9 Signs Your Spreadsheet (and maybe your administrator) Has Reached the Breaking Point for Staff Scheduling

By Kristi Rinehart, BS & Matt Swanson, Director of Operations, BS, MLS(ASCP), CLSSBB

March 14, 2019

If you are using a spreadsheet to manage staff schedules in the laboratory, pharmacy, nursing or other departments, it may be time to examine whether it has exceeded its ability to help you.

A spreadsheet is a software solution that does a good job at organizing certain types of data and doing calculations but does not handle the complexity of many scheduling environments. A spreadsheet is definitely an upgrade from paper, no question. However, the staff administrator must still:

Does your current work operations have a tremendous amount of complexity? If not, then the fact that you or your administrator maintains issues from a spreadsheet may not have that big of an impact on your organization’s overall productivity. But if your environment is quite complex, you may not realize there are hidden costs associated with how you currently schedule, and it may be time to consider another approach.

So how can you tell if your spreadsheet has reached the breaking point? Take our quick self-assessment and see how your spreadsheet is holding up. If your environment has even a few of these nine signs, we recommend you re-evaluate your approach:

  1. Your staff headcount (regular and per diem combined) exceeds 20 employees. The more staff you must schedule, the more complex your schedule becomes.

  2. Your staff needs to be cross-trained in multiple job areas so they can be assigned to those various areas as required. Trying to build cross-training and rotations through specific job assignments into the schedule can bring your spreadsheet to its knees.

  3. You need to schedule employees across multiple locations or sites. Many schedule administrators can handle their scheduling needs with a spreadsheet when they can supplement their awareness of scheduling issues with a quick visual check of their environment. But when scheduling must happen across multiple locations, it’s harder to keep a pulse on the issues.

  4. You have to manage a varied weekend rotation schedule. Scheduling can be extremely challenging in a spreadsheet if you must keep track of different intervals of time in which your staff rotates through the weekend shifts, and there are linkages to various job assignments on the weekends.

  5. More than 25% of your schedules require staff with particular competencies. In many medical settings, specific jobs require staff with particular skills or competencies. It can be overwhelming keeping track of these job/staff combinations while filling open shifts with the right staff.

  6. You experience more than 10 changes/week to your schedule. The more dynamic your schedule is, the greater the strain on your spreadsheet scheduling system.

  7. You get more than 10 PTO requests and sick leave combined per month. Leave requests are a reality in every staffing environment. The more of these you have, the harder it can be to keep a stable schedule.

  8. You need to link your staff to other variables in your schedule (such as physicians). Some environments not only have job competency requirements, but there can also be staff dependencies where certain employees must be available when others are working. This scheduling challenge puts any spreadsheet and administrator to the test.

  9. Your manager spends more than 20% of his/her time managing the schedule. Here’s a final tell-tale sign. How productive is your manager? If he or she is spending more than 20% of his or her time handling the schedule, it may really be time to ask the question: is there a better way, and is this the best and highest use of your manager’s time?

We have found that many departments inside hospitals along with diagnostic laboratories and pharmacies continue to use a spreadsheet over generic scheduling systems simply because these systems have not been able to automate the complexities of their environment.

Sticking with a generic spreadsheet solution coupled with the expertise these staff administrators have accumulated in their heads over the years has seemed like a better route than adopting a generic automated scheduling solution that doesn’t completely solve specific scheduling challenges.

However, department and facility decision-makers are willing to give up their spreadsheets under certain circumstances, primarily when they discover a solution that has taken their needs into account. When they find a solution like StaffReady that can actually handle the complexities outlined above and is architecturally designed to handle the complex, competency-based scheduling found in medical settings, they are more than willing to make the switch!


Are you going to the CLMA KnowledgeLab Exhibition on March 31 - April 3?  We'll be there!  Please stop by and visit with us at Booth #415.  We can show you how our solutions can drive higher quality and lessen your workload.  

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Kristi Rinehart, BS

Kristi Rinehart is a graduate of Stanford University and works for a Spokane marketing agency as Director of Client Services and Operations. Kristi has provided StaffReady marketing and industry-specific content. She has over 20 years of diverse marketing experience.  She has lived in the Inland Northwest for over 25 years. Find Kristi on LinkedIn.

Matt Swanson, Director of Operations, BS, MLS(ASCP), CLSSBB

Matt Swanson is the Director of Operations at StaffReady. He came to StaffReady with 29 years of experience in the clinical laboratory, with roles varying from Bench Tech to Operations Management to Consultant to Business Intelligence Analyst.  He became a Certified Lean Six-Sigma Black Belt in 2017. Find Matt on LinkedIn.