Category Archives: shift work

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) 765-5005.  Or you can email me, Dan Capshaw, directly at dan@shift-work.com.

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) 765-5005.  Or, you can email me, Dan Capshaw, directly at dan@shift-work.com.

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

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.