The Nurse Scheduling Problem and What to Do About It

The Nurse Scheduling Problem and What to Do About It

One of the many struggles that go along with managing a nursing staff is the dreaded nurse scheduling problem. As a nurse manager, you have a lot of positions to fill at any given time, all the while juggling the concerns and demands of your administrator and your staff members. Creating the schedule week after week can be a major headache and some people are bound to be disappointed. While meeting the demands of the facility is your number-one priority, you can’t overextend your workers and push their concerns to the side. Learn more about the nurse scheduling problem and what’s being done to solve it.

What Is the Nurse Scheduling Problem?

Creating a work schedule in the nursing industry can feel like a Rubik’s cube. You have to turn and twist the settings and configurations until you come up with a solution that makes the best of a complex situation. You have a host of challenges to deal with when drafting the schedule. You need to make sure that the facility can run smoothly, which requires a certain number of staff personnel, without making things unbearable for the nurses you’re trying to schedule. This is what’s known as the nurse scheduling problem.

It is always difficult to appease everyone with the schedule. You can make the best of this situation by creating an efficient process for creating the schedule, in which your employees understand how and when they need to go about requesting time off. If someone needs a day off, they will need to make a request well in advance. It’s often easier on your end if all your employees understand the rules of scheduling, so you don’t have to deal with last-minute requests.

Hard Constraints Vs. Soft Constraints

It’s important to understand your priorities when creating the schedule. You have a lot of requests and demands to deal with, so it’s best to put them into two different categories: hard constraints and soft constraints.

Hard constraints refer to scheduling needs that must be met, otherwise the facility will cease to function. These may include the minimum number of nurses that need to be on the floor at any given time, not scheduling a nurse more than a certain number of hours in a day or a week and keeping a certain number of managers or supervisors on the floor at all times. If one of these constraints is not met, the whole system falls apart, thus these concerns become your first priority.

Soft constraints refer to scheduling needs that are not essential, such as someone asking for a day off for personal reasons, not asking your nurses to work overtime, and having a full staff of nurses on the floor at all times. If one of these constraints is not met, the facility will continue to function, but someone might have to work longer than they should, one of your employees might be unhappy, or a department might be short-staffed for a few hours.

Solving the Problem

Many facilities and nurse managers are turning to big data and algorithms when it comes to solving the nurse scheduling problem. Using a computer program can take the tedium out of this task. You can customize the settings so that a nurse can only work so many hours. If you over-schedule a nurse, the system will alert you of a problem.

Tools like NurseGrid Manager can help you save time and energy when creating the schedule. NurseGrid helps you distribute the schedule instantly, fill open shifts in minutes, and manage swaps in real time. Tools like this help increase employee efficiency by spreading out shifts and decrease labor costs by properly balancing the schedule. While creating a finished schedule may still take some finessing, using technology can make this task feel less overwhelming.

If you’re having trouble keeping up with your facility’s scheduling demands, talk to your supervisor about using software programs like NurseGrid that can take the sting out of nurse scheduling.