Employee engagement has been atop manufacturers’ priority lists for years, and for good reason: More engaged employees are more productive employees. Of course, the value of an efficient workforce is no secret in the manufacturing industry. But how can employers increase employee engagement while also increasing productivity and retaining top talent? Predictive scheduling policies, also known as “Fair Workweek” laws, may be the answer.

Because of their operations’ complex and variable demands, manufacturers have traditionally relied heavily on on-call workers and the ability to change schedules close to shift times in order to meet dynamic production needs. Yet for employees those approaches create frustration, and lead to disengagement. For example, when last-minute scheduling changes occur, employees often are required to work with little advance notice. When this happens often enough, employees are left feeling as though they’re expected to be available to work at all times – a sentiment that can quickly lead to resentment and disengagement.

The same goes for on-call shifts, in situations when employees must call in prior to reporting to work to be told whether they are needed. Working these on-call schedules or receiving a work schedule on short notice can mean that employees’ total work hours fluctuate from week to week, leading to unpredictable pay. In addition, this makes time-management difficult for employees, especially if they work multiple jobs, need to arrange childcare, or are attending school at the same time.

Predictive scheduling laws – aimed at giving employees the ability to accommodate life beyond work and ensure a predictable wage – help reduce those burdens and enable team members to perform at their highest level. To date, states including Connecticut and New York, and cities including Seattle and San Francisco, have passed versions of predictive scheduling laws, and and 13 states and four municipalities are considering similar legislation.

While the laws add a layer of additional complexity for employers, giving employees more advance notice is a win-win. The following tips can help manufacturing companies prepare for predictive scheduling regulations while fostering a culture that boosts both employee engagement and the bottom line:

1. Empower employees for better work/life balance — According to EHS Today, 60% of Americans have a hard time maintaining work/life balance. In fact, 46% say they don’t have time to relax, and 38% say they work too many hours. That level of stress takes a toll on employees. In fact, the World Health Organization now recognizes burnout as an official medical condition, categorized by (among other symptoms) negative feelings toward an individual’s job and reduced professional effectiveness. For employees in the manufacturing industry, it can be difficult to create that much-needed work/life balance when they don’t receive advance notice of their schedules or must live in limbo waiting for direction when they’re on-call.

Allowing employees to share their hours of availability at hire gives managers better insight from day one, helping them to achieve a better balance and helping employers to avoid unexpected surprises. Taking it a step further and allowing employees to easily update their availability at any time, rather than just at the point of hire, enhances communication and scheduling effectiveness. Providing a more predictable and consistent schedule that considers individual preferences helps improve employee engagement and satisfaction because the employee is aware that the schedule takes his/her personal schedule into consideration. Another benefit: happier employees also are more productive employees, as a recent Gallup study shows that highly engaged businesses experience a 20% increase in sales.

2. Help employees plan ahead — While legislation varies by location, a common provision for Fair Workweek laws (including in San Francisco and New York City) is the requirement for employers to provide employees with their schedules at least 14 days in advance. This allows employees to plan commitments in their personal lives without the fear of missing work or the pressure of finding someone to cover their shift.

One of the best ways to avoid last-minute scheduling snafus is to give employees better access and more direct control over setting their schedules. With self-service tools, employees can easily input their own schedule preferences and availability, update it based on life changes, and request needed time-off well in advance. Employees will feel more empowered in their jobs and have more predictability to plan their non-work lives.

Not only does more effective advance planning benefit employees, but employers gearing up for predictive scheduling laws benefit too. With better insight into scheduling needs, employers reduce time-consuming, back-and-forth schedule changes and the risk (and possible fines) associated with having to scramble to find last-minute replacements. What’s more, with advanced access, companies can better compare employee availability to anticipated business capacity to ensure they have the right resources available when needed. 

3. Align with “on-the-go” lifestyles — Many of today’s hourly manufacturing employees aren’t sitting in offices or tied to computers, meaning access to schedules can be limited and communication around needed changes can be lagging. Luckily, there’s a smartphone in nearly every pocket. By providing mobile-friendly scheduling tools, employers can ensure that teams have on-demand access to their schedules when and wherever they need it. With on-the-go access, employees can more quickly view their upcoming schedule, make needed adjustments to their availability, and submit time off requests.

Mobile-friendly tools bring benefits for managers, too, allowing for elements like real-time notifications when changes are submitted by employees, enabling them to review and approve or reject requests quickly, ensuring that scheduling conflicts or challenges are resolved much more efficiently.

With the unemployment rate at an all-time low, employers should be even more motivated to adapt to predictive scheduling practices in order to retain talent. Keeping employees happy and engaged will require employers to publish schedules in advance, adhere to employee availability, and ensure that teams have easy access to information and the ability to adapt as needed. In the end, it’s a win-win, with employees knowing their time is respected, and employers reaping the benefits of engaged and productive teams.

Mike Morini is the CEO of
WorkForce Software, a Cloud-based-based platform used by enterprise and mid-size organizations to digitize time and attendance processes and employee scheduling, and gain strategic business insights.

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