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Secrets to Successful Open Shift Management in Senior Care

July 14, 2016 | Mike Pumphrey

successful-open-shift-mgmt-senior-care.jpgDo you ever go to your refrigerator at dinner time to see what food you have available to create a meal? And once you take a look there just doesn’t seem to be anything there--and so you order takeout? Or maybe you head to the grocery store to buy more food. I know this happens to me from time to time. Even though there is food in the fridge or pantry, I don’t seem to be able to create a meal from the resources available--but perhaps with a little creativity or better planning, I could.

A similar phenomenon often occurs in senior care scheduling. If there are gaps in your schedule, it may seem like there is no solution but to look outside your organization for more resources. That could mean using agency workers or even hiring new employees to fill those gaps. You may also resort to calling-in staff that is at risk for going into overtime.

None of these options are the best way to use your staffing resources. So how do you optimize your workforce and make the best staffing decisions possible? Here are two important steps to take in order to successfully manage open shifts.

  1. Leverage internal resources. Just like ordering takeout for dinner rather than using food you already have is an expensive habit, using agency workers is costly and inefficient. It is also costly to hire new employees, especially when it may not be necessary. Many providers are not scheduling internal staff to maximize their available hours. It might take some work, but reviewing the schedules of all senior care staff to make sure they are actually working to their availability pays off.

This will help in a couple of ways. Employees that are hired as full-time have the expectation to work those hours, so if they are not being scheduled to a full-time workload you are creating more work for yourself. Not only are you creating unnecessary open shifts but you are probably paying a premium to fill those shifts through unnecessary overtime or agency use. Plus, you are paying for their benefits when they aren’t actually working a full time schedule. 

Conversely staff that was hired as part-time may be scheduled as a full-time employee. While some employees may appreciate the extra hours, others may be disgruntled that their hours are much higher than expected. Additionally, any employees working full-time hours must be provided benefits according to the Affordable Care Act. To ensure that your community remains in compliance with ACA regulations, leverage tools that can help you track hours of part-time employees and alert you before they enter full time status

When staff hours are being maximized, you may find you have fewer gaps than you thought. As a result, you can reduce your reliance on agency workers and have fewer open shifts to cover in general. 

  1. Engage staff in open shift management. If you address your senior care staffing utilization and still have some shifts to cover, what is the best way to fill those? Get your staff involved. Allow staff the opportunity to volunteer to cover shifts--but do it fairly. 

Often, schedulers will have their list of “go-to” employees that they know are always willing to pick-up shifts. This can create the feeling that there is some inequity in the way open shifts are given out. Offer open shifts to all qualified staff (but try to weed out those who are at risk for going into overtime). 

It can be challenging and time-consuming to manage open shifts, so one suggestion is to utilize technology to automate the process. Adopt tools that provide visibility to your staff of open shift opportunities so that they can proactively request additional shifts and if needed allow you to contact a desired group of employees at once using text message, or whatever communication method they prefer. This is really helpful for filling those dreaded call-offs as well. 

Staff will appreciate having more control over their own schedule and giving them a voice may mean you have better response to your requests to fill shifts. Staff will feel more valued and engaged when open shifts are filled in a fair, transparent way. 

The bottom line is this—take another look in the refrigerator. You probably have most of what you need to cook up a great schedule for your community.

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About Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey is Vice President of Product Marketing at OnShift. His expertise in staffing and labor management strategies in long-term care and senior living is foundational to his role leading OnShift’s Product Marketing team. Mike works hand-in-hand with state and national associations, senior care providers, and with OnShift’s Customer Success and Product teams to create impactful best practices aimed to help solve the daily workforce challenges in senior care. Mike shares insights, research and recommendations to improve clinical, operational, and financial outcomes through regular blog posts and conference speaking engagements.

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