Monthly Archives: March 2013

Staffing and Scheduling – The Compressed Work Week

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This posting is the first in a series of posts that will examine the relationship between the schedule your employees are working and the number of people it takes to staff your operation.  Today, I will focus only on a scheduling practice commonly referred to as a Compressed Work Week.

A Compressed Work Week (CWW) schedule is one in which people work more hours on the days that they work so they can have more days off.

I’m going to look at this several different ways because the impact of a CWW changes, depending on your situation.

Scenario #1: I have one employee and he trims trees for 8 hours a day, five days a week.

In this case, we can be almost indifferent about our employee’s schedule.  He probably shouldn’t work at night but, so long as he spends 40 hours a week trimming trees, we don’t care if he does it in 10-hour or 8-hour chunks.  We do care about 12-hour chunks because in order to average 40 hours a week, he would have to work ten 12-hour shifts in a 3-week period. This means that at least one of those weeks will have 4 days of work in it.  This means 48 hours of work in a single week which will increase costs when you pay overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a week.  Note: No extra staffing is needed in this case.

Scenario #2: I have one employee and he is a receptionist for my office which is open for 8-hours a day, five days a week.

In this case, a CWW will actually hurt you.  If you only need a person for 8 hours in a day and they are there for 10 hours, you are paying for 2 hours that you don’t need.  Furthermore, this person is now only working 4 days a week while your office is open for 5 days.  This means you will have to use overtime for the fifth day or hire a part-time employee or do without a receptionist for 1 day a week.

Scenario #3: I have five employees working 8 hours a day for five days a week.  My business only needs four employees at a time and I need them for 10 hours a day.

No problem here.  Put everyone on 10-hour shifts.  They each work four days a week and they each get a different day off.  In this way, four show up every day for 10 hours and no overtime is incurred.  This example is made to work out perfectly.  However, imagine that you have 7 people and need only five to show up – the number just won’t work out.  Basically, if you are 20% overstaffed on a daily basis and your daily coverage is 20% less than it needs to be, you can change your schedule from 8’s to 10’s without a cost.  Anything else will be problematic.

A few notes about compressed work week schedules…

  • As you can see by the three examples above, your conditions will determine if this is a good idea or not.
  • Even though they might not realize it, your employees will love a CWW schedule after they have been on it for a few weeks.  The might not like the longer days but they will love the extra days off.  There are two things that result from this: (1) Retention will go up as schedule satisfaction goes up and (2) Retention will go down if you take away their new schedule which they have come to love – so be sure it will work for you before you implement it.
  • Although it may seem counter-intuitive, your employees will average more sleep on a CWW schedule than on one with 8-hour shifts.  The reason for this is that people sleep slightly less on days they are working longer shifts AND they are sleeping significantly more on days that they don’t have to work.
  • In the United States, we see CWW schedules implemented most often in operations that run 24/7. There are two reasons for this.  The first is that people love the extra days off. The second is that an 8-hour schedule that covers 24/7 must rotate (Trust me on this one.  Give me a call if you want more details as to why.)

 

 

Staffing, overtime and your schedule

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One of the most common and misunderstood issues surrounding schedules is the relationship between staffing, overtime and the schedule itself.

The reality is that a schedule has no impact on the quantity of overtime your site is experiencing.

Overtime is a function of (1) How much work is there to do and (2) How many people do you have to do that work.

Your schedule only tells you “when” the overtime will occur.

If you take a look at all the hours it takes to get a job done, and then look at how many people you have to do the work, you will know how many hours per person will be needed.

If you have 4,200 hours of work to be done next week and 100 employees to do it, then everyone will average 42 hours of work for an overtime rate of 5%.  Notice that the schedule played no role in determining this figure.

So where does a schedule come into play?

In most cases, a schedule will tell you “when” the overtime will occur.

For example, if your schedule has short shifts (i.e. 8 hours or less), the overtime is typically worked before or after a regular shift.  There are two reasons for this.  First, the shift is short enough that you can add hours to it without adversely impacting safety or productivity.  Secondly, the shorter the shift, the more days of work your schedule will have.  This means you have fewer days off.  The fewer days you have off, the more you want to protect them.  Therefore, if you have to work overtime, you’d rather do it on a day when you are already at work rather than giving up one of your preciously few days off.

If you have longer shifts (i.e. 10-hour or 12-hour shifts) then overtime is much more likely to occur on a regularly scheduled day off.  There are two reasons for this.  First, the longer the shift, the fewer hours you can add before the shift become too long and begin to adversely impact alertness, safety and productivity.  Secondly, longer shifts have many more days off.  More days off has the impact of lessening the value of a day off, (In much the same way that diamonds would be less valuable if they were laying around everywhere.)  This means that it is less painful to give up a day off, when you have a lot of them.

There is one condition where the schedule can play a role in the “quantity” of overtime – When you have the wrong schedule to begin with.

The wrong schedule can cause you to take the “perfect” number of people and put them in less than perfect locations.  For example, if you have the right number of people but your schedule causes you to be overstaffed during some time periods; you will then be under staffed during other time periods. This will cause overtime.  More importantly, they will cause Idle Time when you are overstaffed along with the Overtime for when you are understaffed.  Both of these conditions create high avoidable costs that can be eliminated with the right schedule.

 

The Impact of Local Unemployment

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More often than not, companies come to us when they are out of capacity.  Overtime is high and the workforce is becoming tired.  Absenteeism is leading to under-staffing and more overtime.  This is the type of death-spiral that does not right itself unassisted.

Improved shift scheduling can help.  However, one component is often to bring in more straight time hours – hiring more employees.

Given the currently high national unemployment rate, it can be hard to imagine that this would be one of the hardest parts of a schedule change.  Certainly there are plenty of people out there looking for work, right?

Possibly.

Areas with high unemployment can be viewed as a “buyers market”; one in which a person is selling his time and the company is buying that time.  Since there are a lot of people willing to sell their time, the market is flooded and therefore, the buyer (the company) is in a stronger position when it comes to setting wages.

However, if manpower is scarce, this changes.  It becomes a “sellers market”; one in which the person selling his time has more power and control over wages.

Where is the tipping point?

This is hard to precisely identify as it depends on the skill set you are looking for.  You may be in a high unemployment area but the skills you need are scarce so it will feel like a low unemployment situation.

However, most companies start to see the change when unemployment drops to about 6%. Above this number, its relatively easy to find labor.  Below this number,  labor starts to get scarce.

When unemployment drops below 5% companies really start to feel the pain.  Basically, everyone that wants a job already has one and those remaining are unemployable for some reason

Companies need to be prepared to sweeten the pot when this happens.  Wages alone will not attract and retain quality employees in a tight labor market.  Get creative with your schedules.  Have different schedules that offer appeal to different demographics.  We had one company actually place ads in the local newspaper touting the fact that they had several types of schedules to fit all different types of lifestyles.

Thinking outside of the box when it comes to work schedules is a low-cost way to attract and retain the people you want and need.