Guidelines for Effective Nurse Rostering in Australian Hospitals

A nurse faces the camera
Cheryl Lee
July 15, 2022
1 min read
A nurse faces the camera

Of all the industries in which employee scheduling is required, nurse rostering in the nursing industry has to be one of the toughest to carry out. Within the nursing industry, there is always a chronic lack of staff and yet requires round-the-clock shift scheduling.

This does indeed prove as a challenge to managers to effectively roster their employees. Managers have to deal with nurses who hold different skill sets and specialisations, as well as a mix of part-timers and full-time staff. On top of all these challenges, there is another element that makes putting together an effective nurse schedule absolutely critical— patient care.

The care your hospital provides to patients will largely depend on how supervisors are managing the nursing staff. Is your organisation scheduling the right nurses with the correct skill sets to care for the right patients? Are your nurses constantly overworked and tired? Do they have sufficient time outside work for their personal lives? All these questions are some key points you need to touch on to provide the proper care to patients.

Creating an effective nurse roster will meet all these standards is no easy feat; but here are some tips you can use to improve and revolutionise your shift scheduling process.

Allow nurses to communicate their work preferences

One of the most important things when nurse rostering is to create shifts that keep your staff safe and happy. Most nurses are extremely busy, even outside of their jobs. Many have families to take care of and look after even outside working hours. Some are still studying and are trying to balance their work responsibilities and education aspirations at the same time.

What better way to begin the nurse rostering process than to openly communicate with your nurses and ask them about their preferred working hours before beginning to create the schedule? Find out their availability on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis; and if there are any days they are unable to work. You can note down this data in a nurse scheduling software; before syncing this with data on the demand of nurses needed in your hospital.

This simple action of scheduling your nurses’ work shifts in line with their personal availability can lead to many benefits. Firstly, the nurses will appreciate the fact you care about their preferences before finalising the schedule. Secondly, by knowing your staff’s preferences, creating great rosters that serve your hospital and employees will be easier.

nurse rostering
Open communication is absolutely essential to creating great rosters.

Create a nurse roster in advance

Nurse rostering is not a one-time task, but instead is practically a perpetual one. Even if you think you have an almost perfect nursing schedule, there is a very real chance you are going to have to edit it on an ad-hoc basis before all staff actually are able to attend work as required.

That is why it is recommended to start scheduling shifts in advance whenever possible. Healthcare is one of the industries in which there are going to be last-minute changes often. It is extremely tough to create a perfect nurse roster on the first try even if you have advanced, data-driven tools for forecast-based scheduling at your disposal.

Creating a nurse roster in advance goes hand-in-hand with allowing nurses to communicate their work preferences. You can begin by requesting your nurses’ work preferences, then consider their skill sets and align them with the demand for healthcare services at your hospital.

Chances are, the schedule is going to need some changes as the week approaches and the scheduling needs of your nurses and patients begin to crystallise. Nonetheless, nurse rostering in advance still brings certain benefits as there are some factors you can prepare and plan for.

It is thus important to carry out nurse rostering in advance to help your employees plan their personal commitments; and thus more efficiently allocate nurses to shifts.

Allow, but closely monitor shift trading

Nurse rostering is tricky business. It seems to be a difficult endeavour due to the nature of healthcare provision services and commitments of your nurses. Hence, one of the best ways to take pressure off your employees is to give your nurses the option of trading shifts.

This is a system that will be extremely helpful in adapting to last-minute changes in the shift schedule. Instead of having your nurses call the manager, after which the manager will have to contact all the nurses to find a replacement— you can let your nurses handle the whole process.

Whenever a nurse is unable to attend a shift at the last minute or even just after you have finalised the roster, giving them the liberty of contacting other nurses to trade shifts can go a long way in ensuring all staffing needs are met and your nurses are happy.

However, although shift trading is an amazing solution to meeting nursing demands; it only works well if a manager is able to clearly and effectively monitor the entire process. They need to ensure the right staff members equipped with the required skill sets cover the shifts in question.

This can be done by making it clear shift trading can be carried out among staff members, but must always seek for a manager’s approval before carrying out the changed shift. This will prevent any abuse of this function among nurses.

Allowing shift trading can be a great help in ensuring effective nurse rostering as long as it is duly monitored.

Make efforts to avoid scheduling overtime

Compulsory overtime is a huge problem in the nursing industry, which is a direct result of ineffective nurse rostering. Nurses who are unfortunately scheduled before an understaffed shift then have to work incredibly long hours.

Much research has shown over and over again that nursing is one of the industries where increased overtime work can have negative effects on almost every aspect of the profession. Excessive overtime results in nurses who are fatigued and on the verge of burning out, leading to more errors being made on the job. Overworked nurses will also fall sick more easily, resulting in even more understaffed shifts; which can lead to an unhealthy and toxic cycle of overtime for nurses.

This will not only result in higher turnover rates among nurses, but also in declining patient safety and care and patient satisfaction.

By optimising the nurse rostering process, you can avoid arranging unnecessary overtime for nurses. One of the best ways to do this is to use demand driven nurse rostering principles.

Take advantage of the technology you have at your disposal and use it to make better scheduling decisions. Keep track of the number of patients entering and exiting the facility on a daily basis; note down trends on the more labour-intensive and critical units require more manpower. Figure out what days or timings require more nurses at whichever unit, and when is your hospital the busiest.

Use this data to make more educated, data-supported scheduling decisions will help you avoid arranging overtime for your nurses. By ensuring your staff is not overworked by excessive overtime, you can ensure more effective nurse rostering in your hospital.

nurse rostering
It is especially important to avoid scheduling overtime to ensure tip-top condition of your nurses.

In a nutshell

By using the above tips and taking time and consideration to schedule shifts, you can maximise patient and staff happiness and satisfaction. Maintaining good communication and giving nurses the freedom to manage their shifts will benefit you in the long run.

Ensuring you have a good system in place for nurse rostering will set your organisation up for success and will allow for patient care to be safely delivered.

About the author

Besides school and work, Venus spends her free time dancing (she has been a dancer for more than 10 years). She also enjoys spending time just chilling at home and hanging out with her friends.

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