One way to promote staff retention is through the use of self-scheduling—the ability of staff members to choose the day and shift they'll work following predetermined criteria that ensures appropriate unit staffing.1,2 Self-scheduling offers nursing staff the opportunity to be autonomous and in charge of their work schedules, promoting accountability and responsibility that lead to job satisfaction and personal growth. And staff members who have a better understanding of staffing and scheduling issues are less likely to have unscheduled absences and last-minute requests to change shifts.
First introduced in the 1960s at a London hospital, self-scheduling didn't catch on until the 1980s.3 It's now being used as a staff retention tool by satisfying the individual needs of nurses and creating a more employee-friendly work environment that can also be used to attract new staff. Demonstrating respect for staff members' needs and ultimately improving patient care, self-scheduling enhances staff morale, increases staff control over their work environment, and offers flexible scheduling options. Although self-scheduling has been found to be successful, it doesn't come without difficulties. Overcoming these difficulties can be challenging for nurse managers and nurse administrators.
Implementing a self-scheduling system
Scheduling has traditionally been a source of problems for both nursing staff and management. With the traditional schedule, staff members submit a special request for a certain day off or shift to work. This can make employee scheduling time-consuming and next to impossible. When employees have minimal input in the scheduling process, they may view the system as unfair and prone to favoritism. Low morale and conflict among staff members often occur, leading to stress, dissatisfaction, and a high turnover rate among employees. The scheduling process can also be a source of frustration for the manager who tries to meet the needs of each staff member. That's why you may want to consider implementing a self-scheduling process.
To successfully implement the process, managers and staff must have a vested interest in self-scheduling. Be sure to draft your goals for self-scheduling at the onset. Short-term goals should strive to increase job satisfaction, allow for staff autonomy and control, increase flexibility, and promote professionalism through the development of communication and negotiation skills. Long-term goals should include the ability to retain experienced staff and assist in recruitment efforts. Research shows that the self-scheduling implementation process has four phases: assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation.4 Let's take a closer look.
Assessment and planning
Start by examining the scheduling issues that impact your staff and assess staff satisfaction. For example, employees may exhibit a high rate of sick calls due to dissatisfaction and burnout caused by increased workloads, mandated shifts, and their family responsibilities. Assess how you as a manager feel about scheduling: Do you find the traditional system time-consuming and tedious? If this is the case in your facility, implementing a system that supports staff autonomy may promote a more positive approach to scheduling for both yourself and your staff. Perform a needs assessment to examine every aspect of how self-scheduling will impact your facility and determine any obstacles that might interfere with the success of the project.
After the decision is made to implement self-scheduling, develop a concrete plan. Decide who'll be involved in the groundwork and draft clear, concise, and realistic guidelines to set the rules for all staff members to follow. Review these guidelines during each phase of the implementation process and adjust them as needed. Address weekend and holiday scheduling and shift rotations to prevent feelings of unfairness. Establish a formal committee for planning and implementation and involve interested staff members. Self-directed, autonomous, and innovative staff members can help sell the idea to their coworkers and promote a successful implementation. It may be beneficial to rotate committee members to ensure that all employees buy into the project. Communication is also important during the planning phase to keep all involved parties up-to-date with decisions and the progress made. Provide employees with articles, educational staff meetings, and staff development programs to prepare them for self-scheduling. Developing a close working relationship with your employees aids in success.
Next, decide when self-scheduling will be implemented. A pilot project may be beneficial to practice scheduling if staff members continue to have doubts. Don't implement self-scheduling before summer vacations or winter holidays. And take into account staffing vacancies to ensure that there are enough staff members for the project to be a success.
Implementation and evaluation
The implementation phase begins as a pilot of the new system. Support and encouragement during this phase is needed to help clear up any questions or problems. It's important to keep focused and allow for mistakes as staff members learn to navigate the new system. Ideally, blank schedules should be posted for staff to fill out, preferably 3 months in advance. Review the schedule for holes and fill in these areas.
After the pilot program is completed, perform a thorough evaluation of the positive and negative factors that impacted the success of self-scheduling. You can conduct this evaluation using quantitative data in the form of a satisfaction questionnaire to determine staff understanding and contentment with the program. Absenteeism rates, requests for time off, and staff turnover rates should also be calculated.
Successful or unsuccessful: That's the question
When self-scheduling is successful, it gives nurses control and influence over their scheduling. And the planning and implementation of self-scheduling encourages consensus, team spirit, and collaboration among staff.5 Communication among staff ultimately improves because all staff members must learn to negotiate with each other and develop a better understanding of one another's needs, which leads to volunteering or trading shifts to accommodate those needs. Thus, self-scheduling practices may promote cohesiveness among staff members that wasn't present before.6 Ideally, staff members experience an increased sense of professionalism, and staff turnover and absenteeism rates decrease because flexibility allows them to attend classes, appointments, and family or social commitments.
Unfortunately, implementing self-scheduling can also be unsuccessful due to poor staff education and involvement. Staff members may perceive favoritism by schedulers when demands for certain days off aren't met, or they may take advantage of the system by signing up for desirable shifts despite a coworker's need. Peer pressure may also cause self-scheduling to fail.5 Frequent communication and consistency are imperative to solve these problems. Staff members need to understand the rules of self-scheduling and ask questions when they're unsure.7
Understanding your role
As the nurse manager, you must oversee every step of the project because you're the primary change agent. Support, encourage, motivate, facilitate, and articulate the self-scheduling process. In turn, you'll need the support of nursing staff, managers, and administrators for a successful transition. Be patient during the transition period. Staff members will be less interested in supporting self-scheduling if they aren't allowed time to adjust to the process. You may be responsible and accountable for safe staffing levels, but you shouldn't take back control of employee scheduling once self-scheduling is inplemented.8 After staff members assume responsibility for scheduling, your job is to facilitate the process rather than control it. This change in your role gives staff members a sense of empowerment and promotes job satisfaction.
The benefits outweigh the risks
While there are risks involved with any project, self-scheduling can be a successful system with many benefits to the organization. It provides an alternative to traditional scheduling practices, freeing up time for leaders to perform other tasks and providing staff members with more autonomy. And, ultimately, it can lead to increased job satisfaction and retention rates.
1. Robb EA, Determan AC, Lampat LR, et al. Self-scheduling: satisfaction guaranteed? Nurs Manage
2. Beltzhoover M. Self-scheduling: an innovative approach. Nurs Manage.
3. Hung R. A note on nurse self-scheduling. Nurs Econ
4. Teahan B. Implementation of a self-scheduling system: a solution to more than just schedules! J Nurs Manag
5. Dearholt SL, Feathers CA. Self-scheduling can work. Nurs Manage
6. Leurer MD, Donnelly G, Domm E. Nurse retention strategies: advice from experienced registered nurses. J Health Organ Manag
7. Vetter E, Felice L, Ingersoll GL. Self-scheduling and staff incentives: meeting patient care needs in a neonatal intensive care unit. Crit Care Nurse
8. Hoffart N, Willdermood S. Self-scheduling in five med/surg units: a comparison. Nurs Manage