How to Avoid Three Common Staffing and Scheduling Pitfalls

Managing staff scheduling and ensuring open shifts are filled is an ongoing challenge for every healthcare organization. Matching staff with patients in a way that meets patient care needs, minimizes costs and satisfies staff can seem nearly impossible.

In an effort to meet those challenges, many health systems are falling into common staffing and scheduling pitfalls.  However, a new staffing methodology called Collaborative Staffing can help health systems avoid those pitfalls. Collaborative Staffing is ground-up model that empowers employees to be part of the solution in deploying the workforce to ensure optimal patient coverage and minimize labor costs.

Here’s a closer look at three common staffing and scheduling pitfalls and how to avoid them through the use of Collaborative Staffing:

Pitfall 1: Driving the staffing process from the top down, with limited employee involvement.

With a ‘manager-directed’ approach, unit managers and/or a central staffing office are responsible and accountable for creating staffing plans and filling staffing needs. This top-down approach gives nurses and other frontline staff very little input or insight into the staffing process. With limited visibility into the schedule creation process or where there are gaps in staff coverage, the staff can do little to be part of the solution: the weight of staffing and scheduling tasks falls squarely on the shoulders of the managers. But managers’ time would be better spent mentoring staff and focused on strategic initiatives like quality or patient safety, rather than the routine tasks of managing staffing coverage.

Staff know their preferences and availability better than managers. By giving them control over the shifts they pick up, they enjoy better work/life balance and an increased sense of autonomy. That delivers widespread benefits. When nurses feel their work environment is empowering, they are more committed to the organization and report high quality of care in their units.1

As the name implies, Collaborative Staffing is a staff-partnered process that empowers employees by giving them visibility into organizational needs and a voice that enables them to be part of the solution. With the Collaborative Staffing model, staffing and scheduling is a joint effort between managers and staff to fill open shifts in a way that meets patient care needs and takes employee skills and preferences into account.

Pitfall 2: Staffing in silos, with little regard for matching staff with patient needs across the entire enterprise.

When each unit is solely focused on their own staffing needs, there’s not an opportunity to develop a staffing strategy that benefits the entire organization. A lack of transparency across units makes it difficult for available staff in one unit to fill staffing holes in another unit. That means that while a nurse is being sent home for low census in one unit, another nurse who will be going into overtime is getting called in to meet increased staffing needs in another unit.  Even though the nurse going home is fully qualified to fill the open shift and would appreciate working rather than going home, the lack of visibility means the connection is never made. That leads to increased costs and a drop in staff satisfaction.

Collaborative Staffing provides interdepartmental visibility and communication. With full insight into available shifts that they are qualified to work, nurses and other frontline staff can fill staffing holes outside their home unit. Everyone reaps the benefits of this approach with system-wide staff optimization, decreased overtime and premium labor costs, and increased employee engagement.

Pitfall 3: Lack of standardized staffing policies across the entire organization.

Policies regarding overtime, holiday schedules and incentive programs should be consistent across the entire organization. Employees appreciate being treated fairly and equitably, and inconsistent staffing practices can create actual or perceived inequities.

Within the Collaborative Staffing model, transparency drives consistency and fairness. Standardized staffing policies create a level playing field, which can lead to a more unified workforce, all working together to meet the challenges of staffing and scheduling.

For more information about how collaborative staffing can eliminate common staffing and scheduling pitfalls, check out the 20-minute webinar, “Collaborative Staffing: How Open Shift Management Fulfills Needs.”


1Armstrong, Kevin, et al. “Structural Empowerment, Magnet Hospital Characteristics, and Patient Safety Culture.” Journal of Nursing Care Quality. 2005; Vol. 21, No. 2, 124-132.


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