Sowing the Seeds of Mutiny – The Lunacy of Just-In-Time Scheduling

Acrobatic Employee

Every company wants to run a tight ship because it is important to make efficient use of resources and to schedule employees work hours to make sure that customers get the very best experience. 

But this mindset can go too far and begin to sink that tightly run ship…

Far too many organizations are pursuing this goal at the expense of their employees by employing a tactic called “resource optimization” or “just-in time scheduling.”

Just-in-Time, Out-of-Touch

Just in Time Scheduling , widely used in the service industry, results in last-minute schedule changes with employers even sending workers home after they arrive for work or asking them to stay beyond the end of their shift.

This practice is ridiculous, really.

Time and time again, managers and corporate planners put policies in place that are meant to boost numbers or cut down on overhead, but actually work much better to anger and alienate their employees.

Retail companies (Whole Foods and Container Store, among others) are notorious for this, rotating their employees’ schedules to meet customer demand, and inadvertently disrupting their personal lives in the process.

The flexing schedule is meant to keep costs down and provide improved service for customers, but instead creates resentment among workers who can’t plan other responsibilities around an unpredictable schedule.

Bad for Business

Employee MutinyIt sounds great in a corporate board to utilize employees or resources only when they are needed. That is not to say employee scheduling should not be managed or maybe even automated – that would be naive.

But scheduling employees to open the store one day and close the store the very next day is not only bad for them, but also bad for business.  Employees who don’t feel like they have some control over their time can leave work feeling left out, in the dark, and like they have no control of their lives outside of work.

If employees feel like they are getting the runaround from management, or that their interests are secondary to profit, the only outcome is reduced job satisfaction and plummeting morale.

If the ship metaphor holds, these are grounds for mutiny.

Righting the Ship

Little by little, managers and corporate policy-makers are starting to understand the importance of happy, engaged employees – according to Vineet Nair in his recent book Employees Come First, Customer Come Second:

“If you do not put the employee first – if the business of management and managers is not to put the employee first – there is no way you can get the customer first.”

Plenty of companies are still out there making decisions based on dollar signs instead of their employees’ best interests. If only they understood that if they put their staff members first, necessities like efficiency, teamwork, and great customer service improve naturally!

Until companies realize that personally invested, contented employees are their greatest asset, there will continue to be this kind of poor decision making that keeps workers and managers at odds, hurting the productivity of the business at every level and sowing the seeds of mutiny.

What good is a captain without the support of his crew?

So, how are you managing the scheduling for your employees that works best for everyone involved? How can you work to keep the right balance of employee engagement with profitably and productivity and avoid a mutiny? How close are YOU to irritating your people to where they make YOU “walk the plank?” I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Anil Saxena
Anil Saxena is a President & Senior Consultant Cube 214 Consulting
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | (847) 212-0701

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7 responses to “Sowing the Seeds of Mutiny – The Lunacy of Just-In-Time Scheduling

  1. I see some people that I know living these kinds of scenarios often, especially now that the holidays are here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to these acquaintances about various management ‘flaws’ and oversights, including scheduling, and how I would run the store if I were in charge. If I were to write a post capturing my thoughts, it would read very similar to this. Great post!


  2. Dale – Thanks so much for the kind words. It is concerning that organizations use this tactic. It undermines both employees and customers in the long run.


  3. You are right on, Anil. Happy, engaged employees create loyal customers. Period! Rather than trying to force the schedule, retail owners/managers would serve their customers better by some of these things:
    * Tracking customer traffic carefully, so as to be able to predict peak hours. Of course, factoring in sales or special promotions is important.
    * Hiring “permanent part-time” people to work to supplement staff during the peak hours.
    * Asking for volunteers in advance. If there is a perceived need for people to leave early on some days, or come in on short notice, ask in advance who wants to be on “the list” for these opportunities. This requires, however, that management be willing to let people say “no” sometimes.
    * (This may be the most important idea) Explain the problem to employees and let them come up with a solution.

    Thanks for the post.


  4. If “just in time” is the excuse they are giving for poor planning then they don’t understand the concept – it is never meant to be applied to people. It’s about linking inventory to supply and demand. Another example of applying “management” techniques to people instead of resources. Manage resources – Lead people! And good leaders never screw over their people!


  5. The retired store manager, who was working when the new policies went into effect, said pay grades and caps made the compensation system more transparent and fair for all employees by denying store managers of the opportunity to reward their favorites with higher wages while shortchanging those meriting more. But the new system also produced another effect, according to some Walmart workers: Those who previously made higher wages quickly became targets for elimination and replacement by lower-wage workers.


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