Just-in-time scheduling: What you need to know for your business

Smart scheduling requires owners and managers to think about their team and business needs holistically. Of course, shifts need to be covered. But you should also consider how to optimize your schedule in a way that improves productivity and helps your team achieve a healthy work-life balance.  

Overbooked and under-booked shifts make doing business harder and less profitable and can negatively impact employee productivity and lower retention rates. And many companies see just-in-time (JIT) scheduling as the solution to reducing labor costs and meeting changes in customer traffic.

But does JIT scheduling really give business owners a financial advantage by avoiding unnecessary expenses, or do they end up losing money due to high turnover rates?

In this article, you’ll become more familiar with JIT scheduling, its pros and cons, and how scheduling tools can ease the transition to more stable and predictable employee scheduling.

What is just-in-time (JIT) scheduling?

Just-in-time (JIT) scheduling is a practice that tries to manage labor costs by scheduling employees based on fluctuating consumer demand. That means if a manager thinks their coffee shop’s going to be unusually busy for the next three days, they can update their schedule on the fly and ask additional employees to come in. Or, if a salon is having a slow couple of days, the manager might drop some shifts and send certain workers home. 

JIT scheduling is extremely common in industries like retail and service where hourly and wage work is the norm, as opposed to salaried work. That’s because salaries employees are paid a set amount each month, so reducing the number of hours they work has little impact on the bottom line. 

How does JIT scheduling benefit or hurt your business?

Adopting JIT scheduling can seem like an attractive option to business owners that employ wage workers and need to keep labor costs down. But the unpredictability and constant changes that come along with this kind of scheduling can be frustrating and demoralizing for employees. 

We’ve put together a list of pros and cons to help you get a better idea of how JIT can affect your business.

Con #1: JIT scheduling is limiting for employees

his form of last-minute scheduling makes it difficult for employees to properly arrange work transportation, set up childcare or social arrangements, and pursue other part-time work or educational opportunities. It also hurts an employee’s ability to properly budget or save money since they’re not guaranteed a set income, and their projected earnings can change drastically from week to week.

Also, when team members have to call in a couple days or even just an hour or two prior to their scheduled shifts to find out whether they’re working or not, they’ll have to scramble to find a last-minute babysitter or fight traffic to arrive on time.

Con #2: JIT scheduling negatively impacts overall well-being

JIT scheduling can have a negative impact on employee well-being and mental health, as unpredictable schedules don’t let individuals properly manage their finances, social lives, and family situations. That makes you more likely to end up with a burnt-out team that’s much less productive, absent regularly, resentful, and likely looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Indeed, the uncertainty of JIT scheduling can easily create an irritated and stressed-out team. It can also make things more difficult for employers by increasing employee turnover, complicating timekeeping processes, and increasing the misuse of PTO and sick leave.

Con #3: JIT scheduling can lead to high turnover costs

Disengaged employees will leave your business the second a more stable opportunity comes along. And reduced employee loyalty and high turnover mean you’ll end up spending more time and money hiring, training, and onboarding new workers. 

On the other hand, predictable scheduling leads to happier employees who are much more likely to continue working for you, which means they’ll feel motivated to put their best foot forward during their shifts and be better assets to your business overall. 

Pro #1: JIT staffing cuts costs 

Imagine this: you own a salon, and both your colorists are working the afternoon shift. However, you only have a couple of people come into your salon for a quick trim, which means you’re paying for the colorists to stay at the salon when they have nothing to do and could easily just go home.

Businesses use JIT staffing as a cost-cutting measure because it only requires them to pay for the hours their employees are actually working. 

Pro #2: JIT scheduling makes managing demand fluctuations easier

Because of its flexibility, JIT scheduling helps managers respond to fluctuations in customer traffic in real time. Businesses in the retail and service industries often use forecasting software to respond to fluctuations in the number of customers by tracking real-time sales and even traffic conditions. So, if a manager notices that the next couple of weeks are likely to be slower than usual, they can update their staff schedule and reduce the number of usual shifts.

Or, if a nearby event or concert draws a rush of customers into your bar or restaurant, you can offer additional shifts and hours and quickly have employees come in to handle the situation. But if you only had a set number of workers scheduled to run the show that day and didn’t have the flexibility to call in more employees, you’d end up understaffed and unable to deliver top-notch customer service. 

How businesses are moving away from JIT scheduling

In 2014, Victoria’s Secret was pressed with a potential class-action lawsuit, which prompted them to end on-call scheduling in 2015. Many major employers — like Starbucks, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Gap — shortly followed suit and started phasing out on-call and JIT scheduling under the looming threat of lawsuits and government mandates. 

In fact, cities like San Francisco and New York have already enacted legislation since 2015 to protect workers in the retail and service sectors. 

It’s clear that this form of shift management is on its way out. And more often than not, the costs of managing and losing stressed-out employees outweigh the benefits of on-call scheduling. A high turnover rate is almost always expensive, and what appears to cut costs on a day-to-day basis could very well hamper revenue in the long term. 

What if my business requires just-in-time staffing?

Retail and food services, call centers and other customer service roles, IT and software firms, and security staff often rely on JIT scheduling to operate effectively and keep customers satisfied. So how can you go about implementing JIT scheduling in a healthy way?


Businesses like Costco and Aldi show that you can still turn a profit while moving away from JIT scheduling.

One way they accomplish that is by training employees to be proficient in handling different parts of the store’s operations. So, for example, a worker that’s trained to stock shelves can also run the register. That way, employees can switch between tasks and easily transfer to an understaffed section of the store when it’s necessary. 

Some other sustainable approaches to applying JIT scheduling include:

  1. Offering benefits or higher wages to workers who need to stay on-call or have schedules that are frequently subject to last-minute changes.
  2. Ask workers to volunteer for extra hours instead of imposing extra shifts. You may have plenty of part-time employees who’d gladly take on an extra few hours for additional wages and tips.
  3. Eliminate the element of surprise as much as possible by using shift extensions. That way, you’d only be asking an employee who’s already at work to stay for additional hours as opposed to asking a worker who’s “out of office” to come in at the last minute.
  4. Use scheduling software for shift optimization and gathering insights so you can use your sales forecasts and labor targets to build schedules in advance (more on this in a second!)

3 ways you can use scheduling software to your benefit

Scheduling software like Homebase save you time and help you make the most out of employee timetables by automating the process of creating and managing work schedules. Here are three ways you can use tools like Homebase to streamline your scheduling process and run a better team overall:

1. Create an optimized schedule in no time

Homebase lets you create a schedule in minutes with easy-to-use templates and drag-and-drop scheduling features. You can assign shifts based on role (like barista or cashier), employee, and even individual departments. And if you have two employees working the same shifts, you can save time by simply duplicating the task and dragging it to the desired day and employee.

You can then share your schedule with your team, manage changes quickly, and view information about your employees within one dashboard.

Once you publish your schedule, Homebase instantly notifies your employees by text or email and through the mobile app. Alerts let your team know about any changes, and you’ll be able to confirm they’ve seen the latest schedule, which helps reduce misunderstandings and no-shows.

2. Give employees autonomy over their schedules

One of the most challenging things about being on-call is feeling like you don’t have control over your time. With Homebase, employees can easily access their schedules in advance, share their personal availability and desired time off, and claim open shifts.

That means workers are more engaged and have some control over their personal finances and budgeting, which increases satisfaction and engagement.

3. Reduce manual tasks by streamlining employee communication

As a business owner or manager, you have way more important things to do than go back and forth between employees trying to manage each person’s availability. Homebase’s built-in messenger tool allows employees to cover and trade shifts —  all you have to do is approve.

Your team can easily communicate with each other on the go and resolve scheduling issues between themselves as they come up. 

  1. Send messages to individuals, groups, or your entire business.
  2. Instantly create groups for quick requests, like everyone working on a certain day or everyone who’s available the next day.
  3. Easily reach new team members who get added into groups automatically.

“The rule here is that if you need to request off — or if you’re scheduled and something happens that you need to switch days — I am the last person that you talk to. You need to reach out to your team first. And Homebase gives them the capability to see who’s on the schedule.” 

-Kenia Stubblefield, general manager at Houston retail shop Forth & Nomad

You don’t need JIT staffing to turn a profit

JIT scheduling may reduce labor costs in the short term and can, at times, help meet last-minute customer demands. But the trade-off is often unhappy employees who feel stressed out, overwhelmed, and frustrated with unpredictable schedules. 

That’s why businesses are moving away from report-to-work shifts to more stable — but strategically advantageous — scheduling. Of course, some companies and industries might still have to rely on JIT scheduling, but there are healthy ways of approaching it.

Last-minute changes are inevitable. But scheduling software like Homebase can make your employee’s work lives more predictable while still helping you turn a profit month after month.

Just-in-time scheduling FAQs

homebase customer photo homebase customer photo

What are the benefits of predictive scheduling?

Unlike just-in-time (JIT) scheduling, predictive scheduling means employers give hourly workers their schedules well in advance. 

Some of the benefits of predictive scheduling include:

  1. Happier workers 
  2. Increased employee engagement and productivity
  3. Better retention rates and less frequent hiring
  4. More manageable and predictable schedules for the whole team
  5. Reduced chances of no-shows and missed shifts

What is the just-in-time scheduling concept?

Just-in-time (JIT) scheduling is an approach to scheduling where employers design, share, and adjust their hourly and wage workers’ work schedules based on consumer demand. This often means employees receive their schedules on short notice and might even have their shifts rescheduled or canceled at the last minute if there’s not enough work to be done.

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