how to roster staff effectively

How to Roster Staff Effectively | Everything You Need To Know

4 min read ·  

Coming from a background in the ‘front-end’ of workforce management, I have seen first-hand how the decisions made during rostering directly impact a business. A well-designed schedule will allow you to roster staff effectively, offer the best service, keep costs low, stay within the law, and keep your employees happy. But with so many variables at play, optimising your roster is an art form that’s hard to get right.

Before joining Tanda, I was responsible for roster management at several companies of different sizes. What I learnt was that every business has different needs and methods for achieving the end goal. Large organisations often have a highly organised rostering framework with very specific rules and procedures. By comparison, smaller organisations are more likely to rely on manual processes and ‘gut feel’ when compiling a roster. Many organisations operate somewhere in between.

There are a few rostering guidelines that are relevant regardless of your organisation’s size or industry. Ensuring that these are considered when creating your rosters will maximise the outcomes within your business.

1. Run Your Business Efficiently

From an operational perspective, designing a roster to facilitate the best output at the lowest cost is key. In my experience, this involves rostering employees with the right skills at the right time and in the right place. Of course, this is always far more complicated than it seems – balancing operational needs while also being mindful of budget and award constraints, as well as employee engagement.


When you’re drawing up the roster, it always helps to know exactly when your peak demand periods will be. Some organisations will do this manually or by using sales data from their point of sale system and analysing them in a spreadsheet. An even better solution is to use a system that can predict demand based on historical data to roster staff effectively.

Leave Management

A clear policy for leave management sets expectations for both employees and the business. For employees, knowing when they can apply for leave and how long the request will take to be approved allows them to easily plan their holiday time. 

For businesses, making sure too many employees aren’t on leave at the same time or in peak periods is very important. Peak periods should be proactively forecasted, and leave approvals minimised within these times. Typically a ‘first in, first approved’ methodology is adopted to roster staff effectively.


One of the things I noticed at companies with large numbers of staff was that they had consistent and equitable rostering practices for selecting who would be assigned a shift. For example, all employees of the same classification and skill would be given the same amount of hours per week (where possible). This was a great way to roster staff effectively. Consideration was also given to balancing weekend shifts and public holidays across employees. This means that you wouldn’t have a select few workers getting all of the penalty rates. Having this consistency in rostering processes and decisions makes for easier conversations where employees compare and question their rosters.

However, this approach may not be suitable for a smaller business where the manager has a closer relationship with employees and is able to tailor rosters to cater for their individual preferences, skills and performance.


While I followed a consistent set of rules for how the roster was created, it’s important to be flexible with changes to the roster. Employees will inevitably have last-minute commitments, and having clear processes for managing the ‘swapping’ or ‘giving away’ of shifts means these can generally be accommodated. If skills are aligned and there’s no additional cost to the business, this is generally a win-win scenario operationally and for employee work-life balance. Likewise if there is a short-notice change to predicted business demand, the roster should be flexible to add shifts to accommodate the change.

2. Keep Your Employees Happy

Happy employees tend to be more engaged and better performers. If you are able to keep them happy, they’re also less likely to leave, saving you time and resources in recruiting and training new talent. There are some simple tips for rostering that can help achieve this goal.

Work-life Balance

There’s lots of little things you can do to maximise your employee’s work-life balance through rostering. Maximising consecutive days off is a good place to start so that employees can enjoy their time away from work. If your employees work a combination of shifts (e.g., night shift and day shift), try to avoid switching shifts within a work week, even if the legally required shift break is met. Constant changes can cause confusion, increase fatigue, and can become a safety issue in the workplace.

If you have to have employees that work a variety of start times, try rostering them to start early on their last day of the week, and to start late on their first day back – giving them a longer weekend. 

Implementing all of these rostering ideas may not be possible in your workplace, but any consideration for work-life balance when rostering is a great start.

Rotating Shifts

If you have shifts that are within ‘non-standard’ times, sharing the load around is a good idea, however constant jumping around is painful. There are a couple of ways to manage this rostering issue. 

The first way is to have all team members rotate across shifts at set intervals. 

For example, changing who does overnight rosters every month is a good way to keep employees on a consistent pattern for a reasonable period but also share the night shifts over time. You can also take requests from employees for shifts that suit them more, without chopping up their roster every week. This is a simple way to manage the issue and roster staff effectively.

Another approach is to have an ordered shift hierarchy – this usually suits businesses that have set intakes of new employees. The new employees typically start on non-preferred shifts and can graduate onto preferred shifts as they gain experience and confidence.


If you want to roster staff effectively, it’s crucial that staff are actually aware of their shifts. Don’t forget to consider when and how you are making rosters and shift updates available to your employees. The earlier employees receive their roster, the better their ability to schedule plans that will not clash with work. Ideally employees should be able to access their rosters at anytime from anywhere – not be reliant on a paper roster on a wall with manual changes in pen.

3. Don’t Break The Law

It goes without saying, but if you’re looking to roster staff effectively, breaking the law is a bad idea.. Most Australian industrial relations awards have strict requirements about what you can and can’t do when you’re designing your schedule. The Fair Work Ombudsman has been cracking down on businesses it suspects of breaking the rules, launching surprise audits and other compliance action. If you break the law, you could face millions in fines. Aside from making sure you’re not underpaying your employees, there are a couple of common mistakes to avoid:

Time Off Between Shifts

Every contract, Award or Enterprise Bargaining Agreement has a minimum break period between shifts. The time off can vary, but it’s typically around 8-12 hours. If employees work overtime, they’re often entitled to even more of a shift break. Follow these rostering rules closely.


The vast majority of Awards and Agreements stipulate paid break conditions. These can be rest breaks, meal breaks, or even split shifts. You also need to be able to prove that employees took their breaks. A great way to do this is with time and attendance software, where employees clock in and out when they arrive at work, take breaks and finish their shift. These records make proving time and attendance easy.

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