Category Archives: shift preferences

Yes, it’s personal

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I’m often asked “Jim, what is the single most important thing we, as an organization, can do to better facilitate a schedule change.”

My answer is always the same – “Find a way to see the event through the eyes of a shiftworker.”  In other words, walk that mile in their shoes.

Companies don’t change schedules for the fun of it.  They know it has the potential to disrupt everything from planning to maintenance to hiring and training.  It’s a big undertaking and not to be taken likely.

When companies make the decision to change, they always approach the workforce with the case for change.  This “case” nearly always boils down to “We are doing this because of the needs of the business.”

While this is a great reason for change, it does not do a lot to calm the workforce’s concerns.

Here is why…

To the company, a shift schedule tells people when to be at work.  To a shiftworker, a shift schedule tells them when they DON’T have to be at work.

In other words, it tells them when they can live the rest of their lives; that part of their life not at work but instead with their families or hobbies or whatever they may be passionate about.

Yes, they will understand “the needs of the business” but its also important to understand their perspective.

When you touch a schedule, even slightly, you are touching their personal lives.  Change a start time by 15 minutes and watch the fireworks as employees can no longer pick up their kids or attend school or catch the early bus home.

You may say “We are changing the schedule to meet the needs of the business” but they are hearing “We are going to change your family life to facilitate the needs of the business.”

There is a difference.

Recognizing this difference will change the way you approach the project.  The right approach will change the outcome for the better.

Jim Dillingham

Partner, Shiftwork Solutions LLC

Jim@shift-work.com

(415) 265-1621

 

5 Signs that you may need a new shift schedule

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Shift schedules rarely fail overnight.  Typically, there are plenty of warning signs; signs that tell you to take action before it’s too late.  Here are the 5 biggest warning signs.

#1: You have idle equipment while still not producing enough to meet customer demands.  There can be a lot of reasons for this; nearly all of which point to a schedule that does not have the right people in the right place at the right time.  Product flow, staffing, maintenance and production order variability can all be addressed with the right shiftwork structure.

#2: Maintenance is blaming equipment availability for a downward trend in equipment up-time.  You can’t fix something while it’s running.  The result is often and solution like “We’ll wait until the weekend to fix it.”  This is fine until you find that leaving too much to the weekend ends up with an overly fatigued maintenance group with not enough hours on the weekend to fix everything.  Scheduling equipment, like scheduling people, can improve maintenance accomplishment while still getting the production hours you need.

#3: Absenteeism is going up as overtime starts to wear down your workforce.  As overtime goes up, two things will happen.  First of all, your workforce will start to get tired.  Secondly, they will notice that they are now making a lot of money and can afford to take time off.  This is a “death spiral”  situation in that it is self-perpetuating and will only get worse.  Staffing will impact overtime but to do so effectively, you must have a shiftwork structure to support the newly resized workforce.

#4: Local competition for labor is causing problems with recruitment and retention.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like “Amazon just opened a mega-facility down the street and is hiring all of our employees away from us.”  The right schedule, one that is a good fit for your workforce as well as your business can help with this.  If wages are a concern, look for ways to get overtime to that 20% of your workforce that wants all they can get.  Overtime costs your company about the same as fully loaded straight time.  This means when you pay overtime, your employees make 50% more but your cost per hour is virtually unaffected.  Don’t lose your workforce because of wage pressures or quality of life issues.  The right shiftwork structure can help.

#5: Productivity metrics are dropping as equipment runtime-hours are on the rise.  If you are running more an more hours with the same old schedule, then you are probably seeing an increase in overtime.  While overtime is not a bad idea in many instances, it can eventually lead to worker fatigue.  This is especially true if you spread it evenly across all shifts.  Remember, not all employees want the same amount of overtime.  As fatigue goes up, so will accidents, quality issues and absenteeism.  You make find, for example, that running 6 days a week yields more output than running 5 days.  However, if you didn’t change schedules, a 20% increase in runtime will yield significantly less than a 20% increase in output.

In summary, don’t underestimate the impact of having the right shiftwork structure.  Fixing this issue is often the most expeditious and cost effective way of improving your overall operations.

For more information, call me, Jim Dillingham, at (415) 265-1621 or drop me a line at Jim@shift-work.com

Be Careful What You Ask For – Part One

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Once upon a time, about 28 years ago now, nearly every 24/7 operation in the country was using some version of a rotating 8-hour schedule.  Ten years ago, I used to ask large groups of employees if any of them have ever worked one of those outdated 8-hour schedules and inevitably, several hands would go up.

Now…no one remembers.

There is a problem with this.  People are no longer going to 12-hour shifts and saying “Thank God that 8-hour rotating beast went away.”  Instead, they are born into 12-hour shifts, with no knowledge of what the old schedules used to look like.

So, what are they saying now?  They are saying “12-hours is too long to work.  I want to go to an 8-hour schedule.”

They say this thinking that they will somehow reduce the length of the shift and not have to go to work 50% more days of the year.  They don’t know that they are really asking to give up half of their weekends.  The certainly don’t know that they are asking to give up their fixed shifts for rotating ones.

The cure for this is information.  When your workforce brings up the “shift is too long” issue, all you need to do is make sure they completely understand what the alternative is.

While I have never had anyone tell me “I love being at work for 12 hours,” I also have never had someone say “I really want to work more days for less money and fewer weekends off while rotating through all the different shifts every four weeks.”

Here are a couple of charts that will hopefully help to demonstrate what you are getting into with 8-hour shifts.  I use the most popular 8-hour 24/7 pattern there is. In the example, I use 12 employees to make 3 show up 24/7.

Slide1Slide2Slide3If you have any questions about these schedules, this blog post or anything else with regards, to shift work, please contact me at Jim@shift-work.com or call at (415) 265-1621.

 

What is the Worst Shift to Work? Night Shift? Afternoon Shift?

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In my last post I talked about shift workers’ preferred shift, which is day shift, and the implications of that preference on worker satisfaction levels.  An obvious follow-on question to the preferred shift assignment is to understand shiftworkers’ least-preferred shift.
Over the last 23 years working with shift work operations, I have observed that there is often one least preferred shift at a site, and it is either the night shift (also known as 3rd, graveyard, or sometimes the hoot-owl or hoot shift) or the afternoon shift (2nd or swing shift).  Which shift is least preferred at a particular site is typically driven by the demographics of the work group and the work environment.

Here are the overall results from our database of survey responses to the question “What is your least-preferred 8-hour shift?” : Least preferred 8-hour shift.

 

From a sleep management perspective, most shiftworkers have more trouble getting enough good-quality sleep on the night shift.  This makes it less desirable for facilitating high alertness.  On the other hand, it allows the people on night shift to meet other obligations in their lives like managing child care, going to school, working a second job, and spending time with their families.

Afternoon shift allows many shift workers to manage their sleep patterns better (second shift workers get more sleep than either day shift or afternoon shift) so they often feel better on this schedule than on a night shift schedule.  The main downside to the second shift is that it requires work during the “prime-time” evening hours when family and friends are available.  For parents, this can be a deal-breaker since it may mean that they almost never see their families during the workweek.

This difference of opinion on the least desired shift is an opportunity when it comes to staffing your shift schedule.  On an 8-hour schedule, it is often possible to give an overwhelming majority of folks either their first or second choice of shift assignments and avoid the least desirable shift.  All it takes is some flexibility in the shift-bid system and sufficient cross-training of the workforce to meet the skill requirements on all shifts.

If you have questions about shift-workers’ shift schedule preferences or shift staffing issues, please call us at (415) 763-5005.  Or you can email me, Dan Capshaw, directly at dan@shift-work.com.

Everyone Wants to Work Day Shift, Right? Think again!

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We all know that shift work, and especially night shift, is difficult. For some folks it can lead to disrupted sleep patterns and non-traditional social interactions with friends and family members. As a result, it is a common perception that, when it comes to shift work, everyone would prefer to work the day shift.

Over the last 16 years we have asked thousands of shift workers what their preferred shift assignment is. In an 8-hour, three-shift situation, you can see in the graphic that it is true that most people want to work day shift (71%), but there are also 15% that want to work the afternoon shift and 14% that want to work the night shift. In other words, in a typical three-shift operation you have a majority of people (33% on days + 15% on afternoons + 14% on nights =62%) satisfied with their shift assignment instead of dissatisfied with their shift assignment.

8-hour shift preference

A similar situation exists with 12-hour shift schedules.  When we asked shift workers whether they prefer a 12-hour day shift or a 12-hour night shift, 80% prefer day shift and 20% prefer night shift.  So like 8-hour shift schedules, you have a majority of people (50% on days + 20% on nights = 70%) satisfied with their shift schedule assignment.

12-hour shift preference

With these results we can see that the majority of people do prefer day shift, but far from all of them. And, given that the typical 24-hour shift work operation is usually equally staffed on all shifts, or staffed more heavily on day shift than other shifts, we see that the majority of people get their preferred shift assignments even though the majority prefer day shift.

If you have questions about shiftworkers’ shift schedule preferences or shift staffing issues, please call us at (415) 763-5005.  Or, you can email me, Dan Capshaw, directly at dan@shift-work.com.