5 Strategies for Employee Availability Forms

As a manager, scheduling employee shifts is likely one of your most tedious and time-consuming tasks. That’s where employee availability forms come into the picture. These forms are a vital asset for any business employing shift workers. Considering how time-intensive planning employee work schedules are, the clear and concise format of employee availability forms brings more structure, reducing shift scheduling headaches.

1. Understand What Employee Availability Forms Are And Why They’re Important

An employee availability form is kind of self-explanatory—it’s a form where employees can list the days and hours they’re available to work, as well as the days and hours they absolutely cannot work.

Think of it as a document containing basic information about each employee, along with their contact details, to make the process of scheduling shifts straightforward and headache-free.

Employee availability forms help simplify and streamline your team’s schedule. Without it, staff scheduling can be messy and time-consuming, with constant back and forth between multiple employees to check their availability and constant reviewing of schedules.

Moreover, certain shifts require employees with specific skills and character traits. If you don’t assign the right person for these jobs because of availability issues, your customers may leave unsatisfied, and your business will suffer. 

Let me explain—suppose you run a restaurant and have created the perfect schedule to handle a rush hour at lunchtime with efficient and personal employees. Now, if one or two of these employees don’t turn up because of availability issues, that shift will go from smooth and easy to stressful and overworked, which can hurt your customer experience that day and potentially your restaurant’s reputation.

Implementing up-to-date and accurate employee availability forms can prevent staff unavailability and poor service issues. You’ll know who can work when and accordingly create schedules that strike the right balance between your business requirements and your employees’ availability.

Employee availability forms also ensure fair distribution of workload and identify and handle disgruntled or problematic employees before they plummet team productivity and your business as a whole.

For instance, you can regularly monitor changes in your employee’s availability over time to spot trends that may indicate a team member isn’t giving the required number of hours at work or is unhappy in their job. Thereafter, you can focus on improving the situation through performance reviews and on-the-job training.

2. Make Sure Your Forms Include All The Necessary Information

Here’s a list of the different fields an employee availability form should include:

Employee Contact Information

The document should have a field where employees can add their names, phone numbers, and email addresses so that you can contact them easily and quickly if you have any questions. You can also have them include their addresses if needed.

Instructions

Add a set of clear but brief instructions on your employee availability forms so that everyone knows how to fill them. Keep your language simple, and include specific words (for example, available, and available, no restrictions) where necessary. 

Additionally, if your business opens in the morning and shuts down at night, ask employees to mention AM and PM when writing the timings to avoid any confusion about when they are available to work.

Availability

For the availability field, make sure you leave plenty of room on the form so employees can indicate when they are available to work clearly. I recommend formatting the section as a checklist they can mark, a table they can color in, or blanks they can fill with numbers.

Choose a simple and intuitive format that lets employees fill out their availability as quickly as possible. 

Signatures and Dates

To make the employee availability form official, put down your and your employee’s signatures, along with the date, at the bottom.

This will act as a verification seal where the employees accept they will be available to work during the stated days and times. Your signature shows you also agree with their availability and will take the same into account when creating the next work schedule.

Future Adjustments

Although not necessary, consider leaving space for future adjustments. 

If any employee anticipates a change to their schedule, they can simply list it with their availability the first time through so they don’t have to fill out a new form.

3. Know When To Have Your Employees Fill Out Availability Forms

Ideally, your employee policies should have employee availability guidelines included in them. For this, you need to know and observe your employees.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when having employees fill out availability forms:

  • Listen to employee reviews. Discuss availability changes or issues with your employees. If you find people are unhappy with their current schedules, have them fill out a new form, so you know their updated availability in mind when making the next work schedule.
  • Keep an eye out for repetitive shift conflicts or changes. If you find employees frequently swapping shifts or are unavailable or late during specific time slots, revisit employee availability before taking any severe action. Their availability may have changed, which is normal. Don’t risk losing a good employee because of a stringent approach.
  • Keep school/college schedules in mind. If you have high school or college students working for you, have them fill out employee availability forms at the end of each semester or quarter. Class schedules can change, and so will their availability. Also, consider sports season or extracurricular schedules, as even they can affect availability. 
  • Factor in any sudden business changes. Most managers don’t realize this, but shifts could change as a result of certain business changes. For instance, you may need more availability for some shifts and accordingly have to find employees ready to take that on. This can include the holiday season or special sales events—even a change in management or store hours affects availability.

4. Create As Comprehensive A Form As Possible

At this stage, you’re probably asking how to create a comprehensive employee availability form to simplify work schedules. Here’s a quick rundown of the five steps to creating this document:

Step 1: Sort Out Employee Details

The first element of an employee availability form is listing general information about your employees. These include:

  • Employees name
  • Current position
  • Department
  • Contact information
  • Type of employment (full-time, part-time, freelancer)

You can also use a checkbox system to identify whether the form has been submitted for the first time or is being resubmitted to reflect changes in the employee’s availability. This is a handy feature to keep track of your employee’s documents.

Step 2: Create a Table to Reflect Different Availability Types

Employee availability needs context for everyone to be on the same page. That’s exactly why you should give your staff different availability scheduling options. For example, available, preferred, on-call, and unavailable. 

  • Available means the employee has no prior commitments and can come to work that day and between those times.
  • Preferred means the employee wants to be scheduled during that time.
  • On-call indicates the employee technically isn’t on shift but can be scheduled or called in if needed.
  • Unavailable signifies the employee is unable to come to work during that time slot.

Step 3: Add space for extra comments or notes

As mentioned, it’s always smart to leave extra space for additional notes, adjustments, and further explanations in the employee availability form. 

Your employees may have urgent reasons for requesting a specific change in their preferred shift choices, and as a fair manager, you should accommodate their requests whenever possible. Also, a common/note section can help you make the right decisions when assigning shifts.

Step 4: Sign the Employee Availability Form

The bottom of the form should have some space for both your and the employee‘s signatures, along with a date section. 

You and the employee should sign and date the form. This way, both parties will get into the habit of formally requesting schedule changes, which in turn will make work schedules more manageable.

Step 5: Distribute the Employee Availability Forms to Your Employees

Distribute the availability form to each employee, and have them fill it out either digitally or manually. 

Consider setting rules and limitations regarding these forms to avoid unnecessary changes in the schedule or form wastage. For example, you can set a rule telling an employee the original form can be changed only X number of times or only when absolutely necessary.

Once employees are done, collect these forms and store them safely for future use.

Step 6 (optional): Use templates

Screenshot of Typeform's employee availability form template download page.
Save time with ready-made employee availability form templates, like this one from Typeform.

Don’t want to make employee availability forms from scratch? Don’t worry, here are three fillable employee availability form templates you can steal:

5. Plan Ahead For Scheduling Employees Outside Their Stated Availability

When work schedules get hard, it can be tempting to drop an employee‘s name in the time slot, even when it’s outside their listed availability. 

But this is absolutely the wrong approach. 

Never schedule an employee without knowing if they can work the shift. Instead, use these tips to check in with employees and ask them to change their availability without offending them:

Target the Right Workers

Not everyone will be able to take shifts suddenly, especially parents or students. For workers like these to come to work on unscheduled days, they’ll have to rearrange these other areas of their lives, which can be a nightmare for them—especially on short notice.  

Understand which employees are likely to be able to take an unscheduled shift, and ask those people first. And even though they may be more available than some of their co-workers, make sure you check in with them as far ahead as possible so they can make the necessary arrangements to come in an extra shift.  

Be Honest

When asking employees to come to work on an off day, be honest and explain why. Let them know exactly what happened, whether it’s an urgent problem that needs to be fixed, a deadline that needs to be met, or simply an extra-busy day where having one more employee will make the difference between good and bad customer experiences. 

Remember, don’t make the employees feel like they have to say yes. Explain to them why you need them and why you chose them to help, and let them decide whether they want to work. They’ll likely agree to come themselves if they can—and even if they can’t, they’ll appreciate how you handled the situation and may be more likely to agree to help in the future. 

Offer Incentives

Think about what incentives you can offer employees when scheduling them outside their listed availability. 

For example, you can give them another day off from their scheduled days. Offering complimentary food and beverages, bonuses, and casual attire are other effective perks. I’ve even heard of managers offering to buy a worker a cake if they were willing to work a shift on their birthday! 

Final Thoughts About Employee Availability Forms

Introducing employee availability forms and policies to keep revisiting them makes it easier to stay on top of effective work scheduling. While it doesn’t guarantee employees will always be available on the stated dates, you certainly won’t have to deal with them straying too far, reducing last-minute changes. 

Here are other guides worth checking out to easily and effectively manage your employees:

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