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Staff scheduling with Excel: a swan song

Staff scheduling with Excel has been part of everyday life for years. But that doesn't mean it works smoothly - quite the opposite. A letter of complaint to an overrated program.

At shyftplan, we do everything we can to help our customers be more successful. This also means listening to what problems are bothering them and how we can eliminate them to ensure optimal operations. We notice time and again that the companies that have the most problems are those that rely on Excel-based workforce scheduling - and that the same points are always criticized. We have collected these complaints on behalf of our customers in a fictional letter. An actual complaint email written by an HR manager to Excel could look something like this:

Dear Excel, we need to talk.

We've known each other for several years now. You have always evolved - but so has the world of work. And the demands on companies have become so different, so much more complex, that personnel planning with Excel simply no longer works as well. Or in other words: We somehow don't fit together so well anymore. And I want to tell you why:

We HR managers have to chase after all the data

Yes, it's true: You are an incredibly great spreadsheet and calculation program. You can supply data and, if you enter the right commands, you get a more or less clear result - but unfortunately that's all you can do. So we HR staff have to take care of the rest. We always have to keep you up to date, always feed you the latest information so that Excel personnel planning works.

Don't you find that ironic? Although you are supposed to ensure that all employees work as efficiently and productively as possible, the same can't exactly be said of working with you: we have to manually enter every little change that you want to make in your large workforce planning spreadsheet. And that's not all - sometimes we also have to phone colleagues afterwards and enter their data because they are not allowed to or have forgotten to do so. So shift planning with Excel still means a lot of manual work in 2021.

This may not be so problematic for smaller companies - but with several hundred employees, it becomes a real permanent occupation. Because, of course, most employees have better things to do than constantly checking in on you. I can understand that. But what use is a scheduling table that isn't updated? Exactly - nothing.


Oh, it could actually be so easy to do shift planning with Excel. After all, you're basically a good program. With intelligent macros, clever formulas, everything is easy to fill in, clear and seemingly foolproof. Seemingly. Until you suddenly seem to speak a different language again and only know the phrase "#VALUE!". Like an offended child, you can't say what exactly you're missing. So we have to go in search of the error. And that can take quite a long time with a large file.

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Communication is a problem

Once I have corrected all the errors and entered the latest changes, the next stress factor comes: I have to inform everyone involved. A circular email would of course be the easiest thing to do, but who in production reads their emails all the time? Especially not if the subject line says "Excel personnel planning" or something similar.

So I have to pick up the phone. And you wouldn't believe how much my colleagues love it when you ask them about the Excel shift plan. You don't seem to be that popular somehow...

But I know - it's not your fault now. At least not directly. But perhaps if you had a chat function that could be used to send changes in compliance with the GDPR, Excel Personnel Planning (PEP) would be a small step better. How easy it would be to communicate changes directly! Although - maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea. Because then we might only get "#WERT!" messages instead of emojis in response...

Data protection? Not a chance.

Let's stay with communication: although we live and work in the 21st century, there are still people who simply print out the Excel shift plan and then hang it up in large format in the staff rooms so that everyone can see everything: Who was sick when and how often? Who has how many vacation days? How much overtime?

You won't believe it, but sometimes employees also take pictures of them and send them through their instant messengers, where sensitive, personal data flies around along with smiley faces. You don't even want to imagine what our works council would say about that. But even if you could send the Excel shift plan directly, I would have data protection concerns. Because most of the time, everyone can see everything in your large online file.

The law of mathematics applies to you

Oh Excel, why can't you think outside the box a bit! I know you're great at math. You also have nice formulas and colors. But unfortunately you can't talk or think. You only know laws from arithmetic, and anyone who comes at you with regulations from company law has lost from the outset. Because you simply don't understand it.

So when I create my Excel shift plan, I have to make sure that company regulations and labor laws are adhered to. With every change. Otherwise I'll not only have a problem with the employees or with you, but also with the staff council.

You don't like working in a team

Dear Excel, you really are a loner, aren't you? Others don't like working with you, do they? That's not because of your quirks - which somehow make you quite likeable - but because you simply don't want to work with others. Or can't.

Because no one has yet managed to integrate the Excel shift plan into our internal programs for recording working hours or payroll accounting without a great deal of effort. This also remains laborious manual work.

Excel, you have stolen our time!

I think I really have spent more time with you than with many other colleagues. It really is about time we met up after work. Don't you think? But all joking aside: I like you, Excel. I really like you. But Excel and personnel planning just don't go well together. I think it would be better if we kept them separate. I'm sorry.