How to sharpen your staff planning

Management and administration of staff planning is something that all higher education institutions do. The methods vary. Resources and utilisation are normally planned using the tools that are available and that people are familiar with. All too often, this is Excel. Does that ring a bell?

This article is about how you can be more efficient, save time and simplify your planning by using a smart, professional staff planning tool.

Information always up-to-date – easier planning

One major challenge in staff planning is finding out quickly what staff changes are taking place and when – everything from illness, holidays and leave of absence to new employment, terminations or changes in full-time equivalents.
When you use a professional staff planning tool which is integrated with the human resources system at your higher education institution, you automatically capture all staff changes. You avoid having to search for the information yourself, which shortens lead times and reduces the risk of misunderstandings. Instead, heads of department receive a notification of the changes from the system and can reschedule immediately, without any interruption in activities.

Less administration – more time for other things

Automating your staff planning gives rise to an infinite number of benefits. For example, a digital planning tool reduces administration, increases transparency at all stages and provides full control over costs and utilisation rates.
Above all, you save time. A professional staff planning tool has several powerful features dealing with aspects such as:

  • Borrowing and lending staff between departments.
  • Production of supporting data for account-coding of salaries.
  • Signing of work task plans.
  • Monitoring of revenues and costs while planning.
  • Management of delegated course planning for course coordinators.

Tight rein on staff utilisation rates – become a good employer

Higher education institutions, like all employers, have a great deal of responsibility for employees’ work environment. Staff who work too much for long periods do not feel well, which can, as we know, lead to exhaustion or, in the worst case, to them being signed off sick.

When you use a professional staff planning tool, you can track staff utilisation rates on a continuous basis, month by month, as changes occur – you don’t miss anything. The system also makes it easy for staff, managers and trade unions to access utilisation rates and the relevant work task plan, transparently and securely.

Compliance with the working hours agreement – everyone does the same

It’s important for everyone throughout the higher education institution, both employers and staff, to comply with working hours agreements. However, it’s very common for aspects such as time for continuing professional development, administration time, overtime and additional time to be dealt with and interpreted in different ways even within the same institution.

With a professional staff planning tool, everyone has a very clear understanding of what applies and it becomes easy to monitor. One additional feature is the ability to sign and archive work task plans completely digitally in the system.

Greater transparency – fewer misunderstandings

When you go from hands-on manual administration to a professional staff planning system, one of the greatest benefits is that employees always have the latest version of the plan. You avoid misunderstandings, hitches and the additional work that often results from a staff plan that is not current – everyone can access the information, which is always up-to-date.


In addition, the system provides clear summaries of different views that make it easier for teachers, heads of department, management and trade unions to carry out their work. Examples of views include utilisation rates per person per month and a graphical representation of when courses and activities occur during the term.

Excel can handle a great deal, but nowhere near everything

A few words about Excel. It’s been over 30 years since Microsoft Excel saw the light of day and today it’s still the most common solution by far for institutions with no professional staff planning system. Of course, you can do a great deal in Excel, but the more often you work in the document and the bigger it becomes, the more problems usually occur.

  • Dependent on one person: When the person who put together the institution’s own Excel solution leaves the post, it often becomes completely unusable.
  • Risk of multiple versions of the truth: Outdated copies of the planning circulate within your organisation or new changes are made to already dated versions.
  • Risks relating to information security: The Excel document often contains sensitive information about absence or illness, for example. All it takes for a breach of information security is for the Excel document to be sent to the wrong e-mail address.
  • The human factor gives rise to errors in formulas: It’s very common (and easy) to miscalculate in Excel.
  • Difficult to scale up: But as more and more planners, and course coordinators in particular, become involved in the planning, it becomes more complicated and the risk of errors increases.
  • Challenge of complying with GDPR: Complying with all GDPR requirements is particularly challenging with Excel-based solutions because it’s difficult to ensure that the information is not disseminated to unauthorised persons and that it’s saved and managed securely.


Now you’ve been given a quick overview of what a professional staff planning system can do for you and your institution. To sum up: it saves time, makes everything simpler and more efficient and keeps you, the management, the trade unions and the staff up-to-date on work task plans, utilisation, budgets and changes. No matter what happens, when it happens.

If you want to learn more about the pitfalls and benefits of staff planning as well as what you can expect from a professional staff planning system, sign up for our free webinar.

Read more about the benefits of a professional staff planning system that has been developed specifically for higher education institutions.

These are the most important features that a higher education institution should require in a professional staff planning system.

About the author

Jens Apelgren has over ten years’ experience in workforce planning at higher education institutions and has personally introduced workforce planning systems at 18 different institutions. Jens is CEO of Retendo AB, which offers systems to streamline administration for both higher education institutions and project-oriented companies. Jens is closely involved in the development of Retendo’s workforce planning system.