HR Management··8 min read

What Is Labor Forecasting? (And Why Do You Need It?)

What Is Labor Forecasting

Whether you manage a restaurant or an entire production line of automobiles, labor forecasting is a critical managerial process that can save your company thousands in labor costs. If you’re not quite familiar with labor forecasting, here is a look at what it is, why your company needs it, and different methods for forecasting labor that you can try today.

What is labor forecasting?

Labor forecasting is simply a formal process for anticipating how many staffing hours your company will require in the future. This is particularly useful for organizations as it helps them to make sure that they are not understaffed – which can negatively impact sales, or overstaffed – which creates unnecessary labor costs.

Finding the perfect balance is not always easy, but it is worth it for the many benefits it can bring to an organization.

Why your company needs labor forecasting

In addition to preventing your company from being overstaffed or understaffed in the short term, successful workforce forecasting also has many other long-term benefits. Some of the main long-term benefits of labor forecasting include:

  • Improved overall customer service experience. When your team is working at optimum productivity, they are able to focus on performing their job at its very best. For customer-facing employees, that means they can provide a much better service experience to your customers and clients. For example, if your restaurant is low on wait-staff for the evening, other employees will have to pick up the slack. This can cause frustration, resentment, and can oftentimes lead to mistakes.
  • Prevention of employee burnout and improved retention. Working environments that are chronically understaffed can cause employees to feel mentally stressed and drained. Too much stress can cause burnout, which can then lead to increased absenteeism or even more complex mental health problems. On the flip side, an overstaffed environment may make employees feel unfulfilled in their role. In some cases, an employee may feel motivated to seek employment elsewhere if they feel like they are not making an impact.
  • Improved managerial capacity to make strategic, long-term decisions. When the day to day staffing runs smoothly, managers are able to focus their energy on more important, long-term matters. Some of these matters include business growth and development projects, process optimization activities, and upskilling for themselves or for their staff.

5 Common Labor forecasting Methods

Whether they are aware of it or not, most managers already perform basic labor forecasting techniques in their day to day managerial duties. Here are five of the most common methods used in the workplace today.

1. Historical Analysis

If you’ve ever made a staffing schedule for an upcoming month based on your staffing needs from the previous month, you have conducted a historical analysis – and it’s one of the best ways to plan ahead for your company’s labor requirements.

Simply put, historical analyses take into account past information and trends, and then future labor planning is based on any patterns that you may find.

Some questions to consider when doing a historical analysis:

  • What days/times is your business the slowest/busiest?
  • Do you have any particular seasons of the year which are slower or busier?
  • Is your company affected by any holidays or special events?

Historical analyses are particularly helpful with restaurant forecasting, as it is easy to identify ‘busy phases’ throughout the day and week – i.e. around mealtimes, special events, and weekends.

2. Market Research

If you are a brand-new business, you may want to conduct some market research to determine what the future staffing needs of your business may be. You can always research the schedule forecasting trends of other companies in your industry, and then apply those trends to your business. You can also reach out to similar business owners to see if they have any advice on staffing, scheduling, or seasonal trends.

Some questions to explore when researching:

  • What are the typical daily staffing needs of similar-sized businesses in your industry?
  • Are there any particularly slow or busy seasons in your industry?
  • Are there any particularly slow or busy seasons in your geographical location?

3. Delphi Method

The Delphi method is another classic forecasting technique that can be beneficial for companies that have multiple leaders making decisions about staffing and scheduling. In this technique, each decision-maker is sent a series of anonymous questionnaires regarding future labor needs. The answers are then collected, and a conclusion is made based on the group’s collective, aggregated responses.

This method is ideal for longer-term staffing decisions that may be sensitive or political. Because participants must submit their responses anonymously, they will answer honestly and with good judgment, without feeling worried about what the other leaders may think.

4. Advanced Quantitative Methods

More advanced forecasting techniques use statistical analysis to form a trendline based on historical data, future events, and other variables such as economic conditions and broader business trends. These methods are particularly useful for larger organizations in need of more sophisticated insights about their anticipated labor needs.

Some of the most common advanced quantitative methods for labor forecasting include regression modeling techniques, the Box-Jenkins technique, econometric modeling, and life-cycle analyses.

5. Managerial Judgment

At the end of the day, nothing beats managerial judgment when making staffing decisions, and good managers will know first-hand when they need staff, and when they do not need staff.

Good managers can also help plan ahead for anomalies that traditional forecasting methods may not catch. Is there a new event in your area that may attract lots of new foot traffic? Have you implemented a new system that may alleviate work required by some of your staff? Do they have first-hand knowledge that an employee may leave soon due to personal reasons?

All of these questions are potential blind spots that only managers will have the insight and responsibility to act on.

It’s Okay to Use Multiple Forecasting Techniques

Remember, it’s okay to utilize several different forecasting techniques for your business. Each method is useful in its own way, and there may be different points in time where one method is more practical to use than another. You may even find that some methods work better for short-term planning, while others work better for long-term planning.

As a conclusion, the most important takeaways regarding labor forecasting are to:

  1. Be aware of how your company predicts and plans for labor needs
  2. Implement policies that include a variety of labor forecasting methods and best practices


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