How do unimaginable amounts of snow impact business outcomes?

The better question might be: How do they not? I sit hear writing as it snows outside, but it barely makes the local weather report today as we’re only getting an inch or two. Now local meteorologists say things like ‘we might get a blizzard this weekend’ or ‘there’s only 10 inches of snow coming Tuesday’. Working in the Boston area, I remember many winters past when 10 inches was a lot. This winter, I’ve experienced a foot or more the last 3 Mondays – not a great way to begin the work week.

My backyard: Yes - that is a fence.
My backyard:  Yes – that is a fence.

You’ve seen it on the national news. At this point, people are officially getting depressed. Feeling trapped – like they are “going crazy.” I choose to find the comical side of all of this. It’s not like we can change it. Let’s make the best of it. Laugh about the ridiculousness of it all. Enjoy the view. Share stories about the first time you saw a woman get out of her car to help push a stranger’s car out of a drift as he was getting onto a highway. I sat mesmerized thinking it would never work, but it did.

 

So what are a few of the ways bad weather impacts employers?

Unplanned Absences

Simply put, less work is getting done, especially if those absent are unable to work from home. There may not be enough staff available to meet business demand. The staff members that come in are probably more stressed as they are trying to pick up the slack. Production levels go down. Customer service and revenue can suffer. Labor budgets can quickly bust as contract workers are called in and full-timers go into overtime. SHRM and the Workforce Institute have found ways to help mitigate this impact.

Employee Housing Costs

For many businesses that operate around the clock, such as hospitals and hotels, working from home isn’t an option on a snowy day. The businesses typically put up employees in hotel rooms before and during a big storm to ensure they have enough staff on site to operate. Some local hospitals house employees at the hospital itself and cover meals. These expenses add up and influence the bottom-line.

Transportation

This is the first time I can remember Massachusetts’s mass transit system, the MBTA, being shut down for over an entire day. Employees without a car can’t even get to work if they want to, especially if they can’t afford a cab ride.

Image via MBTA

Over 1900 flights were canceled during the last storm. Think of all the canceled sales meetings and customer visits canceled due to Boston area employees unable to get to their destination. When the next big storm happens, because I know it will, I’ll focus more on the employee experience during this ridiculous weather pattern.

 

 

 

If you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate, please enjoy. I promise – we’re not resentful – much. After all, we Bostonians have the autumn leaves, Fenway Park, and of course the Patriots. Those make up for it all.

Image via Patriot’s Facebook Page

 

 

3 Ways to Optimize Employee Work Schedules

The term ‘optimized’ tends to get thrown around a lot, especially when talking about employee scheduling. But what does it really mean?

The basic dictionary definition – “to make as perfect, effective, or functional as possible” – is good, but a bit vague when it comes to workforce management. Perfection is an unrealistic goal since even the best planned schedules typically require some fine-tuning.

EmployeeScheduleRulesAndPreferencesHow do you make complex schedules, even close to perfect, when there are so many variables to consider? From taking skills and certifications into account, to avoiding excess overtime and meeting fluctuating demand, planning best-fit schedules is no easy task.

Here are 3 important ways to optimize employee schedules:

Align labor to meet fluctuating business demand.

Overstaffed? Employees are standing around on your dime. Understaffed? You’re losing sales, customers, and production volume.

By aligning labor to business demand, employees are much less likely to feel overworked. Assign more employees in busy times; less people in slower times. Sounds easy, right? But it’s not when you take company policies, legislation, overtime, skills, etc., into account. Some leading organizations balance workload even further by categorizing the level of difficulty of the task at hand – then balancing difficult tasks amongst the team.

Balance skills and experience to form highly effective teams.

Scheduling teams with a mix of skills and proficiency levels decreases stress, increases productivity, and minimizes labor cost waste. Who wants to be the only experienced person, working with a team of people who joined the company yesterday, at the busiest time of day? Not many. Conversely, it doesn’t normally make sense for all of your most experienced employees to work together, often at higher pay rates. Balancing experience levels can also balance labor expenses.

It’s not just about tracking skills to see who’s qualified to work a particular job. It’s about having a mix of employees with varying skills and experience that can collaborate by working together to achieve common goals.

Business VisibilityRequire the visibility to re-balance schedules when the unexpected arises.

Even the best planned schedules often require adjustments. Perhaps the flu has hit one department. Perhaps a customer order was canceled in another. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the visibility across the organization to move available and qualified employees between departments or job roles to manage over- and under-staffing? Providing staffing managers the tools to make this an easier process helps minimize the need to change employees’ hours and maintain business as usual.

Do you see a pattern here? Scheduling is a balancing act. Take the guesswork out of scheduling by automating the process of aligning labor to demand and gaining better visibility to employee attributes. More often than not, there is room to further optimize a schedule for better bottom-line results and better employee satisfaction.

What do you consider to be an optimized schedule?

Staffing for early Independence – Avoiding Arthur causes labor management crisis

Unpredictable weather has always been a factor in the northeast US. More often than not, the winter months are when New England especially is susceptible to weather-related interruptions of plans, traffic, school and work cancellations, etc. So when an early July hurricane unexpectedly comes barreling up the east coast, it’s a big deal. When it is scheduled to arrive on July 4th in Boston, you get a July 3 & 4, 2009 Boston July Forth Fireworks Spectacular Images by Jay Connordifferent type of fireworks…

Yesterday the city of Boston decided not to postpone its annual Independence Day celebration, which includes the outdoor concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra and massive fireworks display. Instead, the city decided yesterday, July 2nd to move the festivities up to today, July 3rd. What a nightmare for scheduling all of the labor needed to support the change.

  • Public works, city workers and vendors setting up for the tens of thousands of visitors for the fireworks lose an entire day of work, likely requiring overtime and additional staff
  • The police and transportation workers that are needed not only to support and provide security for the event but the logistics of managing the traffic. Most businesses are open in the city today (whereas many are closed on the 4th). Many roads are planned to be closed at noon today, likely causing nightmare traffic scenarios
  • The retail, dining and hospitality businesses who must also make drastic last minute schedule changes for the tourists and visitors coming in today, vs. tomorrow.schedule1

Automated scheduling can be a huge time savings here. On the fly schedule adjustments, identifying employee availability & potential restrictions, managing pending overtime costs efficiently with projected hours features are all benefits of a workforce management system with advanced labor scheduling. Even sending an “all hands on deck” text message to employees that can help fill shifts via a mobile phone is now a reality with these systems.

4th-of-july-in-boston-4So while Arthur may bring some rain tomorrow, Boston will celebrate our independence as usual. The Pops will play at the esplanade and the fireworks will light up the sky over the Charles River, thanks to the many workers scheduled to work extra hard to make it happen.

Happy 4th of July!

Workforce Management Maturity Evolution Part 4 – Innovate

This is the final installment in a four-part series on workforce management maturity. With advancements in cloud-based technology, mobile applications and simplified enterprise applications, organizations are able to transform their workforce from a cost of doing business into a competitive advantage. Part 4 discusses the final phase of workforce management maturity – innovate.

In Jim Collins’ bestselling book Good to Great, those few companies that distanced themselves from the competition all had common traits among them. The concepts of “Level 5 leadership”, having the right workforce “on the bus”, and transformations that were the result of focus and continuous improvement over sustained periods of time eventually led to achieving greatness.

There are many organizations that have evolved through the first three phases of the workforce management maturity curve, getting the value of their workforce to one of a Flexible asset, and perception of their workforce into an “Agile Workforce.”  However, the best-in-class organizations that have moved into the Innovate phase now view their workforce as a vital workforce and a competitive advantage. For them, their employees are their most critical asset who, when provided with the right tools, training and support enable these organizations to achieve great results that their customers value and their peers and competitors envy.

Big Data and the Workforce

Throughout this series, the application of technology and process change has enabled organizations in each phase of workforce management maturity. Most organizations in the Innovate phase are embracing Big Data initiatives to identify triggers that influence growth, profitability, brand reputation, and operational excellence, as well as organizational transparency and accountability. In the Innovate phase, organizations incorporate labor metrics into their big data strategies, to transform their workforce into a network of individuals all working together to achieve a desired result. (Consider Southwest Airlines, where every interaction with their workforce is one that is focused on delivering a high level of customer service).

The correlation of labor data with operational measurements of inputs & outcomes can yield powerful insight into the impact of your workforce on business growth, brand perception and ultimately shareholder value. However, basic data mining does not equate to a big data strategy that will enable business innovation and continuous improvement. Lack of understanding of how to use analytics to improve the business is the biggest obstacle in achieving success with big data. Organizations must transition the analysis from an IT function to a business operations function – combining measurements, analytics and business intelligence tools with visibility and controls for business leaders to understand and act on.

Workforce Analytics drives Innovation

When workforce analytics is combined successfully with operational data, actionable information will lead to operational comparisons and adjustments. Initial tracking of labor metrics like absenteeism, turnover and overtime can evolve into industry-specific trends and analysis. Retail stores can see the impact in increased operating margins, profit per employee and a stronger brand reputation. Healthcare providers can correlate treatment procedures, provider education/training, and technology with patient diagnosis and outcomes. Manufacturing firms can achieve operational excellence through lean labor principles.

When your workforce evolves from a cost of doing business into a competitive advantage, your organization can make that leap from good to great!

Workforce Management Maturity Evolution Part 3 – Execute

This is the third in a four-part series on workforce management maturity. With advancements in cloud-based technology, mobile applications and simplified enterprise applications, organizations are able to transform their workforce from a cost of doing business into a competitive advantage. Part 3 discusses the next phase of workforce management maturity – execute.

Throughout this series we’ve discussed how automation and planning can help organizations streamline the common processes of scheduling and paying your workforce accurately and efficiently to keep costs down while improving service levels.

The third phase of workforce management maturity is the execute phase. This phase is about getting the most out of your people every day. It involves leveraging individuals who can adapt to changing conditions quickly to maintain a high level of productivity. Organizations that have evolved to the execute phase will view their workforce as a flexible asset – a group of skilled workers with the tools they need to consistently produce for you and can adapt to different tasks or roles. At this stage, the workforce understands and executes key tactics that have a direct impact on key operational measurements: revenue, service, quality, responsiveness, throughput, productivity.

A simple example is a grocery employee who can stock shelves when traffic is slow, slice cold cuts when the line at the deli is long, or run a cash register when there are crowds ready to check out. That employee is highly valued because of his/her flexibility and high level of productivity.

Manage in the Moment

We’ve all heard the phrase “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In EVERY industry, labor plans are impacted every day. Weather, illness, unplanned absence, mechanical issues, material problems, accidents, funding issues, large orders, even a successful campaign or promotion can impact plans for better or worse. How a manager in the trenches reacts to these constantly changing conditions can directly impact your business.

Workforce management solutions have evolved to enable managers to manage in the moment, with technology that works in real time. Staffing management allow managers to see who is on staff at any given moment and which areas may be understaffed or overstaffed. Real-time adjustments can be made to address the areas that need help, while back-office adjustments to labor tracking, job costing and payroll systems happen automatically, without delays or errors. Labor activity tracking provides line managers with real-time visibility into Work-in-Progress, quality and labor utilization to maximize output and productivity goals. And, mobile access to systems through smart phones and tablet devices empower managers to execute more informed decision making right when and where issues arise.

Are your employees and mangers capable of being agile on the job? Can they react to changing conditions and maintain high levels of productivity?

With cloud-based workforce management on demand, even small to medium sized organizations can leverage and benefit from enterprise-class technology at a fraction of the cost and resource requirements.

In part four we will review the final phase of workforce management maturity – Innovate.

Absence wreaks havoc on overtime costs – but is hiring more workers the answer?

With all of the advanced labor management systems on the market, it amazes me how overtime costs remain out of control in many industries, but clearly there is a major problem in the public sector…

Just this month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is reported to exceed its overtime budget by $18 million this year. The agency officials claim that employee absence is the direct cause of overtime costs.

Muni needs 1,491 operators to provide the scheduled service and on any given day is down about 300 operators, he said. That leaves management with the choice of missing runs – and angering riders – or using operators on OT at time-and-a-half pay to cover the shifts.

300 operators a day!? Can you imagine if 20% of your workforce was absent every day?

Similarly, in 2008 the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that Hillsborough Area Regional Transit officials cited abuses of family medical leave impacted its budget, when nearly half of their 364 bus drivers asked to take sporadic medical or family leave. The claims ended up costing the agency millions of dollars in overtime.  Managing absence has a clear and costly impact on overtime.

Fortunately the actual amount of overtime per operator is regulated based on DOT restrictions on hours worked, to ensure safety. But while drivers and pilots are limited in the numbers of hours they can work in a week, what about public safety?

Earlier this week, it was also reported that police in Jersey City, NJ earned $6.6 million in overtime pay.

With state and local government budgets continuing to be cut and scrutinized, what is the solution? In the past, overtime costs would justify hiring. Hire more people to reduce the overtime costs. Today, that’s not always the answer.

“It’s more “cost effective” to pay a handful of officers overtime at “sporadic” points throughout the year than to hire new officers who would require health benefits and pensions” – Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey

“Jon Shane, a former Newark police captain who now teaches in the Department of Law and Police Science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Comey is absolutely correct: paying overtime is cheaper than hiring new officers.”

While focused on the manufacturing industry John Frehse, Chief Strategy Officer at Core Practice supports this point in his paper “The Overtime Lie”, stating that strategic use of overtime can be much more cost effective than hiring additional personnel.

Bottom line – there are many labor management strategies that can offset the cost of overtime. Absence management and optimized scheduling are just a few. Once these issues are addressed, more strategic use of overtime practices can be employed.