What are employee timesheets and rotas? 

A rota – sometimes referred to as a roster or staff schedule – is a plan which outlines who is working where and when. They’re typically used by businesses who operate outside the standard “9 to 5”, such as restaurants. 

A timesheet documents the hours someone has worked, particularly shift workers. They’re essential for ensuring employees are paid properly and that no one exceeds the 48-hour working week limit. 

business owner planning a staff rota

What kinds of businesses need staff rotas? 

Rotas are used by many types and sizes of businesses. Because a rota is a plan of who will work on a particular day and time, they will often differ in scheduling from week to week, or month to month. 

Some examples include: 

  • Shops and supermarkets 
  • Bars, restaurants and cafes 
  • Recreation (e.g. theme parks) 
  • Delivery/logistics services 
  • On-call trades (e.g. plumber) 
  • Virtual assistants and online tech support. 
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Get our guide for employers on timesheets, rotas & online time management solutions 

Rotas and timesheets are used day in, day out by many businesses – but could there be a way to optimise how you schedule your staff’s time? 

Our essential free guide to rotas and timesheets covers everything you need to know. It looks at: 

  • Timesheets and rotas in a nutshell 
  • Rota and timesheet challenges 
  • Staff scheduling need-to-knows 
  • Outlining your scheduling needs 
  • Online timesheet solutions 
  • Rota software explained. 

How inefficient timesheets and rotas affect businesses  

Even one-off issues with staff scheduling can snowball and affect employees and businesses. 

Inefficient management of rotas and timesheets can mean: 

  • A business (unknowingly) fails to comply with the law 
  • Shifts being severely understaffed during busy periods 
  • Staff not being paid the full wage they’re owed  
  • Managers spending too much time on admin, e.g. tracking dates or times. 
employees filling out their timesheets

Important things to know when scheduling staff 

When you’re scheduling how your staff work and when, there’s a lot to consider.  

When creating staff rotas, you need to: 

  • Know how night shifts work

    Night shifts are strictly regulated in the UK. If someone regularly works 3+ hours within the night period – which runs from 11pm to 6am – then they are classed as a night worker. 

    Night shifts are typically seven hours long, and night workers are not to work more than an average of 8 hours in every 24. If someone doesn’t want to work night hours, they cannot be discriminated against for this choice. 

  • Provide minimum leave

    If you’re creating rotas for full-time workers, you must ensure they receive 28 days (5.6 weeks) of annual leave per year, at the least. 

    Bank or public holidays such as Christmas can be counted to this total. 

    This rule is for people covered by the Working Time Regulations 1998, including agency workers. 

  • Ensure breaks are adhered to

    There are three types of breaks, all of which must be adhered to when creating legally-compliant rotas: 

    • Worktime breaks – A 20-minute break must be provided if staff are working for more than six hours  
    • Daily rest – You must allocate at least 11 hours between working days or nights 
    • Weekly rest – You must provide a 24-hour window every week where the employee does not work and if they’re working over a fortnight, a 48-hour window of non-work must be provided. 
  • Comply with zero hours contracts

    A zero hours contract is a working contract that the employee enters into without any guarantee of work hours. When the opportunity arises, the individual can choose to accept the work offered or not. 

    However, this is considered distinct from self-employed people, who might agree to zero hours with regular clients. 

    Anyone on a zero hours contract must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage per hour. 

  • Facilitate flexible working

    Flexible working is when employees have more control over the hours they work, for example: 

    • Completing a standard 7.5-hour working day within preferred hours 
    • Flexi-time working 
    • Compressed hours  

    After working 26 weeks for an employer, anyone can request flexible working. As an employer, you must be reasonable. This can mean: 

    • Considering the advantages and disadvantages  
    • Having a meeting to discuss it 
    • Offering them a right to appeal if the decision doesn’t go their way. 
  • Account for hybrid working

    Hybrid working refers to employees working some days from the workplace/office and some days from home.

    Many businesses opt for three days at home and two in the office or vice-versa. It’s not mandatory; however, according to the CIPD, 83% of organisations have made hybrid working a part of their operations.

    Employees – especially those who can easily work from home – are coming to expect to be offered a hybrid working option.

  • Consider home working

    While not suitable for every business, if your staff can feasibly work from home on a full-time basis, you may wish to consider providing this as an option. 

    The CIPD has recently flagged a growing number of employees seeking a home-working arrangement; however, one in five firms admit they struggle to cater for this. 

    While it’s not a mandatory requirement, it’s well worth employers considering this option when arranging weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly staff rotas. 

Frequently asked questions

Find out more about staff scheduling, rotas and timesheets. 

In brief, a rota is a plan of who will work on a particular day and time. They are typically used by businesses that operate outside a set or standard time, such as restaurants, shops, and logistics firms. 

A timesheet documents the hours someone has worked and is generally completed at the start and end of a shift. Shifts are often measured by staff action, e.g. tapping in and out of work using their ID. 

Timesheets are often used by employers to make sure they’re not exceeding the 48-hour working week limit.

A manager or HR department will typically oversee and manage staff rotas. 

However, without the right help or software, rota management can negatively impact the people involved: 

  • Managers get bogged down with rota admin instead of leading the team 
  • HR staff get stuck fiddling with schedules instead of focusing on strategic people management 
  • Employees may suffer if over-subscribed senior colleagues make errors when creating the rota. 

Every business has its own unique rota requirements, but most successful rotas include the following: 

  • Each employee’s name listed alongside all relevant information, e.g. their location, the department they’re in, any staffing requirements (such as home-working). 
  • Rotas tend to be based on a grid format; if it’s a daily schedule, it will run top to bottom. A weekly schedule typically runs from left to right. 
  • Rotas should ideally be digital and created either via spreadsheet or rota management software. 

Cloud-based rota software is a program that helps you manage your rota and is accessible via your PC, phone or digital device. 

  • Cloud-based rota software is hosted online; you can access it from anywhere with an internet connection. 
  • These centralised hubs allow managers to inform staff of shift changes and updates using one reliable data source. 
  • Good cloud-based software includes secured “self-service” apps, so employees can quickly check their hours and make requests. 

Timesheets are used to track and record the hours employees work, ensuring they are paid for all the time they’ve contributed. 

Online timesheets have a number of benefits, especially compared to logging time manually in a logbook or spreadsheet.  

  • All timesheet information is in one place, accessible by anyone with secure access and an internet connection. 
  • Online timesheets software typically includes automated processes, cutting down on manual admin. 
  • Online timesheet software often provides employee self-service portals so staff can easily check and monitor their logged hours. 

For employers, getting rotas and timesheets wrong could mean: 

  • You might not be complying with the law, e.g. scheduling employees without legally enforced breaks 
  • You over or understaff a shift, leading to overworked or under-motivated staff 
  • Your staff may not be paid adequately, leading to low employee morale or lack of trust 
  • You get a skewed understanding of staffing requirements, leading to further unrest or poor management. 

By keeping an accurate and well-managed rota, your business can make sure your people are always being paid the National Minimum (or Living) Wage or higher. 

If the rota isn’t managed properly, an employee might end up working too many hours of unpaid overtime. This might bring their hourly pay below the thresholds set by the UK Government, leading to an underpaid employee and the potential for legal action against the company. 

Time-tracking software allows its employees to record time spent on tasks or projects. While it can be a useful tool when applied correctly, it can have its downsides. 

If you use time-tracking software, the CIPD warns there is a danger of presenteeism, as people may feel obliged to come into work when they are not physically or mentally well.  

This approach can also lead to companies focusing too much on the amount of hours worked rather than measuring an employee’s performance based on the quality of the work’s outcome.  

There is no specific difference between a rota and a roster; they both describe a form of scheduling used to manage employees’ time and dictate which shifts people will be working. 

Read more about timesheets, rotas and managing your people’s time at work

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