ShiftWizard blog

How to make nurse self-scheduling a win for everyone

August 4, 2023
August 4, 2023

Employee self-scheduling is a valuable tool for improving work-life balance and enhancing job satisfaction for nurses, and it frees up time for managers to do other tasks besides scheduling. Therefore, leadership should prioritize it as part of their workforce environment.

The task of coordinating nurses’ shifts can be daunting and difficult for management. There is a constant need to strike a balance between being flexible enough to meet the needs of nurses and ensuring adequate staff to provide quality patient care. One of the more challenging aspects of scheduling shifts is when nurses call out unexpectedly, and managers have to find a replacement at the last minute. When this happens repeatedly, it results in an understaffed and overburdened unit, which compromises the care of patients. This is one scenario of poor staffing conditions that nurses want to avoid because it can lead to burnout.

Nurses want the ability to manage both their professional responsibilities and personal commitments effectively. They value having predictability and flexibility with their schedule that self-scheduling can provide. The process of self-scheduling also gives an employee the autonomy to choose their schedule as well as allows more time for a manager to complete other tasks. Healthcare facilities have an opportunity to attract nurses by implementing good employment practices such as self-scheduling, thereby boosting engagement and retention.

Healthy work environments are essential for nurses to provide the best care to their patients, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Results from an October 2021 online survey that they conducted among more than 9,300 registered nurses showed that the health of nurse work environments has actually declined dramatically since a similar study they performed in 2018. They noted that appropriate staffing was the most concerning aspect of their findings on work environments.

The rating on their Critical Elements of a Healthy Work Environment scale item on staffing — “RN staffing ensures the effective match between patient needs and nurse competencies” — was the lowest rated of all items on the scale. Other items measured on the scale included communication and collaboration, meaningful recognition, effective decision-making, authentic leadership, and physical and psychological safety. Their data also revealed a dramatic decline from the 2018 study in how nurses rated the quality of care in their organizations and units.

“It is time for bold, intentional, and relentless efforts to create and sustain healthy work environments that foster excellence in patient care and optimal outcomes for patients, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team,” the AACN wrote in its conclusion statement. “The future of the health care system and the patients whose lives are at stake depend on it.”


Strategies to make self-scheduling work

Self-scheduling can make the hospital work environment more accommodating for nurses. To make it a success, the hospital’s leadership team should have a plan to implement and maintain its self-scheduling system. Research indicates that factors associated with the successful implementation of self-scheduling include participative management, staff education prior to implementation, a committee structure to review the schedule, and clear scheduling guidelines.

Certain key components will ensure buy-in and support from staff when self-scheduling programs are developed. For example, features of a self-scheduling system that are desirable by nurses include the ability to swap shifts, request time off, and opt-in for extra shifts. 

When developing self-scheduling guidelines, there are also aspects of the work environment to consider: staffing needs and patient care requirements of the facility as well as the preferences and availability of the staff. Balancing these factors will ensure that the system is equitable, flexible, and meets the needs of everyone.


Benefits of self-scheduling

Self-scheduling is not a new concept to nursing, but it is an attractive model because of the healthcare industry’s urgent need to reduce clinician burnout, improve the mental well-being of its workers, and increase employee retention.

There are many benefits to self-scheduling for both the employee and the employer. Nurse leaders should consider these when providing bedside nurses with reasons to embrace self-scheduling:

  • Better balance exists between work and personal life.
  • Employees have control and influence over their schedules.
  • Employee satisfaction is higher.
  • A planner needs less time to complete a schedule.

Nurses perceive that self-scheduling allows them the ability to provide better patient care.

In addition, the planning and implementation of self-scheduling encourages consensus and collaboration among staff.


How to avoid challenges with self-scheduling

While self-scheduling offers many benefits, it also comes with potential challenges if the system is not effectively managed. For example, without proper communication and rules in place, there could be conflicts over preferred shifts or disparities in the distribution of weekend or holiday shifts. Guidelines must be implemented, followed, and maintained. Overzealous clinicians might overcommit to working too many shifts while others may not work enough shifts, leading to periods of understaffing and possible staff burnout.

These challenges can be mitigated by proactively establishing rules and effectively using technology. Digital platforms like ShiftWizard™ by HealthStream®,  can provide real-time visibility of available shifts and fair distribution of work hours. The ShiftWizard software can also facilitate easy communication, preventing misunderstandings and conflicts. With customizable, rules-based scheduling options, 24/7 calendar access, and analytics and forecasting, this innovative scheduling solution is made to help simplify scheduling and improve patient care.

When done well, self-scheduling can be a strategic asset to a facility, improving employee satisfaction, increasing productivity, and reducing absenteeism.


CLICK HERE to learn how ShiftWizard by HealthStream, can help improve your nurses’ work environment by enhancing your scheduling capabilities.