Creative Scheduling Strategies For Today’s DSP Workforce [Part 1]

It's time for disability service agencies to start thinking outside the box of "eight hours a day, five days a week". Here’s how.

alternative schedules

Is the five day workweek going the way of the dinosaur? The question seems a bit strange given that many of us are familiar with the 40-hour, Monday-to-Friday grind. However, more employers are now rethinking how employees put in those  40 hours. 


As of 2019, 32% of employers offered four day workweeks to a full 40 hours — and that was before the pandemic. 


In some industries, so-called ‘alternative schedules’ are nothing new. Nurses frequently work three or four 12-hour shifts, while firefighters have been known to work 24 hours or more. These non-traditional scheduling tactics are taking off in other industries now as well — including disability services.

Benefits of alternative schedules for disability service agencies

There are a number of reasons disability service agencies are giving alternative arrangements like 12-hours shifts a second look. For one, doing so can cut down on coverage requirements. Say you need to cover a 24-hour period. If your staff work 8-hour shifts, you’ll need three staff members to cover that period. If you switch to 12-hour shifts, you only need two. This effectively eliminates a third of your scheduling headaches. 


Suddenly, making the schedule is easier because you only have to worry about coordinating two people’s availability instead of three. Furthermore, DSPs may be less likely to call in when they have more days off during the week — and you may have an easier time finding coverage for them when they do.

Benefits for clients & DSPs

Employers aren’t the only ones who benefit from ditching 8-hour shifts. In settings like residential facilities, for example, longer shifts create more continuity for clients. Rather than having three different caregivers during a 24-hour period, they only have two. Furthermore, there are only two shift turnovers in that time period instead of three, meaning fewer opportunities for miscommunication during the handoff. The result is better, more consistent care for the people you serve. 


There are numerous benefits for DSPs as well. Working longer shifts but fewer days means less money spent on gas for commuting and less time spent in the car. It gives them more days off even though they’re working the same number of hours. In many cases, cutting down from five days to three or four simplifies scheduling issues around childcare, medical appointments, or college classes. 


Today’s employees overwhelmingly prefer flexible scheduling. A recent IWG survey found that 8 out of 10 workers would choose a job that has a flexible schedule over one that does not. In a separate survey by Jabra, 65% of employees said flexible working, including the ability to set their own schedule, is more important than salary. In other words, more flexible and convenient schedules make it easier to attract and retain staff — two things that are significant during a DSP staffing shortage

Alternative scheduling strategies

Of course, 12-hour shifts are just one example of alternative scheduling strategies that can help ease your staffing woes. There are many different types of alternative schedules, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. With that in mind, let’s look at a few other creative staffing strategies to consider:

1. Front-back schedules

One idea that has worked well for GoodLife Innovations — a disability service organization in Lenexa, Kansas — is front-back schedules. Front-back schedules are a variation on 12-hour shifts. In the GoodLife U video series, CEO Dr. Mike Strouse explains that employees work either the front half of the week (Sunday and two days out of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) or the back half of the week (Saturday and two days out of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday). Employees can opt to pick up a fourth day on some weeks, or you can have coverage for the swing day. 



  • Gives employees either three or four days off each week
  • Employees have the option to work overtime and earn extra pay
  • Still gives you weekend coverage, but no one gets stuck working a full weekend



  • All employees end up working at least one weekend day

2. Premium pay for non-preferred shifts

Along with front-back schedules, GoodLife offers premium pay for non-preferred shifts like weekends and holidays. Premium pay might be time-and-a-half or double-time, depending on your unique situation. 



  • Higher pay makes non-preferred schedules more attractive
  • Helps you fill difficult positions like nights and weekends without having to hire part-time
  • Incentivizes current DSPs to stay on those non-preferred shifts so you’re not always hiring for open positions on the least desirable shifts



  • Can increase payroll costs (but not always) 

3. Four day workweek

Another option to consider is the four day workweek. Instead of working five 8-hour shifts, employees work four 10-hour shifts (or “four tens”). These four days can be all in a row, or spaced apart. 



  • Not as long as 12-hour shifts, but staff still end up working fewer days
  • Employees get a three day weekend or an extra day off during the week
  • Can overlap shifts during busier times (for example, 7-8 a.m. and 10-11 p.m.), which smooths transitions and leads to better communication



  • Can be more difficult to schedule, since 10-hour shifts don’t divide up evenly into a 24-hour period

4. Summer Fridays

Some companies have recently started implementing “Summer Friday” policies, where employees have the option to work extra time Monday through Thursday in order to leave early on Fridays during the summer (or take the entire day off). This won’t work for everyone, of course, but it could be a good fit for administrative staff or for services with more flexibility in their appointments. 



  • Ideal for admin/office staff
  • Provides relief and helps prevent burnout 
  • Can help boost productivity and employee satisfaction



  • Not a good fit for client-facing services that need coverage

5. Shift bidding

Shift bidding can be combined with any of the above alternative schedules. Shift bidding involves allowing employees to bid on open shifts, usually based on seniority. In a bidding system, managers create shifts and DSPs can submit their request in the form of a “bid”. Managers then assign the shifts to DSPs based on their qualifications, training, seniority, and other requirements. Shift bidding is popular in hospital settings.



  • Provides DSPs more autonomy over their schedules, while still giving managers the final say on scheduling
  • Seniority-based shift bidding rewards DSPs for staying with the organization, which encourages loyalty and retention



  • Newer DSPs get stuck with their “last choice” shifts
  • Less predictable, because schedules can change from week to week
  • Can create more work for managers

6. Self scheduling

In self scheduling, managers create the shifts and DSPs select the shifts they are able to work (usually on a first-come, first-served basis). Alternatively, for settings like employment services, DSPs might be responsible for scheduling their own appointments. Like shift bidding, self-scheduling can be combined with other alternative schedules like 12-hour shifts. 



  • Gives DSPs even more autonomy than shift bidding
  • Managers spend less time on scheduling 
  • Fewer change requests and call-ins, because staff choose their own schedule



  • Managers have less control over who works each shift
  • Less predictable, because schedules can change from week to week

7. Shift swapping

In shift swapping, also known as shift trading, DSPs can ask a qualified coworker to work one of their shifts. In exchange, they agree to work one of their coworker’s future shifts. Shift swapping can be combined with traditional scheduling, or it may be part of a shift bidding system.



  • More flexibility for DSPs
  • Allows staff to sort out personal scheduling conflicts on their own
  • Helps ensure you aren’t left without coverage when someone has an appointment, family issue, or other obligation



  • Manager still needs to approve shift swaps to ensure both DSPs are qualified to trade shifts Too many swap requests can become chaotic

Your next steps

Of course, switching your entire staff from 8-hour to 12-hour shifts or implementing a shift bidding system is a significant change. This is probably why so few agencies have actually switched over to alternative schedules.


However, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the inconvenience. More logical schedules will help improve the quality of care for participants, ease scheduling woes for managers, improve work-life balance and retention for DSPs, and make open positions more attractive for potential candidates.


Our next article will explore how to make the move to an alternative schedule and give you some strategies to smooth the transition. Don’t forget to subscribe to be notified when that post goes live! 


UPDATE: Here’s the link to Part 2.

SETWorks is software for disability service agencies, improving service efficiency and reducing administrative burden.
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