How to make a Rota that works

5 min read  |   15 July, 2020   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

A team of five colleagues are organising a work schedule on a glass wall using sticky notes.

How to make and implement a rota that works

We understand that creating an effective rota for your workplace can be a tough process. Holidays, sickness and last minute leave requests can catch you off-guard, short staffed, and leave employees who are forced to cover for them dissatisfied. 

This quick guide will teach you  how to make a rota that keeps your staff happy, and ensure your workplace is fully equipped for anything that comes its way.

What makes an effective rota for an employer?

As an employer you should make sure your rota follows these guidelines:

Quick to build 

An effective rota for your workplace should be many things, but most importantly: it has to be quick to build. 

In the healthcare, retail and hospitality industries, a working day can be hard to predict, nevermind a week. A rota which is quick to build, easily adaptable and takes into account last minute changes without disruption can keep you ahead of most unforeseen challenges.

Focuses on balance and uses data to make informed decisions

You will have to incorporate the right balance of workers. Different workers will fit better with different situations: some may prefer night shifts, while others weekends.

A well-prepared rota will make sure the right staff members are being used at the correct times. Use data and analysis to find out when busiest shifts are. This way you can make sure you are correctly staffed, and people are placed where they are needed most. You don’t want lots of staff during quiet periods and a notable shortage when you’re at your busiest. 

This is all especially important when you are thinking about creating a fair rota schedule

Be set several weeks in advance 

Your rota should be set several weeks in advance, but take into consideration a great deal of flexibility. 

A guaranteed way to make workers feel insecure and resentful in their role is to routinely update shift patterns at the last minute. For starters, it can stop employees from planning anything enjoyable in their free time with any degree of certainty! 

Plan ahead so all staff members know when they are working, and communicate with them that extenuating circumstances such as sickness, absences, or a particularly busy period may cause slight alterations.  

Rota HP 2-min (1)

What makes an effective rota for an employee? 

As a member of staff you should ensure your rota follows these principles:

Stable and accurate

Make sure your work rota is stable and accurate, with no one getting overworked or under-used. Also ensure shifts are balanced between staff members, unless there are pre-arranged agreements where you or another staff member have agreed with your employer to work only weekends or nights. 

Easily log unavailability in a flash with Rota, Time & Attendance.


Accessible at home

A rota that is accessible from home can help you easily keep track of your shifts. This can also help stop staff shortages. If you are ill or circumstances arise when you need to change your shift, you can inform other members of staff to check the rota. An employee-friendly rota, such as Breathe's Rota, Time & Attendance software, will be mobile friendly, allowing you to check shifts from the comfort of your own phone. 

Easy to use, with notifications

Any rota that is created should be easy to use. You and your staff members should be able to access it easily from home, or on your mobile device, and notify shift organisers when the rota needs changes. As an employee you should always be notified when any shift is changed in advance without having to come into work to check. 

An easily accessible rota with notifications should make shift changes—and finding cover for any changes—simple to address. This also includes easy communication between yourself and other staff members to arrange rota alterations amongst yourselves, without any fuss. 

What can you use to create and implement you rota? 

Now that you understand the requirements of creating a rota, it is also important to know what options you have to create and implement it in the workplace. 

Rota management software systems

Although features may differ between software, many workplaces these days prefer to take advantage of cloud-based rota software.

Cloud-based rota management systems often come with a range of exciting and useful features, including:

But they’re not without drawbacks. For example, the interface itself will be unfamiliar to most staff, and will require some getting used to. However, with a good customer support network this should only cause a small period of adaptation before your rota starts to thrive.

Rota view-min


Spreadsheets can be heavily customised, and can contain most of the information needed by staff and rota creators, such as hours and wages. Requests can also be added in a separate column. 

However, spreadsheets can be a lot of work when it comes to keeping track of leave and staff requests. While both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel are becoming easier to collaborate on, working on a spreadsheet is a manual task that can quickly become time consuming. 

Pen and paper

The simplest option and very customisable. Drawing up a rota with pen and paper can make it extremely personalised, but with everything handwritten this can be very time consuming. 

In comparison to the digital tools available, a pen and paper rota is incredibly hard to share and edit at short notice. This means that changes between staff members can be difficult to keep track of. Additionally, future planning will take a large amount of time and organisation, as communication with staff is limited and requires on-site interaction. 

Word documents

A table can be created within a Word document that can contain all the basic information needed for a staff rota. Both Google Docs and Microsoft Word have become increasingly collaborative, but using a Word document comes with its own problems of communication, long term planning and last minute changes.




Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter as of February 2023, Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With a passion for guiding readers to solutions for their HR woes, she enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: From employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

Back to listing

Sign up to get the latest HR and people management insights straight to your inbox