April 16, 2019 Last updated April 11th, 2019 415 Reads share

How to Maximize Your Employees’ Downtime

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Every business has its slow times. Some are seasonal, and some employee downtime occurs on a daily basis. Employees are valuable assets, so using them to productively improve the quality of your business is important. A quiet day in a restaurant, for example, watching employees lean on the back counters and chat can be frustrating. While it’s good that employees get along and feel comfortable together, the wages you are paying for must be used to maximize the benefit that employees provide to the business.

Of course, intelligent staff scheduling helps appropriately distribute a workforce when and where you need it most. But even the best plans don’t always work.

Anticipate Needs at Hire Date

Anticipate the inevitable slow times, and prepare each employee from their hire date with full job descriptions that include the need to provide “other work as assigned.” Include this detail in initial interviews and conversations. A cashier will do more than just take the money and give change. They will also be responsible for other business needs when their primary job function is not needed.

The seemingly simplest thing to do on a slow work schedule may be to send employees home early, and this has a place in your list of choices. But if you can, involve employees in your overall success and create a little variety in their work.

Brainstorm with Employees

Managers sometimes forget just how creative employees are. Most regularly have ideas about how to improve processes, increase revenue, and improve quality. But they might need to be asked. When times are slow, have an impromptu get-together, and ask for ideas. These meetings may start slowly at first, but if they are paired with real action and willingness to change, employees will be encouraged to share more and invest in company improvement. You’ll have more ideas and willing participants.

Train and Cross-Train

Continuous training means to teach employees new skills that can be used in different positions. It increases company success and employee value. It becomes easier to cover positions, and employees become stronger and more useful. When it’s too quiet, have training options at the ready. The company benefits with more flexibility among employees for scheduling, and employees enjoy a greater variety in their work.

In addition, by having a greater understanding of each employee function, employees are more understanding of each other’s roles and more collaborative in the workplace. Stronger, more resilient, employees are the result while improving the ability of an organization to withstand difficulties on the job.

Conduct Informal Reviews

Most companies have regular review policies that require formal reviews on a regular basis, often yearly. But a year is a long time and consistent, verbal feedback from a manager is vital. For employees to improve and to add value, their performance should be discussed.

This doesn’t have to be an intimidating conversation for the employee. Just touch base, ask how things are going, let them know the good things you’ve seen and what they can improve. Slow times are perfect for these conversations because it probably doesn’t hurt to remove an employee from duty for fifteen minutes or so. And the conversation can be ended if a shift gets busy.

Keep a Good List

This is probably the most immediately useful tool to maximize employee downtime. When slow work days strike, keep a list clearly visible where employees can refer to it. For some industries, it might be weekly or monthly side work that can be completed. These are not always glamorous tasks, but it is reasonable to expect that employees’ job functions will include such things as a thorough cleaning, taking inventory, checking stocks, and preparing materials to increase efficiency.

Remind employees of the extras that are needed for everyone to succeed. Monthly items might be posted. Weekly and daily reminders can be included in your scheduling software’s “notes for employees. These notes on their schedule can change daily if needed to provide fresh options for slow times—anything that will fill downtime, increase productivity, and add to profit.

Still Stuck?

If you are still struggling for ideas, here is a quick-access list you can modify for your business’s inevitable quiet days.

Cleaning needs are constant and need repeating regularly.

  • Clean the glass on windows, entry doors, and mirrors.
  • Wipe down all counters and door handles.
  • Pick up items like paper clips or pins that could cause harm.
  • Clean out the employee refrigerator by tossing old food and washing all shelves and drawers.
  • Clean the microwave.
  • Sweep hard floors including the sidewalk
  • Vacuum rugs and change the vacuum bag, and clean the vacuum itself.
  • Remove outdated postings on notice boards.
  • Look up and knock down cobwebs.
  • Scrub and disinfect trash cans.

Maintenance needs that are safe and easy for employees to do can be included.

  • Check for burned out light bulbs and replace.
  • Break down boxes for recycling.
  • Organize stock room.
  • Refill bathroom supplies and POS area supplies.
  • Refill register tapes and restock.
  • Stock sales bags and promotional materials.
  • Test batteries in security, fire, and carbon monoxide alarms.

Merchandising directly affects sales. Your store should look its best and showcase enticing offers.

  • Check the clothing displays are correctly displayed by size.
  • Choose a display and completely remove it from shelves, clean area, and freshen the look.
  • Move product to a different, clean location, and display it in a different way to encourage sales.
  • Double-check that display items and their boxes are matched appropriately.
  • Check prices on display vs. those in the system to ensure accuracy.

Training benefits employees and you. Use your downtime for simple lessons.

  • Teach employees a new skill: how to process returns or order supplies.
  • Learn a few selling points about an item or service that you sell.
  • Practice how to handle a return without a receipt.
  • Role-play what to say and do when a customer returns food or asks for a discount.
  • Review good add-on sales for items to increase total sales.
  • Review your online reviews and discuss ways to improve them.

Add-on services are easier to offer with more time. Stand apart from your competitors with little gestures.

  • Offer to assist carrying items to a customer’s car.
  • Send thank you postcards to recent customers.

Administrative tasks get ignored during busy times, so maximize employee downtime by reviewing current statuses and preparing.

  • Double-check that all layaways are current.
  • Plan specials for the next month.
  • Check special order status and update or call customers as needed.

Engaging employees in all aspects of a business increases success. They want to feel valued and do important work. On slow days, it takes readiness, but both employee engagement and improved operations can both be accomplished.

By being clear on the hire date, proactive, and ready, you can maximize employee downtime while keeping them learning and adding to your success.

organizer while talking on the mobile phone

Jon Forknell

Jon Forknell

Jon Forknell is the Vice President and General Manager of Atlas Business Solutions, Inc., a software marketing company specializing in employee scheduling software, including ScheduleBase employee scheduling software, and other business software solutions. In the past, Jon has been recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Atlas Business Solutions was named as one of Software Magazine's Top 500 Software Companies 2004-2007 and again in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

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