedules automatically with your employees, making the scheduling process transparent and easy to navigate. A commitment to scheduling transparency also helps visibly align your business with labor laws, especially when it comes to overtime and accountability.

As start-ups and service industries have uncovered, transparent businesses also inspire more trust in their employees.

In 2013, Harvard Business Review surveyed 550 business leaders from a range of industries. 70% of respondents indicated their employees stay more engaged when they're keyed into decision-making, including how their roles help the company meet its goals.

Transparent scheduling may be a best practice for small retailers – but it can translate to a wider company culture that keeps your employees happy, engaged, and productive.

Encourage Employee Communication

Don't get bogged down in vacation requests or shift changes. Use scheduling software to encourage employees to communicate with one another, instead.

This opens the pathways of communication for retail workers, especially in an industry that offers fewer opportunities for employees to get to know – or depend on – one another.

"In an office environment, you can rely on co-workers who work at the same time as you, but the shift environment is constantly changing," Austin Vedder, the creator of Shift Messenger, told

"At Redbeacon, we had Gmail, Slack, Asana, a Path group, Gchat, but in a retail environment you are dependent on those three or four people on your smartphone list," he added.

A range of new scheduling apps offers retail employees greater ease of communication. This shifts the burden away from your scheduling manager and frees up more of their time to solve pressing staff- or sales-related problems.

Invite Feedback

Make yourself regularly available for employee feedback on the shift schedule. Before you run away in terror, know that the feedback process doesn't have to be extensive – or contentious – to be helpful.

Instead, think of seeking feedback as a manager's opportunity to check in regularly with their employees and build positive relationships. Multiple studies have found that, when given opportunities to be more engaged at work, employees are happier and more productive.

To avoid being sidetracked by grievances or accused of favoritism, give your employees a framework for response. Try an anonymous survey, or a 15-minute all-employee sit-down with a structured question-and-answer session to see what kind of insights your employees have.

Depending on your staff culture, responses in writing can be most effective, suggests Raphael Crawford-Marks at Forbes.

"If employees have the freedom to voice their views in writing, they might take more care in crafting what they say, especially if it will be public," writes Crawford-Marks.

Make it clear to your employees that you look forward to using their responses to improve scheduling – then share with them your plan to make good on your promises.

Make Data-Driven Decisions

Aiming for transparency and inviting feedback are human needs-driven management goals. But data about foot traffic and sales volume can – and should – inform your decision-making, too.

As one study of a women's apparel retailer showed, common scheduling pitfalls, like overstaffing during slow periods or vice versa, can eat away at labor costs and frustrate customers.

"Saravanan Kesavan and his co-authors found that all of the stores were understaffed significantly during the peak periods of the day, while they were significantly overstaffed during the rest of the hours," reports Ethan Bernstein at Harvard Business Review. "The authors estimated that the retailer was losing about 9% of sales and 7% of profits due to this mismatch."

New to labor forecasting but want to incorporate it into your scheduling efforts? Check out this helpful post for beginners from Paychex.

Offer Incentives

Unlike other sectors, retail doesn't always offer its employees a clear pathway for growth and promotion, beyond advancing to managerial positions.

This can make it difficult for part-time and temporary workers to stay engaged during their shift – even if there's plenty of work that needs doing.

As you schedule, make your goals for individual employees – or individual roles within your store – apparent for the shift. This should include mentorship and training opportunities for new employees.

"No employee onboarding program should be completed without providing trainees with an experienced mentor that can help them enhance their customer service skills in real time — during those crucial first few days on the store floor," Sabrina Son writes for TINYPulse, an employee engagement platform.

Adding creative responsibilities for your best workers can be a good way to engage employees and enliven shifts, too – especially if you take the time to acknowledge employees for their hard work.

"If you take the time to notice the good, people will work harder to earn more of that acknowledgment," a spokesperson for TSheets told Square. "At the end of the day, every single person just wants someone to believe in them. They want to be respected. Be the manager who respects them and be the manager who gets their best effort."

Revisit Your Track Record

Make time each month – or each quarter – to check in on your scheduling practices and your employee satisfaction.

How are your scheduling efforts being received? How has this translated to employee productivity, engagement, and retention?

Compile any feedback from your records, including conversations with your employees, to make small tweaks to scheduling, training, and onboarding, so your entire HR department keeps improving.

Fold these records into any meetings you might have between shift managers and upper management, to ensure all the leaders at your store are striving to maintain the same company culture and meet employee retention benchmarks.

Need more tips for increasing employee retention at your store? Our friends at Shopify have got you covered.

There's no doubt about it – retail shifts can be demanding, but they don't have to be boring. Embrace the latest research on employee engagement to help you hire more effective leaders, and empower your managers to address staffing needs with scheduling software and foot traffic analytics. Your turnover rate – and your bottom line – will thank you.