Empowering employees can be good for business

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By Stephen Hawley Martin

An updated time and attendance collection system can’t reach its full potential if it doesn’t give employees more control over their schedules. Automated scheduling,  which can usually be added as an upgrade, offers this possibility.

Michael Abrams, vice president and managing partner of the firm of Numerof & Associates, which helps companies find ways to hold onto staff, says “People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.” It should come as no surprise that autocratic managers often have trouble holding onto employees.

Customer service may suffer and other problems may persist because the employees are reluctant to make decisions that may incur their boss’ wrath. In other words, they are not about to “stick their necks out,” and they are quite likely to take a hike when the opportunity arises.

A computerized scheduling system may help mitigate the negative effects of a domineering manager. It may even lead to fewer no shows, fewer late arrivals and to a lower level of schedule disruption overall. How so?

A scheduling system can be set up to give people flexibility when scheduling themselves, and it can empower employees to find their own replacements when they need time off. For example, a system can be set up to allow schedule swapping. Employees are allowed to identify their own replacements, submit requests for time off and receive an automated notification from the supervisor –– or the systems –– about acceptance of the change. The supervisor’s approval will then automatically update both workers’ schedules and notify them of the approved schedule change.

Let’s say I don’t want to work a particular shift because I was the fourth caller to the local radio station and won a ticket to the Bruce Springsteen concert. My friend Betty Jo has the same qualifications I do and can work my shift. After checking with Betty Jo, I can go into the scheduling system, report that I’m going to miss the shift, and that Betty Jo will replace me. With automated workflow, the system will notify my supervisor, who can approve the switch. Then an electronic notification of the approval will be sent to Betty Jo and to me, and the schedule will be automatically updated.

What happens if Betty Jo wants to come with me to the concert and I can’t find a replacement? I could still indicate I will not be able to make the shift. A notification would be sent to the supervisor but could also be posted to all employees so that anyone interested in the shift could bid on it, or schedule themselves as a fill in.

Such a system would update the supervisor periodically about any open shifts. If no one signs up, then the manager can go through the normal selection process. No paper or phone calls will be required.

There are a number of benefits to this arrangement. There’s significantly less possibility for an interruption in labor supply. Employees did not have to complete any forms or contact the unpleasant manager directly, the manager was prompted to adjust to the schedule change as needed, and the entire staff had the opportunity to bid on additional work opportunities.

With automated scheduling, employees enjoy a heightened sense of autonomy and control over their work lives. In a unit with an autocratic manager, it’s one less situation in which these employees feel powerless.

Perhaps it’s time for you to have a chat with your IT folks a modest upgrade could give employees more flexibility. It could be a lot less expensive than replacing and retraining staff that decide to leave for a competitor that offers them more freedom.

Stephen Hawley Martin is a former principal of The Martin Agency in Richmond and author of more than a half dozen books including his newest, Lead Enterprise Leader: How to Get Things Done Without Doing It All Yourself.

He is editor and publisher of The Oaklea Press, a book publishing business dedicated primarily to helping business executives increase productivity. He can be reached at shmartin@oakleapress.com

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