advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

My employee freaked out over his schedule

I’m an assistant manager at a coffee shop (NOT you-know-who). I do the ordering, most of the hiring, and a bunch of other stuff too. I also write the schedule, which is by far my biggest headache. It doesn’t actually take much time, but geez – the drama! For instance, the other day one of my employees came to me all freaked out because he thought I’d cut his shifts for no reason. He was so angry he was practically shaking! Eventually I got him to calm down – and yes, I’d messed up. But it was an honest mistake (a few people had asked off that week, so I did some juggling to make things work; he sort of got lost in the shuffle). Anyway, I assured him he’d be back to his usual schedule for the following week. But I also told him he can’t come to me all worked up like that. It’s inappropriate and unprofessional. I don’t think that’s too much to ask… – Name withheld

C’mon. You screwed up this guy’s schedule?

Of course he was livid.

Let me remind you that when hourly wage earners lose hours, they lose $. You didn’t just “mess up”, in other words. You cut his pay. How would you like it if one day your compensation was reduced for no apparent reason? I doubt there’s much wiggle room in your barista’s budget either, given what that job typically pays.[1] And if he depends on your organization for benefits (like healthcare), he may need to clock a certain number of hours to qualify. Your little oversight may have jeopardized those as well.

I don’t mean to read you the riot act here, but nor would your employee have any way of knowing if this was to be the new normal, would he? Perhaps he thought you were trying to send him a message by cutting his shifts? As a former hourly service worker myself, I can assure you employees are constantly trying to read the tea leaves in situations like this. Regular performance appraisals aren’t typical in industries like yours, so employees often have no way of knowing if they’re still in their manager’s good graces. When something like this happens, they’re apt to assume the worst.

Finally (then I promise to get off your case), you may have compounded your error by admitting he “got lost in the shuffle.” I certainly hope you didn’t say this to his face. You’re so unimportant to the organization that I basically forgot about you, you might as well have confessed.

So you’ve got some making up to do, I’m afraid.

For starters, offer him an additional shift or shifts to make up for the ones he lost. Don’t do this without clearing it with him first, though. That would be to make another mistake. His regular schedule may be precious to him; any variations could really mess things up if he has other commitments (which might also explain why he was so upset in the first place). Show him the consideration you failed to the first time around and ask what works best for him.

Finally, it’s really, really important that you apologize for screwing up so royally. Sincerely. If you have already, great.

Do. It. Again.

And then promise—again, sincerely—that, in the future, you won’t make any changes to his schedule without checking with him first.

That, to my mind, would be the appropriate—and most professional—way to handle your error.



[1] According to, the average hourly wage for a barista in the US is $14.85, or about $29,700 annually (not including tips). Retrieved 10-9-23.


  1. Derek Steel

    Agree 100% with everything the inSubordinate has written here. Shift workers are a truly financially vulnerable population. Most of the time they’re not making all that much money, so one shift less per week can really put their fragile financial situation on the skids and cause undue stress and anxiety.

    I do have a slight bit of sympathy for the scheduler here, though, because scheduling people for shift work is one of the most time-consuming and difficult aspects of management in the hospitality industry, be it a restaurant or coffee shop or catering operation. It’s a task rife with this kind of dilemma, a giant juggling act involving people’s needs, preferences, personal schedules, work skills (or lack of them!), interpersonal dynamics (ya can’t schedule Suzy with Roger–they hate each other!), and a plethora of other factors. The more complex or irregular the operation, the worse it is and the more house-of-cardsy it all gets.

    All this to say, a well prepared schedule is extremely important–to the needs of the business and the employees alike–so the scheduler really needs to take it extremely seriously and spend the time to get it or make it right.

  2. Bill

    This was very interesting. The feedback seems spot-on and in general gave me a much better appreciation of the challenges associated with scheduling. My thing would most likely be freaking out if I got scheduled for a shift I hadn’t asked for – particularly if I had made other plans, or worse, appointments that would be hard to reschedule. But of course, everyone’s needs and perspective is different. Which is, I guess, why the nuts and bolts of scheduling can potentially be filled with opportunities to tick off your employees, especially if you aren’t already consulting with, or ideally being so plugged in you have a good sense of people’s preferences and financial / other needs.


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