Magazine Article | April 19, 2007

Strategically Schedule Your Employees

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

By linking employee scheduling and time tracking, a grocer simplified store schedule creation and gained labor expense visibility.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, May 2007

Ensuring employees are scheduled to work at the most opportune times to capitalize on their strengths and meet customer demands can increase efficiency in your stores and warehouses. Manually managing schedules in an attempt to achieve efficiency is daunting, if not impossible. By modernizing your workforce management and labor scheduling processes, software can manage all of the details for you — even multifaceted union rules. An 18-store California grocery market experienced this when it improved its scheduling efficiency by installing a labor management system.

The market boasts its safe food handling and spotless stores and requires employees to sustain a high level of service for customers. While most grocers stock their shelves at night, this one intentionally schedules its shelf-stocking tasks during the daytime hours, so that associates are available to assist customers. In fact, the retailer compels employees to walk consumers to the proper aisles when searching for specific merchandise.

Strict Union Rules Become Complicated
The market adheres to strict federal, state, and union agreement labor rules. "Administering employees who are covered under the various union rules is intricate, especially when creating schedules manually," says the retailer's business systems manager. Based on employees' seniority dates, contractual agreements vary; therefore, their rules differ. Union employees fit into different tiers within the union structure. Those in one tier may receive two times their hourly pay rate when working on holidays, whereas others receive their regular holiday pay. It's also more expensive to schedule employees in one tier between 10 p.m. and midnight because those hours are considered premium, while employees in another tier begin premium hours at midnight.

Store managers created all store schedules on paper. Managers used spreadsheets to determine how many associates should be staffed during certain hours. "Our stores used a 25-year-old standalone time-tracking system that collected hours worked and summarized them for each employee and store location," says the business systems manager. "Electronic time clocks collected employee punches, tracking who clocked in and out, and displayed the number of hours worked. However, the system was not linked to the schedule, so we couldn't verify that employees worked their planned hours." Store managers manually compared store schedules to punched time to ensure employees worked according to schedules. Managers also tracked sick and tardy employees manually. Therefore, questionable attendance patterns were easy to overlook.

The market's business systems manager sought a new method of tracking employee time. "We really needed a more robust system that could ensure compliance to union rules for various tiers of employees, one that could link the time worked with scheduled hours, and one that could act as a tool for forecasting and scheduling," he says. "Our goal was not necessarily to reduce labor — we wanted to better utilize employees within our stores and to ensure high levels of customer service. On a larger scale, we wanted to eliminate our mainframe system and replace it with a modern server application." He eventually wants to interface time tracking and scheduling into HR, payroll, and accrual systems.

An internal committee of market employees was formed, which searched for a system that could meet the market's needs. The committee met with four vendors and selected Kronos for Retail, which is a suite of components that targets workforce management processes. The grocery market implemented time and attendance, forecasting and scheduling, and absence management modules. Additionally, the Kronos 4500 time clocks were installed in all store locations, its DC, and corporate offices.

Customizable Rules Enable More Visibility, Control
The deployment of the Kronos hardware and software began in February 2006. It progressed from one store a week to the DC, then the corporate offices. All union rules were entered into the Kronos system. It tracks union rules at the employee and tier level. "We have the ability to change the rule sets as labor contracts change," states the market's business systems manager. "There is no need to rely on Kronos to make those changes every few years [some contracts are renegotiated every two years, while others are every three years], and we can modify the system as different requirements arise." Additionally, adjustments like daylight savings time hours are configured automatically within the Kronos software. The market also has the ability to change daily work hours at the employee level. For example, for DC employees, the work week begins at 4 p.m. on Sunday, whereas store employees' work weeks begin at 12 a.m. Monday morning.  

Store schedules are created using the software, which enables store managers to cost out each planned schedule based on employees' pay and union contract agreements. As employees use the time clocks to swipe their badges, all hours are stored within the Kronos software and automatically exported into the market's payroll system to ensure proper payment. "The Kronos system helps us achieve our long-term goals of eliminating the mainframe and controlling employee management," says the business systems manager. "It provided visibility into areas where we could improve coverage and customer service. Without this system, that was difficult to do. We are also better positioned to guarantee fairness in tracking employee absences. We can produce accurate reports that ensure integrity in work and absenteeism rule discussions."   

The grocery market intends to grow with the solution and add components, such as HR and payroll modules. The system also will be modified as store supervisors and managers define goals. Kronos helps store management maintain labor budgets and make certain customer service levels are maintained.

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