Category Archives: Schedule Considerations

The difference between “a schedule” and “your schedule”

The number one way that companies find a shift schedule is to hold a meeting and ask, “So, does anyone know of any shift schedule patterns?”

There are several false assumption built into this methodology.  One is that all schedules are created equal; that any schedule that covers the hours needed is as good as any other schedule.  Another is that the workforce, having been allowed to choose between a couple of patterns will be satisfied that their needs have been considered.  Also, there is the one-size-fits-all idea which says that if one area goes to a 24/7 schedule (for example) then all other areas must follow suit.  There is the staffing assumption that you must staff to allow for ZERO overtime and that all areas of the operation must increase or decrease staffing levels in lock-step; that is to say, if a new schedule covers 40% more hours you will need 40% more employees across the board (including supervision, quality, maintenance etc.)  Finally, there is the assumption that policies for things such as holidays and vacations, which worked for your old schedule, will also work for your new schedule.

There are actually many, many more issues that are overlooked or swept under the carpet in the name of expediency, but I think you get the picture.

The right schedule is one that is implemented using the old carpenter’s adage of “Measure Twice and Cut Once.”

Taking the time to do a schedule change right will not only save you from problems down the road, but will likely result in immediate production gains and cost decreases which are not realized by the “Who knows a schedule pattern” methodology.

Here are my thoughts on just a couple of the “assumptions” mentioned above.

Employee participation is more than just allowing them to select between a couple of patterns.  Participation means they know why a change is taking place.  They are educated about what schedules can do (and can’t do).  They are given a wide variety of options that span the range of what is available instead of just a few similar patterns.  They are allowed to have meaningful input on things like overtime levels, start times, day on/off patterns and more.  They are given “perfect” information about their final options in such a way as to allow them to discuss the options with their families before making a choice.

One-size-does NOT-fit-all:  You may have an operation that absolutely needs to go to 24/7 (for example).  In some cases this means a “balanced” schedule across all days of the week where every day has the same number of people in production.  However, suppose one or more areas can keep up with the 24/7 production by only running one shift a week; should they go to the 24/7 schedule?  What about maintenance?  Should they have a “balanced” schedule or should the labor be moved to parts of the week which maximize production?  Remember, maintenance is at its peak performance when production is at its lowest.  (It’s hard to fix equipment while it is running.)  What about quality, engineering and office staff?  These areas rarely need to go to a 24/7 schedule (in their entirety) when production does.   The “Best Schedule” is usually a collection of schedules that allow all areas to operate and support each other seamlessly.

Staffing is where most companies make the most costly mistakes.  They either over-staff and thus, pay for labor they don’t need or they under-staff and run the risk of high fatigue and turnover that typically come with a worn out workforce.  Staffing is not guesswork.  There are mathematical solutions that will tell you what the optimal staffing level is for your site.

As for policies, let me just say this: “If you think your 5-day policies will all work just fine on a 24/7 schedule – you are wrong.”

If you decide to “go it alone” let me at least offer you this: Give me a call when you get stuck.  So long as I don’t have to pick up a pencil, I’m free.  So don’t make a mistake because you didn’t have someone to go to.  My name is Jim Dillingham and I can be reached at (415) 265-1621.  You can also email me at Jim@shift-work.com.

 

How to engage our services

There is a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Blink, the Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

In a nutshell, he talks about how too much information is not always a good thing.  We often make better choices with less information rather than more.

I sometimes worry that our site offers too much.  We really want visitors to our site to be able to find answers to their questions.  We want them to know how we can help and we want them to contact us if they have questions.  To this end, we have packed this site with as much information about ourselves and shiftwork in general as we possibly can.

And still, when people call us the first question is nearly always, “What is it you guys do?”

This tells me that we have “too much” stuff to sort through to get to that bottom line issue.  In this blog, I’m going to talk about how to find the answer to that question.

If you call me needing help, and I don’t have to pick up a pencil, I will help you for as long as I have the time to spend, without any fee.  So, call with your questions and don’t worry about being on the clock.

Our core business is helping companies to change schedules.  Companies range in size from a couple of dozen shift workers at a single site to thousands of shift workers at sites around the world.

Most often, companies need to expand from a 3-crew, 5-day operation to a 4-crew 24/7 operation.  I would estimate that this makes up about 70% our our business.

We work with every type of industry including nuclear power, call centers, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, refining, packaging, distribution, semi-conductor, shipping and many, many more.

About 80% of our work is in the United States.

A typical engagement process begins with an initial call from the client to us.  On this call, we discuss our process, usually very briefly.

If the potential client is interested in learning more, we offer an on-site visit.  This is typically a 2-hour meeting with the local management team.  During this visit, we discuss our process in detail while addressing their current situation.  We do not charge a fee for this but the people that invite us out typically pay for travel expenses.

Once this initial meeting is over, we know a lot about the client’s needs and they know a lot about our services.  At this point, the client typically likes to have a few days to discuss what they have learned.  If they decide they want a proposal, we send them one and work typically begins within a few weeks.

I use the word “typically” a lot since there is quite a bit of variance.  Some companies that have several sites just call us up and say “We have another site.  When can you start?”

I will use a few more posts to discuss our services in a “broad stroke” type of view.  However, if you can’t wait for those posts, the information is in our site, amongst all of the other stuff you might be looking for.

And remember, you can always call and ask “What is it you guys do?”

Jim Dillingham

Jim@shift-work.com

(415) 265-1621

Changing Schedules 101

Every now and then, I like to return to the basics.  Today I’m going to cover some of the basic DOs and DON’Ts for those of you considering a change to your schedule.

DO make sure you have clearly identified your need.  Changing schedules can be a traumatic experience for your workforce.  You don’t want to put them through it over and over again and you seek the perfect schedule coverage through a series of Trial and Errors.

DON’T think that there is a schedule where 100% of your workforce will be happy.  There are two reasons for this.  First of all, shift workers judge a schedule by the time off it provides. Since everyone goes to different lifestyles when they leave work, it is not surprising that they will have different opinions about what schedule best serves their needs.  Secondly, about 5% of every workforce comes to work to be contrary.  They will oppose any change.  In fact, if you try to appease them by not changing anything – they will oppose that.

DO keep the workforce informed.  As with any change, rumors are the enemy.  There has never been an instance where two shift workers are talking and one says, “I wonder what’s going on with our schedule” and the other one replies, “I have no idea but I’m sure we will like whatever it is that they come up with.”  If what you are planning to do is they right thing, then you should make whatever effort it takes to share your thoughts and actions with those that will be impacted.

DON’T assume that a small change is easy to make.  If you don’t believe this, tell the workforce that you intend to change the shift start times by 15 minutes; then stand back and watch what happens.

DO get the workforce involved.  No one likes to be told what to do.  If you need to change schedules, there must be a reason for this.  Tell the workforce and then solicit their input in creating a solution.  There are always numerous solutions to a scheduling issue; many of which will work equally well.  Since this is the case, why not use the schedule that best meets the needs of your employees.  They know better than you when it comes to knowing what they want.

DON’T assume your current pay and work policies for your current schedule will work equally well for your new schedule.  Things like vacation, holiday pay and shift differential must be addressed to make sure they are not costing you or the workforce more on the new schedule. When companies contact Shiftwork Solutions because their 24/7 schedule does not work, the problem is rarely with the pattern and nearly always has something to do with policies.

DO your math.  It’s one thing to think you know what you need, its another to be able to demonstrate it on paper.  If you can’t justify your schedule change using math, then maybe you are making a change based more on assumptions rather than reality.  I personally don’t like to guess.  I like to measure twice and cut once.

DON’T take short cuts.  Being “penny wise” will result in mistakes and missed opportunities that you will not quickly recover from.

DO be thorough.  Involve everyone in your change process; even those that will not be impacted.  Telling a group “We are changing schedules over in that area and you will not be affected,” is much better than leaving an unaffected group out of the loop and allowing them to make up their own reality.

If you have any questions or comments, contact me at Jim@shift-work.com or you can call me, Jim Dillingham at (415) 265-1621.  I never charge for advice given over the phone.

6-day schedules (part 4)

This is the fourth and final post in a series of four posts regarding 6-day schedules.  Here are the links to 6-day schedules (part 1), 6-day  schedules (part 2) and 6-day schedules (part 3).

In this post, we will look at two extremes when it comes to covering 6 days.  One uses extra staffing to cover 6 days with 40-hour workweeks.  The other uses traditional staffing for a 48-hour workweek but has a few 12-hour shifts to give an occasional weekend off.

First, lets consider a schedule that covers 6 days with 40-hour work weeks.  This is more complicated than you might think.  Why?  Well, there are 144 hours in a 6-day period.  If a crew is worth 40 hours, then you would need 3.6 crews to provide coverage (144/40=3.6).

This is accomplished by having each of your three 8-hour crews being 20% larger than the number of people you expect to show up each day.  In this way, one out of every 6 people can be off on any given day (except Sunday when everyone is off).

Here is what the schedule looks like:

6 day 40 hourYou will notice that to have 5 people show up on any given day, you need to have 6 people assigned with one of those 6 being off on that day.

First, the good news about this schedule.  Everyone gets Sunday off plus one other day that week.  This should increase alertness (compared to the alternative of only getting Sunday off and no others during the week).  That’s about it as far as the good news goes.

There are several problems:

  • Supervisors cannot match their crews unless they work all 6 days.  If they also take a day off, then provisions must be made to cover for their open position.
  • People like two days off but generally prefer then to be two days off together.  Most shift workers will place a low value on having, for example, Tuesday off as their second day off that week.
  • The staffing requirement must be a multiple of 5.  This schedule works well if you need 15 or 375 people, but it will not work if you need 7 or 18 people.
  • Night shift alertness will suffer as night shift people lose some of their “night time adjustment” during their day off.
  • Cross training is required since every combination of 5 out of 6 must represent all of the skills needed to get the job done.
  • Twice every 6 weeks there are “split workdays”.  This is where they are off the day(s) before and the day(s) after a single day of work.  Shift workers will quickly recognize that these solitary days are good days to feel…maybe a little too sick to come into work.

Companies ofter go to this type of schedule in an attempt to avoid the “high cost” of overtime; failing to realize that overtime and straight time are generally “cost equal”.

Onward…

This next schedule is an attempt to keep things simple and yet, still give the employees a full weekend off once every three weeks.  “Keeping things simple” basically says, work everyone for 6 days in a row, all 8-hour shifts.  The workforce might not like this.  Alertness, safety and productivity will suffer; but its “simple.”

Now to get a full weekend off with the smallest departure from “simple” you must work 12-hour shifts on two out of every three weekends.  The third weekend is off.

Here is the schedule:

6 day 12 hour weekendsThis schedule is only popular among those that place a very high value on full weekends off.  Working 6 days in a row is hard enough.  This schedule not only calls for that, but it makes one of those 6 days, a 12-hour day.  The result is a full weekend off once every three weeks.

This is probably not a sustainable schedule for more work places.  However, in the short run, it may be just what you need.

That’s it for 6-days schedules.  I may return to this topic again sometime.  There is certainly a lot more to say about this subject.  If you have any questions, please give me a call.  My number is (415) 265-1621.  Ask for Jim Dillingham.

6-day schedules (part 3)

This is the third in a series about 6-day schedules.  I recommend you read 6-day schedules (part 1) and 6-day scheduled (part 2) before going forward with this one.

Today’s post will begin the focus on a 12-hour schedule pattern for covering 24 hours a day, six days a week.

The premise behind this schedule is that you still only want to use three crews to cover six days, but you would rather not hire more employees.  Because of this, everyone will still have to work 48 hours a week (changing schedules does not change total hours worked.  Only changing staffing or the workload does that).  This schedule allows people to get their weekly 48 hours in by only coming to work for four days a week.

Lets look at a quick comparison:

8-hour shifts: Work 6 days @ 8 hours and get one day off per week.  Total hours worked – 48

12-hour shifts: Work 4 days @ 12 hours and get three days off per week.  Total hours worked – 48

Picture2

This pattern can be worked as either a fixed schedule, a rotating schedule or and oscillating schedule.  The way it is shown here is as an oscillating schedule.  This is a schedule that has both “fixed” and “rotating” features.  In this example, the crews labeled “Days” and “Nights” are working fixed shifts.  That means they are always on Days or Nights.  The crew labeled “Day-Night” actually rotates between Day shift and Night shift (Nights on Mondays and Tuesday and then Days on Fridays and Saturdays).

There are several benefits to this schedule over a traditional 6-day, 8-hour pattern.

Employees will like it for a variety of reasons.  All will appreciate the extra days off.  The Day shift people will like having every weekend off as a 3-day weekend.  The Night shift people will like having 3 days off in a row, even though they are Sunday through Tuesday.  The rotating crew will typically be the junior-most crew.  As the junior employees, they could be looking at years before they have enough seniority to get to the Day shift.  In this schedule, they work Night shift for 2 days and then do not have to return to nights for another five days.

On the downside, the nature of the work must always be considered when looking at 12-hour shifts.  In nearly all cases, if someone can do something for 8 hours at a time for 6 days in a row with a single day of rest in between, then they can do that same thing for 12 hours at a time for 4 days a week with three days off per week to rest.

Most companies that go to 12-hour shifts will find that they need to rework some of their pay policies.  For example, if you only pay up to 8 hours a day when someone goes on jury duty, you may want to rethink that policy.

In 6-day schedules (part 4) I will return to the 8-hour idea.  We will look at a way to add people in a less-than-full-crew increment to reduce overtime.

If you have any questions, you can email me at Jim@shift-work.com or call me at (415) 265-1621.

10-hour shifts – Part Four

This post is the fourth and final post in a series about 10-hour shifts.  If you have not already seen the first three posts in this series, I recommend you do so before viewing this post.

This is a link to 10-hour shifts – Part One.

This is a link to 10-hour shifts – Part Two.

This is a link to 10-hour shifts – Part Three.

 

Click on the schedule (below) to see 10-hour shifts – Part Four.

Capture 10's

The Weekend Warrior Trap

Weekend Warrior refers to a type of staff scheduling strategy for covering 24/7.

At its most basic level, a Weekend Warrior schedule is one that uses two crews to cover all of the weekend work so the rest of the company’s employees don’t have to.  There are several variations to this.  Here are a few of the more basic models:

  1. Two weekend crews are used.  One crew works 12-hour days on Saturday and Sunday while the other crew works 12-hour nights on Saturday and Sunday. In this way, the Weekend Warrior crews work 24 hours a week and only work 2 days per week.  The regular weekday shifts are covered by three other crews: an 8-hour day crew, an 8-hour afternoon crew and and an 8-hour night crew.
  2. Two weekend crews are used.  One crew works 12-hour days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday while the other crew works 12-hour nights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In this way, the Weekend Warrior crews work 36 hours a week and only work 3 days per week.  Mondays through Thursdays are covered by two  other crews: a 12-hour day crew, and a 12-hour night crew.
  3. Two weekend crews are used.  One crew works 12-hour days on Saturday and Sunday while the other crew works 12-hour nights on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the 12-hour weekend shifts, each crew will work 2 other shifts of 8 hours at some time during the week.  In this way, the Weekend Warrior crews will get a total of 40 hours a week.  The regular weekday shifts are covered by three other crews: an 8-hour days crew, an 8-hour afternoon crew and and an 8-hour night crew.  Note that the weekend crews will augment the regular weekdays crews when they come in for their additional shifts during the week.

While there are several variations to this concept, these three represent to lion’s share of what we have seen out there.

Now that I’ve clarified the type of schedule, let’s look at The Trap.

The bait, or the thing that makes this type of schedule so attractive is that it appears to satisfy everyone involved.  The company needs 24/7 coverage and this provides it.  The employees don’t want to work weekends so you hire someone else to do it.  This satisfies your existing workforce.   People want a job and will often take any shift to get a foot in the door.  This schedule allows people to get that foot in there, provided they are willing to work weekends – done deal.

Here is the problem.  The weekend crew will under-perform unless the company over-pays.  The Trap is that once this becomes apparent (usually within the first 18 months after implementation) it is too late.  Changing the schedule will seem like a take-away and the workforce will fight it tooth and nail.

Let’s look at the “problem” a little more closely.  Here are the things we typically hear:

  • The weekend crew has a high turnover as the employees leave for better hours.
  • The weekend crew has high absenteeism. This job is typically their back-up job.  When they go on vacation from their “main” job, they simply call in sick for their weekend job.
  • The weekend crew is out of touch with the rest of the plant.
  • The weekend crew people move to the weekday crews as soon as there is an opening thus making sure the weekend crew is staffed with the least skilled and newest employees.
  • The weekend crew typically performs at about 60% the rate expected of weekday employees.
  • When the weekend crew comes in for their 8-hour weekday shifts, the plant becomes overstaffed.
  • The weekend crew typically gets a full benefits package.  This means a 50% burden rate on the weekday employees equates to a 60-85% burden rate on the weekend crew’s hours.

Some companies, in an attempt to improve retention and performance on the weekend crews will up the ante.  For example, they may pay forty hours for 24 hours of work.  I have seen companies that do this end up paying about twice as much for each hour worked by a weekend crew as they do for a weekday crew.

It looks good so companies go to it.  It doesn’t work as planned and companies can’t get rid of it.  If that’s not a trap, I don’t know what is.

If you know of anyone that is thinking about implementing a Weekend Warrior Schedule, I recommend that you have them take a look at this posting first.

Making shift assignments

It’s human nature to not like change.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’m convinced that one of the “biggies” is fear of the unknown.  People “know” what’s going on now.  They “know” how things work.  Anything different is an unknown.

A schedule change is probably the biggest change your workforce will go through in a generation.  As you might expect, there will be some resistance.  About 5% of your workforce will resist simply because its in their nature to be negative.  The other 95% will have varying degrees of concern; almost all of which will be centered around not knowing, with complete clarity, what is going to happen.

What will the new pattern do to their lifestyle?  How much money will they make?  What opportunities, if any, will they lose when the change is made?  Will they still get all of their benefits?  What will happen to vacation?  Can they be on the same, or different, shift as their spouse?

This list goes on an on.  Your goal should be to create transparency.  The more open and informative your process is, the less stress will be put on your workforce.

The one statement that you don’t want to hear is – “That is not fair.”

This is not a statement that comes from change and not “knowing.”  This is a statement that often comes from complete understanding.  This is not a statement about “change”.  This is a value statement; one which must be closely investigated as soon as it comes up.

Why? Because whoever said it might have a point.

No other issue is more likely to bring up the idea of “fairness” than shift assignments.

If you go from a 3-crew, 5-day schedule to a 4-crew, 24/7 schedule, you will have to redistribute your workforce.  When this happens, people will first become concerned that they will not be assigned to the shift they want.  Once they know their shift assignment, their internal “jury” will take over.  This jury is not concerned with whether or not they got the shift they wanted.  This jury is only concerned about fairness.

For example, take two employees.  Both want to be assigned to the Day shift.  Employee #1 started last week.  Employee #2 started 30 years ago and is the most senior person at the plant.

If both of these are assigned to the Night shift, they will have very different reactions.  Neither wanted to go to nights, but employee #1 understands how being new means he won’t get his first choice.  Meanwhile, employee #2 is going to march straight to the H.R. office and say the dreaded, “This is not fair.”

Without getting into the multitude of ways to assign shifts, I am going to list a few guidelines that, if followed, will greatly reduce the instances of “not fair” resulting from your schedule change project.

  1. Do not realign the entire plant.  There will be those that say, “Every job is being changed so we should all be allowed to bid for every job in the facility regardless of whether or not we are trained for the job.”  This position needs to be confronted with the practical and economic reality of shutting down the facility to potentially retrain 100% of your workforce. It’s not going to happen.
  2. Minimize change.  If someone is on a particular shift, they have the first right to stay on that shift.  A person on an 8-hour day shift should have first shot at staying on day shift, even if that shift is going to 12-hours, regardless of seniority. This is easier than you may think since going to 12′s will generally result in twice as many day shift positions.
  3. A typical policy statement will include language like “We will use seniority among those that are currently in the department followed by seniority among those that are outside the department but already trained to do the work.”
  4. Use seniority whenever possible.  This is a very defensible position (as opposed to making assignments alphabetically or by height or shoe size.)    Seniority, while important, should not override all other considerations such as current skill set or shift assignment.  Typically, it is used as the tie-breaker.
  5. Do not allow bumping unless a job is eliminated.  Bumping means that I can take your job because I’m senior or more qualified.  In this instance, there is a clear winner and loser.  The loser will then go bump someone else who then bumps someone else.  Don’t do it.
  6. Once the dust has settled, you may find that one shift is particularly weak and needs a senior person from one of the more desirable shifts.  This may result in your taking a senior person and putting them on a shift that they normally wouldn’t be assigned to.  If this happens, take that person aside and explain that you need their help.  Also, tell them what you will be working on to rectify the situation (including how long they should expect to be on the undesirable shift).  You will be pleasantly surprised at how helpful people are willing to be if you don’t simply take their compliance for granted.

At Shiftwork Solutions LLC, we have the most experienced Shiftwork Experts in the world.  If you have any questions about this topic, or any other, please give us a call at (415) 763-5005.