What is self scheduling in Nursing?
By T. Nadeau RN

What is self scheduling?

According to our text Nursing Management in Canada it is as follows: A process in which staff on a unit collectively develop and implement the work schedule.

Self scheduling is rarely used even though many benefits have been expressed by staff that use this type of scheduling. Rotations and shift work is one of the major frustrations nurses have with their jobs. Since most units are open 24 hours per day this requires staff to often have to work days , evenings , nights or combinations . Having flexible staffing may decrease the amount of childcare needed or allow for appointments and school functions if nurses have small children. As nurses age, this flexibility also allows for the caring of aging parents as well. These small differences really matter to people and increase their job satisfaction.

The goals of self scheduling as follows:
1) Self scheduling increases staff autonomy through control over their own schedules.
2) Self scheduling promotes staff retention by providing flexibility
3) Self scheduling decreases staff absenteeism.
4) Self scheduling also supports team development through a heightened
sense of accountability to one another as negotiations amongst staff takes place.

In order to have self scheduling work, all the staff and management must be in agreement and realize that it may take several months for it to flow smoothly. The guidelines must be established and followed by all concerned. The framework must be agreeable with management, staff and union compliant.

Several sources suggest that self scheduling be implemented and tried for at least 6 months prior to evaluation. The unit manager may find herself having to guide and direct the staff for awhile until they really feel comfortable with the process ( usually about 3 months ).

Many of the nurses working a self schedule find that they are happier at work and the moral is better. They find that the communication amongst themselves has also improved and if conflict arises they need to find appropriate approaches to dealing with it.

Self scheduling allows staff to work a particular shift on a regular basis ie some staff prefer permanent nights rather than flipping from days to evenings or days to nights.

Why is self scheduling not used much? Self scheduling must be agreed upon by all parties involved in order to work. The manager must realize that for the first few months she will have to be actively involved in helping staff organize the schedule. It is advisable to have an expert staff member to use as a resource person to help the staff get comfortable.

Many unit managers that had done the staffing manually in the past had to deal with staff potentially badgering them about shifts they wanted off . Before computer programs the shifts were posted on paper and whoever filled out the form first got the shift. Many staff felt this was unfair and may have felt the manager played favorities at times.

In recent years the use of computerized staffing has drastically reduced the time spent by the manager in organizing self scheduling rotations. There are many software programs that are specific to self scheduling and reject requests that are not compliant. Some programs even keep track of how often a specific employee asks for a particular request in order to keep it fair. The programs allow all staff equal opportunity to sign up for the shifts.

At Good Hope Hospital in West Midlands the nurses type in the hours they want to work and the computer program (RosterPro) decides if it is a fair work pattern. The requests are usually granted, about 1/10 find they cannot work their chosen shifts.

By implementing this program the staff turnover has decreased from 14.4 to 9.3 %, absentee rates have dropped from 6 to 5 % since 2002. The units not using this system are averaging 6.2%.

The management that implemented this program find they have seen improvements not only in work relationships but also in computer literacy as well. v From the scenario, this unit had a turnover of 63% in the past year. There were probably many factors that were making people dissatisfied. The change from team to primary care nursing without the support of the staff may be one of the reasons for discontentment. If self scheduling is to work in this case the unit manager must get the input of the staff and not force it upon them.

United Nurses of Alberta

Here are some guidelines according to the collective agreement ( article 7 ): 1) Managers must have schedules posted 12 weeks in advance. 2) Days, evenings or nights are available 3) Permanent evenings or nights are available if requested by employee 4) Day /evening combinations 5) Day/ night combinations 6) Where possible there should be at least 47.75 hours off duty between a night to day shift change. 7) Employees shall be assigned day duty at least 50% of the time during the shift cycle. 8) No more than six consecutive days of work should be assigned with at least 2 consecutive days of rest. 9) One weekend in each four week period shall be an extended weekend. 10) Employees shall not work more than 2 consecutive weekends. 11) No employee shall be requested to work more than 16 hours in a 24 hour period.

References: Nursing Management in Canada, second edition by Judith M. Hibberd and Donna Lynn Smith p 424- 426.

Journal Article: Staff Take Less Sick Leave with Flexible Work System by Christian Duffin. ( Nursing Standard 18 (33):7 April 28 May 4, 2004 )

Flexible Rota, Happy Staff by Emme Brandon. ( Nursing Standard 17 (38) 22 3 June 4-10, 2003

Self Scheduling For Nursing Staff by Germaine M. Dechant (AARN May 4, 1990)

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