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The nurse problem (and what that has to do with scheduling employees)

Sep 09 John Webster scheduling


Historic photograph of nurses learning to take care of a childNow I don’t want to get myself into trouble with anyone (especially because my wife is a nurse) but it has to be said, there’s a nurse problem. In fact there’s a problem with lots of jobs that work rotating shifts, not just nurses. Facilities management, logistics  emergency and healthcare services all need to manage 24 hour rosters.

Changes to trading hours have also made this an issue in the retail and hospitality space where there is an expectation provide service for longer hours. Lots of businesses simply can’t cover the hours with one person and managing this is a pain and a distraction from the actual business.

As anyone who regularly builds schedules will tell you, there is a science and an art to creating a good roster. We'll discuss why you need both and how Shiftiez can help set you up for hassle free rostering that saves time and works for staff too. 


The Science

The challenge of scheduling rosters en masse was first attempted in the 1950’s. Scientists and mathematicians have, in the intervening years proposed any number of approaches to solving what is known as the Nurse Scheduling Problem (or NSP to its friends). A quick Google search on scholarly articles returned over 110,000 links (phew!).

NSP theory frames scheduling as the process of managing two types of constraints. 

Hard constraints stop your business from functioning or stop someone working. Examples might include having at least one Registered Nurse on a shift or EBA rules around working hours and rostered time off.  

Soft constraints are all the other stuff including people’s preferences for shifts, requests for changes, holiday leave and shift swaps for example.

NSP wants to solve all the hard constraints and place a weighting on the soft constraints to come up with a schedule that works. But how do you tell a formula which constraints are more important?

The Art

Balancing rocks
So with over 50 years of constant study into scheduling you’d think that there would be a clear-cut way to rank soft constraints, right? As anyone who regularly builds schedules will tell you, the reality is that soft constraints make scheduling as much of an art as it is a science. And it turns out those same studies show plenty of places still have one person stuck with the unenviable task of keeping everyone happy or they try and avoid it altogether.

We've met lots of people passionate about building a great roster who try to be fair. Scheduling everyone to work their share of weekends and spread around the opportunity for extra work. But it's hard to pass on that knowledge, and often when you make a change at one end of the schedule it upsets everything else that was already planned.

The CoRoster Way

CoRoster builds using a hybrid approach to scheduling, part science and part art. We create shifts and schedule people into them using constraints (we call them "boundaries"). That takes care of the roster framework and make sure you don't allocate people outside of Enterprise Bargain Agreements (EBA's) or any legislative requirements.

Meanwhile, staff use their phones to co-plan availability listing times they are available for shifts and Shiftiez uses these preferences to build an equitable roster. The great thing about co-planning is the administrators save time tracking all the individual changes people make about shift preferences, yet everyone's needs are still recorded and taken into account.

Administrators can make final adjustments to a suggested roster and with a final check against boundaries, it's sent out to staff via phone app and the web. 


Making a schedule doesn't have to be time-consuming or difficult. CoRoster is the app for scheduling employees. It takes care of everyone's needs, builds the roster and sends it out to everyone. For more information visit our website or contact us for more information

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John Webster

Written by John Webster

John is the Founder and CEO of CoRoster. With a background in running IT teams, he founded CoRoster to look for ways to improve people's work/life balance through technology.