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Connections - 03.31.22

GoodLife U Episode 2: The Problem with Wonky Schedules

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by Staff at GoodLife Innovations, Inc.

In the first episode of our GoodLife U series with Dr. Mike Strouse, we discussed the Direct Support Crisis and talked about how we must tackle improving the stability of staffing in ways that can affordably improve the quality of lives of those persons we serve, improve the lives of those DSPs who make our mission possible, and increase the capacity and sustainability of community service providers. We call these “Win-Win-Win” strategies and if you haven’t watched Episode 1 yet, please do–there’s a lot of good background about how and why we find ourselves facing such challenges.

In our never-ending journey to improve workforce stability, we are using our GoodLife U series to cover a number of win-win-win strategies for:

  • Scheduling
  • Paid Time Off and Benefits
  • Pay
  • Vacancy Management
  • Recruitment & Hiring
  • Case-Mix & Home Stability
  • Neighborhood Staffing
  • Day Services Without Walls
  • Service Enhancements, Training & Professional Supports
  • Improving Workforce Capacity through Technologies
  • Navigating Funding Challenges
  • And more

Episode 2 is all about “wonky” schedules. What are they? How did we get them? And most importantly, what kind of havoc do they cause when it comes to staff stability?

You know “wonky,” right? It’s when something is shaky, unsteady, not exactly balanced or off-kilter. It means we know it’s not working properly. Something is faulty, unreliable or just plain crazy. Similarly, “wonky schedules” are ones that, from a certain point of view, just don’t make sense. And yet somehow, we can perfectly explain how they happened.

In the home- and community-based services industry wonky schedules are at odd hours, have split shifts, provide weird days off or too few days off, encourage unnatural transitions, are overly complicated or unpredictable. The result is too many different people involved in care. 

Unfortunately, this is pretty common. So now we need to ask, how do wonky schedules happen?

It starts with highly dispersed and increasingly small homes, where individualized care decisions are made without regard to competing needs of others in the home. We watch and anticipate needs to ebb and flow at unpredictable times, but this can be exacerbated by difficult case mixes or fragmented services (residential, day, etc.). We also know that across the nation, there is a love affair with traditional five-day work weeks, but for providers of residential services, life doesn’t stop outside the hours of 9 am to 5 pm. The result is a high-reliance on part-time, evening and weekend schedules. Additionally, managers face never-ending pressures to adjust schedules to support “the stayers”–DSPs who will pillage the open/vacant positions, making home schedules even more wonky as they adjust to ever-changing needs within the home.

While the reasons for wonky schedules may be easily explained and even noble (individualized care, small homes, keeping existing staff happy, and more) a wonky schedule actually never delivers these things. Instead, they produce a number of unfortunate results. When schedules are fragmented and are not equal in appeal (some being much more preferred than others) it contributes to schedule migration and pillaging. Wonky Schedules result in too few or unattractive days off for DSPs and a high reliance on part-time labor for residential programs.

As we discussed in Episode 1, it’s no wonder that chronic openings are occurring then at times when there is no management or training support available (during evenings and on the weekends). It’s challenging to find replacement staff when schedules are at odd hours and we see higher call-offs when the schedules are unappealing. When shifts are called off, managers and supervisors have to fill in for very odd shifts at the worst times, which increases burn out and low job-satisfaction.

Wonky schedules also produce latency between when the opening occurs to when HR is clear on which shift is needing to be filled, producing long-term or even unfillable openings. In the end, wonky schedules result in going to the public to hire new employees for the least desirable schedules with the lowest starting wages. Instead of wonky schedules we want:

  1. A heavy reliance on full-time care-providers rather than part-time care, and certainly a lower number of part-time staff working on the weekends or at times where there is less supervision.
  2. Schedules that are equally appealing, either by schedule or compensation.
  3. Zero schedule migration.
  4. Fewer different employees involved in care, resulting in lower cost and better care.
  5. Less transitions in a day, so that there are increased opportunities for individuals served.
  6. Efficiency in covering ratios.
  7. Schedules that are standardized across homes, programs, regions (not to be created by each separate manager).
  8. Schedules that are simple and predictable.
  9. As many days off as possible for DSPs, with flexibility that is compatible with school or other family priorities.
  10. Schedules that best appeal to a varied market. (We call this Mike’s Five-Faucet Theory, more on this soon!)

This is not an impossible list! We can show you how to accomplish this and in Episode 3 we will discuss GoodLife U’s schedule strategies that give us more of what we want. We hope you’ll tune in!

Want the next GoodLife U episode to come straight to your inbox? Sign up for our monthly e-news. You can also listen wherever you get your podcasts, and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel. Interested in connecting with the GoodLife U team to explore how our approaches might specifically benefit your organization? Visit the GoodLife booth at the 2022 ANCOR Annual Conference to sign up, or contact Megan Todd, GoodLife’s Chief Strategy Officer, to set up a personalized meet and greet with our team–we would love to partner with you!