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The Guard Scheduling Conundrum
This article was originally published on August 14, 2017 on Security Management Online.
Guard scheduling in a security services company may seem straightforward, but the potential for costly consequences is huge. Scheduling-related errors can lead to financial penalties that can put the business at risk. Class-action claims for unpaid overtime, unpaid breaks, and illegal scheduling practices have cost companies millions of dollars. How can you minimize risk?
The basic premise is simple: Get the right guard to the right place at the right time, doing the right things. But it takes only a few minutes on the job for the scheduler to realize that simple scheduling gets complicated—very complicated. Let’s step back and look at all the pieces that go into the scheduling puzzle.
Repeated tasks. Each assignment requires the same basic actions. A guard scheduling process should handle the myriad details of scheduling easily and efficiently so that managers are freed up to keep their eye on the broader operation. Moreover, schedules are not done once and then left on a shelf. They are alive and active, so modifying them must be easy and accurately done.
Rules, rules, and more rules. Scheduling people is full of micro conditions that you need to know: overtime, breaks (paid or not), site rules, and business processes. Does your week start at midnight Sunday? Do hours worked fall into the week they are worked or into the last day of the week they are completed? You need to know the answers and keep track of them.
Skill sets. Your top salesperson just signed a high-profile account in town. To onboard your staff for the new account, you need to clearly identify what skills and attributes are required for a guard to work there. For example, will the guard need to use systems or equipment that require training?
Exposure. Security staff occasionally fail to show up, book off, or have emergencies. To protect your client and yourself from an uncovered site, you need a 24/7 alerting mechanism that can also help you quickly find a qualified replacement.
Exceptions. We live in a world of exceptions—the “yes-but” clause. For example: “That is always the schedule except…” or “I will always work five days in a row, except when I…” The scheduling process has to be flexible enough to manage exceptions.
Overtime. Simply put, unbilled overtime (OT) can destroy profit margins, which are already tight in most guard companies. OT varies based on jurisdiction, but in general OT can be 1.5 or 2 times a regular wage rate. Even salaried people can be entitled to OT if they earn less than the weekly threshold (subject to conditions, the U.S. threshold is $913 per week). Does your process protect you from overscheduling individuals?
Liabilities. Even if you prepare for every contingency, liabilities can occur. A guard who doesn’t know what to do or whom to alert can cause damage. Or, imagine that a new scheduler places an employee at a site they were previously banned from: client confidence will take a hit.
Large volume. When you are running an event and need to book many guards at the same time, your process should allow you to book by multiple means. At events, getting guards logged in and attending to their posts with the required instructions are crucial; the process needs to be efficient.
Special rules. Countries, states, provinces, and even cities have their own rules. On top of that, there are collective agreements and special function rules to consider, where applicable. Are compressed work weeks legal or not? What sort of rest periods are required between shifts?
Scheduling errors. Client confidence can be shaken if you are repeatedly double-booking guards for the same shift. In that scenario, which guard gets paid? Both?
Ecosystem. There are many moving parts in a security business: applicant tracking, onboarding, security operations, scheduling, payroll, invoicing, accounting, and other business operations. It is smart to have systems that integrate seamlessly with each other. Do not be held hostage to a system!
The most obvious way to address the mission-critical function of scheduling and timekeeping is to adopt a back-office software tool. Such software is designed to automate the repeatable, consider all the rules, provide guidance when assigning resources, and adhere to functions in service-level agreements. To truly drive efficiency, systems must do more than just schedule. They should give you a leg up on contract management and invoicing as well as drive business intelligence data.
To fully benefit your operations, couple back-office tools with front-line automation tools to create an ecosystem that harnesses the data generated by the security company and drives overall service that is more accountable, reliable, transparent, and efficient. After all, a security business needs to invest in activity that drives business, and avoid wasting money on the management of lawsuits and exposure.
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