Category Archives: shift work

Preparation is part of Doing


I just saw a post on LinkedIn where a LEAN expert mentioned that 20% of implementing LEAN is having the right tools. The other 80% is mindset. In other words, the table must be set in order for dinner to be served.

It strikes me that this is an “oft-overlooked” phase of every project.

I worked with a company charged with writing software for an entire state’s medical insurance program. There were several hundred programmers; all of them busy all of the time. As I began my process of evaluating the workload in preparation for a schedule change I was surprised at what most of their work consisted of.

When I asked, “What do you spend your time doing every day?” The average answer came back as “I spend 80% of my time with my customer, identifying their needs. I spend the remaining 20% writing code.” Another instance of “measuring twice before cutting once”.

I recently had a deck at my house painted. It took about 20 hours. This wasn’t a large deck and I expected it to take much less time (although I wasn’t in a hurry). As I watched the painters work, I noticed that nearly all of their time was spend sanding and taping off different areas. When it come to actually painting…that took no time at all.

Whether its implementing a LEAN program or writing code or painting a deck, preparation is the key to success.

In my world at Shiftwork Solutions, things are no different. Implementing a shift schedule takes preparation as well as process. In a sense, the preparation is part of the process. Sure, you can go online and find schedules anywhere; we even put them on our website. But don’t be fooled into thinking that what you have found is the key to success – because its not.

My advice – Do it right the first time.

If want to know what that means, give me a call at (415) 265-1621.

Be Careful What You Ask For – Part One


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  Ten years ago, I used to ask large groups of employees if any of them have ever worked one of those outdated 8-hour schedules and inevitably, several hands would go up.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 or call at (415) 265-1621.


The next generation of shift work schedules


As unemployment drops and wage pressures rise, companies are scrambling to find ways to attract people.  This is an especially challenging task for companies that work around the clock.  How can they be expected to attract people to jobs that require work on nights and weekends?

Here is an example of two schedules that work in tandem.

Let’s start with the situation.  This company had a very popular shift schedule (12-hour, 2-3-2 pattern) and yet, they were having trouble recruiting people to the night shift.  They were doing some things right: (1) Used fixed shifts and (2) paid a 12% shift premium for nights.  Still, they were having trouble.  Since people were not sticking around, training was a problem as well as staffing.  How could they attract quality people to nights, get them trained by senior people on days all the while giving them a Night Shift schedule that many would prefer to work over the existing Day Shift pattern.

We recommended the following:

Keep the 12-hour day shift pattern as it is

Replace the night shift pattern with one that has fewer short breaks, some day shift exposure and more weekend off.  Below is a copy of the schedule.A few notes about the features:

Slide1A few notes about the features:

  1. The Day shift is staffed by 2 crews.  Their schedule’s pay week starts on Sunday.
  2. The Night shift is staffed by 5 half-crews.  Their schedule’s pay week starts on Monday.
  3. Day shift people can take 24 hours of vacation on either Monday/Tuesday of week 1 or Wednesday/Thursday of week 2.  This 24 hour vacation nets them 7 days off in a row and thus represents prime vacation time for the Day Shift.
  4. Since the Night Shift is broken up into half-crews, two crews will show up every day to make up a full crew.
  5. Nights have a 7-day break every 5 weeks.  They also have two 3-day weekends off (in addition to the long break) every 5 weeks.
  6. Nights can get a 14 day vacation break using 32 hours of vacation time if they take off during week 2.
  7. Once, every five weeks, each crew rotates into week 2 where they go to days.  While on Day Shift they can be trained, relieve others for training or cover the expected high vacation rates on these days.

This is an example of a schedule working for the company instead of the other way around.  All too often, companies see their schedule as a static situation; one they must change their operation to conform to.  The reality is that a schedule can be used to enhance product flow, increase employee morale, lower costs, control overtime, flex the workforce, match the workload and much much more.

If you have any questions, here is my contact information:

  • Jim Dillingham, Partner at Shiftwork Solutions
  • Cell: (415) 265-1621
  • Email:


Shift Schedules for the Food Manufacturing Industry


Shift work – The more you learn about it, the more you find out how much you didn’t know.

I have friends that know very little about what I do for a living.  When I say “I evaluate, design and implement shift schedules,” they will respond with “Aren’t all shift schedules basically the same?”

I will respond with something neutral like “sometimes” and leave it at that.  They are laymen who are not involved in the business of running a business that needs to cover something other than Monday through Friday, day shift.

However, if you are in that business, the business using shift work, then you know what I’m saying when I tell you, “There is far more to shift work than schedules.”

To this end, I have decided to write a series of blogs that talk about how shift work varies from one industry to the other.

I will start with the Food Manufacturing Industry.

The one thing that sets the Food Manufacturing Industry apart from all others is the need to sanitize.  Depending on the nature of their product and process, this can mean shutting down weekly or even daily for several hours to clean.

Most companies over-clean.  They do this because their shift schedule makes them do it.

Over-cleaning creates overtime.  It increases costs and eats into valuable capacity (it’s not unusual for a food production line to cost well over $10 million.)

How does the schedule make them do this?

Following a typical growth pattern for most industries, they handled expansion through a combination of capital acquisition and the addition of afternoon and night shifts.  They plan for 5-day operations and base their capacity on that.

Now, let’s take a 3 typical sanitation requirements and see how a schedule affects them.

  1. You must clean when you shut down.  This requirement has nothing to do with periodicity.  So, if you shut down every day, then you must clean every day.  If you shut down once a week, then you must clean once a week.  If you never shut down, then you must never clean due to this requirement alone.
  2. You must clean when you change products, especially if allergens are part of the equation.  If you are running, for example, 5 lines Monday through Friday and you need to convert one of the lines over to peanut-free, then you must shut down that line and clean it.  This takes that expensive line out of the production mode which means (assuming you need the production) either weekend work or the need to buy more capital.  If you had an idle line, you could simply set up that line and then shift to it when needed.  A better schedule can make this happen.
  3. You must shut down based on a biological emergence rate.  Bacteria become a hazard in a very predictable time frame based on conditions.  The same is true for a number of other pests. The schedule being worked has no impact on this.

Let’s suppose that in you operation, you are running 7 lines for 5 days.  This means you are using 35 line-days a week.

Suppose you went to running 5 lines for 7 days a week.  This still gives you 35 line-days a week.  However, this also addresses the first two issues above.  Running 24/7 on a line means you no longer have to clean a line weekly just because you are shutting down weekly.  It also frees up other lines so you can switch from one line to the other without experiencing lost production time.

So, just looking at sanitation alone, we can see that just changing from 5 day operation to 7 day operation can save capacity and eliminate over-sanitation.

Freeing up extra lines also allows maintenance to work on equipment without having to wait until the weekend (where they now try to do a week’s work in 2 days.)

Freeing up extra line also allows you to do setups on one line while the other line is running.  You can then shift to the newly set up line without losing production.

Does this mean that you should be running your operation 24/7?

It’s never that easy.  Food Manufacturing has a lot of moving parts, schedule-wise.  Sanitation aside there is also seasonality, new product introduction etc.

The best schedule is one that carefully considers everything from both a business and an employee perspective.  Every industry is unique.  Every company is unique.  Every facility is unique.

It should not come as a surprise that every shift work solution is unique as well.

My name is Jim Dillingham.  If you have any questions, please call me at (415) 265-1621 or send me an email at

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


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

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


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

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


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

(415) 265-1621