Shift Planning for Home Care Agencies: 5 Tips to Outsmart Unpredictability

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Studies reveal that around 40% of older adults (age 65+) receive home care services in the United States. And as of 2014, home care agencies already had 1.8 million caregivers on their staff to address the demand (Source).

It’s expected that hundreds of thousands more jobs will be created in the industry in the decades ahead to cope with the needs of the increasing aging population, widespread chronic diseases, and hospitals’ limited capacity (Source). And with the big move towards integrating home-based health into traditional healthcare systems, both in terms of cost-cutting and improving patient outcomes, it’s more important than ever that we figure out how to ensure effective and efficient shift management within organizations.

The good news? It isn’t impossible.

Let’s take a closer look at the main challenges of shift planning for home care agencies today and explore the solutions you may use to move forward with confidence and continue to provide high-quality service to patients at all times.

5 Biggest Challenges of Shift Scheduling in the Home Care Industry

1.    Staff shortages

It takes a dedicated staff to provide effective care to those in need. Yet unfortunately, staff shortages pose a pressing problem in the healthcare industry worldwide, and home care agencies are not immune to it either.

While the home care industry is already notorious for high staff turnover rates, the staff shortage challenge only exacerbates this issue. Plus, by having a dreadful impact on employee morale and well-being, staff shortages affect the overall quality of healthcare. After all, being constantly overworked (and underpaid) is a recipe for a burnout disaster, and you cannot take good care of others when you’re hardly functioning yourself.

Besides, shift planning becomes a logistical nightmare when there aren’t enough staff members available.

Picture this: you have a roster of clients that require round-the-clock care but only half the number of staff members to fulfill those shifts. You’re left with no choice but to schedule the same employees for several shifts, neglecting their need for rest and putting your business at risk of ever-increasing overtime costs and growing turnover rates. In other words, you get a domino effect of scheduling chaos.


Firstly, let’s get one thing straight – we’re not here to throw money at the problem. Sure, offering competitive salaries and benefits is important, but that alone won’t guarantee a steady stream of qualified applicants.


  • Focus on creating a positive work culture: Building a sense of camaraderie among staff members and promoting a supportive work environment can go a long way in retaining current employees and attracting potential ones. Host team-building activities, organize appreciation events, and provide opportunities for professional development.
  • Get creative with recruitment efforts: Posting on job boards and social media is a great start, but don’t limit yourself to just that. You may attend local recruitment events and job fairs, partner with local colleges and training programs, and offer referral bonuses for current employees.
  • Don’t forget about technology: With telehealth becoming a mainstay in healthcare, why not consider implementing remote work options for some positions? This can open up a larger pool of potential employees who may not be able to physically commute to the office or client’s home.

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2.    Continual schedule changes

Whether it’s a client’s needs that change at the last minute, staff availability that’s in flux, or unexpected emergencies that crop up, these tricky schedule changes require an agile and flexible approach that’s not for the faint-hearted.

First of all, when employees get sick or have personal emergencies, it’s not just a matter of finding someone to cover their shift. It’s also about ensuring that the replacement caregiver has the right skills and qualifications to provide the necessary care for the patient. This means that managers have to scramble to find a suitable replacement at the last minute, and this can lead to scheduling conflicts and errors.

Secondly, when a client asks for help, speed is of the essence. Request acceptance and employee assignment have to be made quickly to ensure that the patient receives the care they need as soon as possible. This means that managers have to be on their toes, ready to make decisions at a moment’s notice and adjust schedules accordingly.

Now, imagine dealing with these challenges on a daily basis.

Continual schedule changes can make it difficult for home care agencies to maintain an optimum level of service, which can, in turn, impact patient satisfaction and caregiver morale.


  • Communicate regularly: To deal with continual schedule changes effectively, it’s important to maintain regular communication with clients, families, and caregivers. Make sure that your staff knows that changes to their schedule may be necessary, and encourage them to be flexible. Keep everyone aware of the latest changes and provide all the information they need to make the necessary adjustments.
  • Have a backup plan: Even with the best planning and foresight, unexpected emergencies can arise. To avoid any disruptions in care, make sure you have a backup plan in place. Whether it’s having a pool of on-call workers who can step in at a moment’s notice or a system for shifting around schedules, make sure you have a plan for dealing with last-minute emergencies or cancellations.
  • Embrace work scheduling software: One of the best ways to handle continual schedule changes is to use technology to your advantage. This means investing in reliable scheduling software that is easy to use and can be accessed by all staff members. With the help of technology, you can keep track of shifts, quickly and efficiently update schedules, notify caregivers of any changes, and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Pro tip:

actiPLANS is your go-to tool for planning employee shifts at your home care agency. With its help, managing your team’s schedules has never been simpler.

The software has flexible settings and allows you to create custom shift types or any other work types that are tailored specifically to your agency’s needs. Plus, its intuitive interface featuring visual timelines makes shift scheduling truly enjoyable and accessible for every party involved.

Add new work types to actiPLANS

actiPLANS also incorporates automated email notifications, which means no more tedious reminders or chasing after employees to confirm their shifts (talk about a load off your shoulders!). And thanks to its informative reports, you can easily optimize your shift planning to ensure your agency runs like a well-oiled machine.

Work Types report, actiPLANS

Check out actiPLANS in action during a free 30-day trial period. Click here to sign up.

3.    Lack of planning

Considering the above challenge of continual schedule changes, many home care agencies tend to rely heavily on on-call employees. However, without a clear plan in place, you risk overbooking or underbooking staff, setting the prolific ground for employee burnout or inadequate care for clients – and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of on-call shifts.

Imagine this: your agency has a sudden surge in demand for home care services and calls for on-call staff to step up to the plate. But wait, there’s a problem! You failed to plan for this sudden upsurge, and now your on-call staff is limited, resulting in delays in service delivery and frustrated clients. What a nightmare!

Not only that, but the lack of planning also results in overburdening the same set of on-call staff, leading to poor job satisfaction and higher turnover.

As they say, too much of anything is poisonous, and relying on the same people to handle emergencies all the time is detrimental not only to their well-being but also to your agency’s productivity.


  • Plan ahead: Always create a solid schedule beforehand. Make sure each employee knows when they’re supposed to work in advance and communicate any changes as early as possible to avoid last-minute cancellations.
  • Apply a structured scheduling system: Schedule employee shifts based on the needs of each patient and consider rotating shifts amongst your employees. By doing so, you can maintain a better work-life balance among employees, avoid overtime costs, and ensure that there are always enough staff members available to provide quality care.
  • Offer an option for employee self-scheduling: If employees can choose shifts based on their availability, preferences, and needs, they obtain more control over their work-life balance, while you get a chance to reduce reliance on on-call shifts and maintain higher job satisfaction at the workplace.
  • Incentivize consistency: Reward and recognize employees who consistently show up for their scheduled shifts by offering additional benefits or higher pay. This will help not only reduce the need for on-call employees but also create a more reliable workforce.

Pro tip:

With self-scheduling functionality in actiPLANS, your employees can choose their preferred shifts and dates of work, leaving you with one less thing to worry about. And fear not, dear employer, as you have the last say in the process and retain full control to review and edit schedules as you deem appropriate.

4.    Overtime costs

In the home care industry, overtime pay is mandated by law. It’s not a perk or a bonus, it’s a requirement. And when you’re dealing with a large number of caregivers who work long hours (12- or 24-hour shifts), overtime costs can quickly spiral out of control.

Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly pay for a home health aide ranges from $14.26 to $15.45 per hour. But when you factor in overtime pay (which is 1.5 times the regular hourly rate), that number jumps to $21.39 or $23.17 per hour.

That may not seem like a lot, but when you multiply it by the number of overtime hours worked by all the caregivers in a week or a month, those costs can add up quickly.

And here’s the kicker – many home care agencies have fixed budgets that they can’t exceed. So when overtime costs start eating into those budgets, it becomes a significant challenge for them to maintain the same level of care without going over budget.

Some choose to reduce the number of shifts available, which would mean fewer caregivers available to provide care. Others have to cut back on training and support programs for their caregivers, which could impact the quality of care provided.


  • Align staff hours with patient demand: At times, patient demand can fluctuate, and some patients may require less support over time. Therefore, reducing the hours of caregivers based on patient demand, such as how often patients need assistance or how many caregivers are needed in each shift, can help avoid staffing excesses.
  • Determine your staffing needs: Take into account factors such as patient acuity, language barriers, and medical conditions that require specialized care. This will help you figure out the appropriate number of staff members and the required level of expertise.
  • Invest in your team: Happy staff equals less turnover, which equals less overtime. Thus, by taking care to retain your employees, you can significantly reduce unnecessary expenses. This means offering competitive wages, comprehensive benefits, and professional development opportunities.
  • Track employees’ time: By regularly tracking caregivers’ working hours, you will easily detect any unplanned overtime work and compare it with your billed hours or budget to identify and address potential excess.

Pro tip:

It can be tough to manage and control overtime expenses. But thankfully, actiTIME is here to help you stay on top of your game.

The software allows for accurate time tracking and helps to keep tabs on exactly how much overtime your employees are racking up. This, in turn, lets you make smarter scheduling decisions and ensure that you’re only paying out for the extra time when it’s truly necessary.

But that’s not all.

actiTIME also provides detailed reports and insights that can help you identify performance patterns, time-wasting tasks, and other trends that lead to higher overtime costs. From there, you can work to address the root causes of these issues and make changes that will ultimately increase savings in your organization.

Overtime report, actiTIME

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5.    Obsolete scheduling methods

Age-old methods of manual scheduling can result in errors and inaccuracies that hurt the agency’s efficiency and profits. But, what exactly makes them so problematic?

  • These methods are time-consuming: Scheduling by hand can take hours if not days, and with the ever-changing schedules of home care workers, mistakes are almost inevitable. With outdated scheduling methods, it’s a nightmare for agencies to manage last-minute schedule changes, employee absences, and client requests, leading to lapses in care and poor client satisfaction.
  • Paper-based scheduling methods are prone to human error: Caregivers may be double-booked or scheduled for an unavailable shift due to data entry mistakes. In addition, with outdated schedules, agency workers may mistakenly show up at clients’ homes at the wrong time or not at all, affecting the agency’s reputation and trustworthiness.
  • Manual scheduling methods just don’t cut it in our modern, technology-driven world: Many home care agencies that don’t rely on technology struggle to keep up with their competitors and may suffer from a loss of clients.

Overall, shift planning for home care agencies is a complex process, and obsolete scheduling methods only add to the challenge. By adopting new and advanced scheduling software, agencies can reduce errors, maximize caregiver efficiency, provide optimal care to clients, and stay competitive in a constantly evolving industry.


actiPLANS is the work scheduling solution your home care agency needs to keep up with the demands of modern-day life. With its user-friendly features and cutting-edge technology, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.

actiPLANS is not your granny’s paper schedule! It’s a modern work scheduling solution that packs quite a punch for your home care agency. It offers:

  • Visual timelines,
  • Employee self-scheduling features,
  • Robust functionality for streamlined time off management,
  • Comprehensive reports that will make your resource planning a breeze.

Did somebody say “automatic notifications?” Yes, please!

actiPLANS sends alerts to remind you of upcoming shifts, recent schedule changes, and time off requests. Plus, you can access everything through the mobile app, making it simple to stay on top of your scheduling needs while you’re on the go.

actiPLANS mobile

On top of that, actiPLANS integrates with actiTIME, a robust time tracking solution. That means you get more control over employee attendance and performance, accurate data for invoicing and payroll, and, ultimately, a much better understanding of how your resources are being utilized.

Brace yourself as you’re going to take resource scheduling to an entirely new level! With actiPLANS and actiTIME in your toolkit, the whole endeavor becomes truly effortless and stress-free.


Effective shift planning for home care agencies has a plethora of undeniable benefits:

  • Highly satisfied clients
  • Reduced turnover rates
  • Enhanced productivity and efficiency
  • Improved communication
  • Better regulatory compliance

By creating staggered shift schedules, staying flexible, using modern software solutions, actively communicating with employees, and diligently tracking employee absences, you can cope with the challenges of shift scheduling effectively, and rest assured that your operations remain consistent.

With that said, we hope that the solutions outlined in this post have given you a better idea of how to manage shift schedules well. By following these guidelines, you will set your home care agency up for success as it continues to provide top-notch services.

Thanks for reading!

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