Here's How to React if Your Boss Changes Your Schedule

A few months ago, I woke to an email announcing that the schedule for NPs and PAs in my department had changed. Effective Monday, the 3pm shift now started at Noon. "WTF?!" I thought, "Thanks for the advance notice". It was as if my employer completely disregarded the fact that I might actually have something other than work going on in my life. The showing up a few hours earlier wasn't in reality a big deal to me compared with the disregard for my personal time.

Another similar situation occurred a few years ago. I accepted a nurse practitioner job at a clinic just five minutes from my house. The short commute was obviously a consideration in finding and taking the position. Then, several months later, a need arose at a satellite clinic an hour away. I was essentially transferred to the other clinic, now with a two hour daily commute rather than the ten minutes I originally signed on for.

Other nurse practitioners I talk with have experienced similar situations. Bosses change clinic hours and locations which totally messes up one's schedule, not to mention can feel like disrespect for one's personal life. While these scenarios can lead to the end of what was once a good employment relationship, you can often salvage things, stay on good terms and reach a compromise with your employer. The key to reaching a mutually agreeable solution is your initial reaction (hint: it's not giving your boss the middle finger or writing an email that says "Take this job and shove it"). Here are the steps to take when your boss changes your schedule.

Step 1: Check Your Contract  

Before you get indignant, check your employment agreement. What does it say about when and where you will work? Does it specify a schedule or anything else about working hours? A few points to consider as you review your contract: 

  • Your employer must allow you to work the minimum hours stated in your contract, and generally can't force you to work more than the number of hours stated in your contract (exact interpretation of your employment agreement will of course depend on how this is worded). 
  • Legally, your employer is allowed to change your schedule unless otherwise stipulated in your employment contract. The Department of Labor specifies that "an employer may change an employee's work hours without giving prior notice or obtaining the employee's consent (unless otherwise subject to a prior agreement between the employer and employee or the employee's representative)".

Once you've looked over your contract you know better how to position your argument. If your schedule was agreed to contractually have a conversation with your boss centered around a reminder of this agreement. If not, read on. 

Step 2: Talk with Your Boss

The first step to take whenever you feel wronged, treated unfairly, or are just plain upset is to seek to understand. Ask your boss what prompted the change in schedule. Is there a reason your schedule is changing as opposed to someone else's? Does the company have a need that isn't currently being met? Is your job performance a concern? Have a helpful attitude as you tease out the reason behind the change. Understanding your employer's motivation will prepare you for reaching a solution. Keep things positive. Remember, you're just gathering information at this point. End the conversation with something along the lines of "Let me think about how I can make this work" to give you time to consider your position in the matter. 

Step 3: Think Through Your Position 

An abrupt announcement about your schedule may have caused you to panic. But, keep things in perspective. Long-term, is the change really a big deal? If not, it may be worth accommodating your employer's mandate without protesting. Perhaps the change even sets you up for a better employment situation long-term. Remind yourself that change is inevitable in a job. Is this a change you really care about? If so, think about what you really want. Can you be happy with any amount of change? How? Once you know what you really want, continue on to step 4. 

Step 4: Find a Solution

It's likely there is a solution to the issue at hand. The solution may be as simple as it's annoying when your boss changes your schedule because you have a robust personal life and it throws off your social calendar. If so, solving the problem simply means letting your boss know you need more of a heads up in the future. Say something along the lines of the following to prevent a similar situation in the future: "I really like working here, but last minute changes in my schedule are tough for me. Can we talk about a way I can have a more predictable schedule?". 

If the problem is more complex, try your hand at finding a solution. Consider asking a coworker if they would trade shifts with you, for example. Now that you understand your boss' motivation for the schedule swap, you can work to accommodate both your employer's and your own needs.

Once you have a few options pieced together, set up a time to meet with your boss (this is far more effective than hashing out the situation in the hallway between patient visits). Avoid complaining. Rather, be helpful in your approach. Don't threaten to quit unless you actually intend to do so if the problem isn't resolved. 

Step 5: Get it in Writing

If your boss has agreed to a compromise, made promises about your work situation etc., you'll want to memorialize these in writing. A good way to do so is to write your boss a post-meeting email saying something along the lines of "Thanks for meeting with me today, I'm glad we were able to agree on my schedule moving forward. Based on our meeting, my schedule will be (outline your new schedule, terms etc. in bullet points). Does this sound like an accurate recap of our conversation?"

Viola! One you receive an affirmative reply, you've got an informal written agreement to fall back on if your employer switches up your schedule again in the future. 

Step 6: Learn from Experience 

As you've learned from experience, things are constantly changing in the clinic and hospital setting. You can't expect your job to look exactly the same year over year. So, if things like your schedule, work location and number of hours are important to you, get them in writing. Just like with clinical documentation, if it isn't written it isn't done. Negotiating is part of business. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want when you're signing on to a new position. You may have to compromise but it's worth a try, right?!