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Self Rostering: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing?  

Self-rostering is brought to light every few years. On the surface, it looks great, but we are convinced that it's not that good in practice. Learn why.

When it comes to rostering, we at Quinyx are always keen to geek-out and dive down into various shift management methods. Self-rostering is an attention-grabbing concept which is brought to light every few years. On the surface, it looks great, but we are convinced that the process is simply not that good in practice. 

Firstly, what is self-rostering? Self rostering is a way for shift workers to choose their own upcoming work schedules. It tends to apply to the hospitality, retail and public transport industries, as well as other sectors which feature customer-facing roles. Blank rosters are released, and employees have a wallet of points. They are then able to “spend” or “bid” those points on a shift in the roster. Shifts are assigned based on who has bid most points on a shift, provided that their working hours will not violate any legislation. This allows people to choose their own schedules based on what’s convenient for their personal lives, e.g. making space for their Spanish class every Wednesday night.

The process typically works on a 4 to 12-week rotation. This means that employees put in their shift bids up to three months in advance. Self-rostering is a very popular concept with unions and many employee groups. The positives of self rostering are clear: it gives employees a superior perceived sense of control over their working hours. Increased influence over work schedules is becoming increasingly popular.

However, the drawbacks of self-rostering are powerful enough that many companies have tried to implement it, and unfortunately, have failed. From the employee experience through to the employer experience, problems arise on all sides. Let’s examine the three core problems with self-rostering.

1. Increased Workload and Investment

For employers, self-rostering can directly add extra workload and effort onto their rostering process. This is because of the time it takes to achieve a “good” schedule which satisfies everyone.

In theory, self-rostering is easy. The technology serves as an interface through which employees can bid on shifts. The system then assigns those. Unfortunately, it’s just not as simple as assigning shifts based on everyone’s bids. Labor laws and relevant skills have to be taken into account. Imagine there’s a shift that must be worked by an employee with certain training, and someone who hasn’t bid any points on that shift is the only person legally able to do it. They’ll likely be assigned to work then, anyway.

The time cost increases because of the multiple iterations of the roster which must be created to keep everyone happy. The first iteration, people bid their points, and labor laws are taken into account to release a schedule. In the next, everyone has to confirm they’re happy. If not, it’s another iteration. If changes and swaps happen, it’s yet another iteration. In essence, many different drafts of the roster are released, meaning it takes a long time to confirm the actual shifts. You can never create a roster that satisfies every employee.

Additional costs are also incurred as employers move to organize training for employees on how to use the new system. The process for organizations will also be more costly and labor intensive, as instead of it being a top-down process it now involves many discussions between staff and management.

Finally, when the system creates problems between employees, which we’ll go through below, it’s the on-shift managers who have to find a resolution. The high administrative load self-rostering brings to the company is an instant turn-off for many.

2. Comparison Dissatisfaction

Psychologically, the effects of self-rostering tend to be surprisingly negative, due to the comparisons it encourages between workers. Although the employees bid their points, the technology implemented will not always award them their chosen shift. This may be because another employee bid more or because the shift simply needed to be filled and another employee was more legally suitable, despite a lower bid.

People simply don’t understand the results. Then begin to ask each other “why did you get that shift?”. It’s hard to understand why bidding your points doesn’t lead to your desired outcome. Employees then want to see how many points their colleagues spent, which becomes a privacy and security concern.

Shift-workers tend to have friendships between themselves, which is a great way to keep overall morale high. However, friends begin to ask each other not to bid on certain shifts, and a sort of background marketplace of points emerges. People are more attached to “their” shifts that they bid on, and so are willing to trade and make deals for them, such as asking friends to bid fewer points on certain shifts. Ultimately, this leads to discord within the workforce and general unhappiness with the system itself.

3. Paradox of Choice

Have you ever been stuck in the grocery store, frustrated with choosing between hundreds of seemingly identical brands of product, each different in their own minute way? This is called the paradox of choice. A certain amount of freedom creates happiness, but beyond the basic few choices, too much can really stress us out. For self-rostering, employees comparing their own imagined enjoyment of shift option 1 vs shift option 2, 3, 4 and 5 likely leads to stress in the points spending process.

Too much choice also results in procrastination. Giving people complete free reign over their schedules creates stress and avoidance for them. In an industry where you want your employees to be able to focus on delivering their best, should it not be on management to carry the stress of managing the roster?

The Solution

Overall, employees simply desire a fair roster that sticks to their contract and is workable around their personal lives. Based on what we have seen from our partner organizations, anecdotal evidence on self-rostering is negative. It may seem like a wonderful tool at first, but as described self-rostering truly is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Instead, we need a fair approach to scheduling.

What do we at Quinyx suggest? That companies use automated scheduling solutions which generate fair and low-stress rosters for everyone that take individual preferences into account. The responsibility for shift management, however, lies on the algorithm. Shift swapping can be implemented as a function from there. Give your staff one less thing to worry about!

What do others say about self rostering?

Wouter de Jong, Program manager at Trigion – Led a self-rostering pilot for their employees.

“When I look back at our self rostering pilot I can only include that for Trigion, this was a bridge too far in the current situation. Opinions on it differed greatly between employees: some were positive and others were very negative. Reasons for the latter were:

  • Employees didn’t fully grasp there are legal shift rules they have to consider
  • There was little flexibility when it came to personal preferences: ‘give and take’ was very hard.
  • Employees didn’t feel comfortable confronting each other on planning, attitude and behavior.
  • The planning department was the black sheep. After the pilot, employees realized they like the ease of schedules being made for them and the department being responsible for it.

We did learn that our employees like to have their rosters at least three months in advance so they can plan their private lives around it better. They’re also in favor of shift swapping when rosters are published.”


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