Public safety scheduling, while one of the most critical parts of agency operations, is also one of the most common challenges. As absenteeism is inevitable, especially with so many in the industry affected by understaffing, the question then becomes: Is your schedule able to support scheduled and unscheduled absences? This article addresses common challenges and details some solutions when it comes to scheduled absences.
Scheduled absences are the most important because they’re the most essential, and effective management relies on the knowledge that you have enough staff to support all the PTO everyone is expected and entitled to use.
The first line of defense is objectively calculating if your approved headcount sufficiently covers a full-time schedule. When calculating, many agencies forget to consider that one full-time employee does not equal full-time hours for a full year. When looking at the standard 40 hour work week over all 52 weeks, the baseline number used is 2,080 hours of labor per year. While that is a helpful number when looking at big picture business decisions, 24/7/365 scheduling requires being accurate to the hour. One full-time employee comes with paid time off, sick leave, and training time, all of which can vary from agency to agency and should be accounted for in your unique environment. In addition, there will always be unexpected events.
It’s helpful to calculate the numbers for your organization in order to know exactly how many working hours you’ll get for each full-time employee, but the number will likely be around 80-90% of those 2,080 full-time hours many agencies are using instead – which can contribute to understaffing problems. Once your agency has those numbers, it’s possible to bring them to decision-makers in order to demonstrate the necessity of additional headcount.
If you find yourself short of being able to reach approved staffing levels which would support absences, then you can plan to optimize your schedule to minimize the impact of overtime. One small adjustment that can make a big difference is recognizing that not all shifts are created equal for people being willing or able to schedule overtime. Rather than permanently placing people during the shifts that are easiest to cover overtime, schedule people during the hardest times to cover overtime, and then place overtime during the more convenient/desirable hours.
Additionally, build your schedule in a way that does not encourage sick time usage. For example, are there certain days or hours it’s more challenging to ask for time off? If you identify those areas where people will have a more difficult time getting time off approved, then you can address it through schedule changes, different allowances, filling it with part-timers, or other creative solutions. If a manager knows a shift is so underweighted that people can’t get time off, then that needs to be changed as it’s not a recommended practice. For example, if a policy is similar to “you can have the time off if you can get someone to cover for you”, then those with challenging shifts are at a disadvantage that will affect them and in turn, the agency.
Managers need to anticipate what time off will be used – it can be calculated, and too often it’s not. Typically, every employee will have different PTO and leave habits. For example, your most senior employees might permanently occupy specific shifts, and they might be the same employees with the most PTO available. Knowing this, you can anticipate those shifts will require more responses to scheduled absences than others and make adjustments to your schedule accordingly so each event is not a hardship. Further data analysis on the habits of employees (sick time, vacation, FMLA) can enable you to anticipate needs, and spread out key personnel into more strategic shifts that support filling overtime rather than making it more difficult.
Scheduled absences are just one half the equation, and part two of this blog will address strategies for improving the management of unscheduled absences.