The National Society for Epilepsy (NSE) undertakes medical research, runs a national helpline and co-ordinates a national network of volunteers who provide advice at the point of diagnosis. It also provides residential care for around 200 acute sufferers at 14 homes at its base in Chalfont, Buckinghamshire. It employs 450 permanent and 150 casual workers and has seven staff in its personnel department.
Two years ago, the site at Chalfont was presenting the organisation with three problems. Peter Jackson, associate director of personnel, describes the first: “Our pay scheme was very complex. We had tried to simplify it, but we were still on paper timesheets, and we were making many errors. More of these were actually underpayments than overpayments, but it was still affecting staff morale.”
The second problem the NSE personnel team faced was that, with so many staff operating around the clock at the organisation’s 14 homes at the Chalfont site, it was almost impossible for them to know where any one member of staff was at any given time. Trying to manage rotas was taking up a lot of time, but failing to devise them far enough in advance was leading to a high level of absenteeism.
Finally, Jackson was concerned that, because of not knowing who was working when, the organisation might be in breach of working time regulations.
In autumn 2003, a member of the IT department and a representative from the residential care team began to investigate solutions to these problems. Once it had been decided that the charity needed to buy a computerised rota system, a steering group was formed, with the personnel department closely involved.
The first stage was extensive consultation with the rest of the organisation to flesh out the brief of what was required. The steering group found three products that met that brief, and Jackson explains why they selected RotaPro: “It was the simplest from the end user’s point of view. It allowed us to link rotas to a swipe-card system and then through to payroll. This meant we could get rid of timesheets. It did all this within our budget.”
The system was piloted between July and September 2004 and in October it went live, at which point the company from which the NSE had bought RotaPro went out of business. Jackson reports that, after an initial panic, all was well as the manufacturer assumed the support contract with a seamless transition.
Jackson admits that using RotaPro has been much more time-consuming than expected. The burden has fallen primarily on the managers of the 14 homes who have to keep their rotas up to date. He estimates that on top of the 40,000 price of the system, getting it up and running has cost an extra 60,000 in staff hours.
However, he does believe it has all been worthwhile. “We have a more accurate payroll, so our employees can trust their pay cheques. We have freed up a great deal of time. We know where all our shift workers are, so we can contact them very easily. We can monitor the number of hours our staff work to make sure we don’t fall foul of working time regulations.”
He also claims that, because the organisation is now planning rotas in advance, the rate of absenteeism has fallen. He confesses, however, that he has no evidence for this as he is only now beginning to measure it. However, he is certain it was a wise investment.
Learning points for HR
Peter Jackson offers this advice to anyone looking for an automated solution to rota problems: “Involve the users as much and as early as possible. In retrospect, I’d do this more. We only trained the managers and deputy managers in each home.
To keep the rotas up to date, you really need more people trained on how to use the system. Also, I’d advise people to go for the best fit rather than the perfect solution. You will have budget restrictions, so know what is essential and what is only desirable.”
Lisa Heward is the staff cover manager at the NSE. She manages 120 casual workers across the 14 homes and, on balance, is positive about the system.
“I now know what hours staff have done. If I know they haven’t exceeded the limits set by the Working Time Regulations, I can hire them directly, rather than going through a more expensive agency.
“Some managers still complain the new system takes up too much of their time, but that’s because they haven’t fully grasped how to use it yet. It has given me more work and expanded my role, but I’m happy with that.”
She is optimistic about how it will work out. “It might not be as sophisticated as we had all hoped, but we’ve got used to it, and we’ll be updating it later this year so it will be even better.”