Scheduling Woes: Why Managers Should be Leading with Empathy

No matter the industry, staffing and scheduling can be a point of contention for both managers and staff. Without the assistance of any tools, scheduling staff takes a lot of time and guesswork, and can leave staff dissatisfied if they perceive it to be unfair. Staffing and scheduling can benefit immensely from machine learning, analytics, and automation, but approaching it with empathy is essential if you want improvements that will stick and employees who are motivated and engaged.

Let’s walk through an example of how leading with empathy instead of just looking at data can make all the difference.

The amount of time staff spend on the clock before or after a scheduled shift — referred to as incidental worked time (IWT) in hospitals — is an important metric to monitor. Because there are clinical justifications that cause IWT, such as staying a little later to ensure a smooth shift transition for a high-acuity patient, most provider organizations have a reasonable tolerance level. However, according to research conducted by Avantas, these situations make up about 40% of all IWT occurrences, leaving more than half of them deemed unnecessary and preventable.

What may be surprising to staff and managers is that a few minutes of extra time a staff member spends on the clock can aggregate to hours at the organizational level, potentially meaning thousands of dollars being spent on preventable IWT occurrences each pay period.

A department leader can use analytics to monitor how much IWT is occurring in a particular department and determine if it needs to be reduced. The leader can go to the unit manager and tell him or her their staff needs to be in and out on time, without considering the underlying causes. This type of approach will likely not do anything to lower incidences of IWT.

An empathetic approach would be to talk to staff to determine reasons why their shifts are stretching longer. Maybe one staff member is just innately prompt. To them, being early is on time, and being on time is late. They most likely think they are being professional. With the right education, this scenario can be curtailed.

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Or perhaps another staff member is struggling to get their tasks completed in time because of a new system. The root cause is determined and the manager realizes this staff member just needs additional training and education on the new system. By the manager spending time with their staff and seeing the issue from their perspective, rather than just a metric, it connects staff members to the solution that drives results.

But it’s a fine line between empathy and sympathy. And a detrimental one. Good leaders genuinely care about their team members, making it difficult to see one struggle with change. But responding to an employee’s concerns with sympathy only further leads that person down an unproductive path.

Leaders need to be aware of the power of their words and how they respond to a situation. When attempting to ease an employee’s concern about a workplace issue, affirmative statements made by their leader confirming the employee’s negative thought process communicates the message that he or she is also not in support of the situation, so why should the employee be? Leaders set the tone. Instead, meeting resistance with, “What can I do to help you?” lets employees know their leader is there to support them through the process.

As technology and data continue to drive workforce improvements and offer insights, it’s important to remember that it is people who are an organization’s greatest asset. When considering how to optimize your workforce to improve organizational outcomes, approaching analytics with empathy and compassion will guide the organization to impactful results and keep your staff happy and engaged.

Jackie Larson

Jackie Larson
Jackie Larson is president of Avantas, a provider of workforce management technology, services, and strategies for the healthcare industry.

Jackie Larson

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