Shift Length

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When you think about shift schedules, you probably think of a day-on-day-off pattern and a shift length (8-hour shifts, 12-hour shifts, or 10-hour shifts). The shift length is an integral part of the overall shift schedule. One of the biggest innovations in shift schedules over the last 20 years has been the resurgence of longer shifts, especially 12-hour shifts.

When shiftwork first began (generally associated with the invention of the light bulb) 12-hour shifts were everywhere. Companies could work their employees long hours, thereby reducing the number of employees needed. Laws requiring overtime after 8 hours worked in a shift, and for more than 40 hours worked in a week, put an end to 12-hour shifts.

Today, employee conscious companies have made it possible for nearly every state to eliminate mandatory overtime after 8 hours in a day, while federal law still mandates overtime after 40 hours in a week. The result has been a tremendous growth in shift schedules using longer shifts while still working about 40 hours/week. The bottom line for employees is an opportunity to get more days off without sacrificing pay.

An employee who works 40 hours a week will work 2,080 hours in a year. This can be accomplished by working either: 260 8-hour shifts, or 208 10-hour shifts, or 173.3 12-hour shifts. The trade off is that longer shifts give you more total days off, but less time off on the days that you come to work.

Longer Shifts – Some Considerations

  • Can the employees really work more consecutive hours without any adverse impact on productivity, quality and safety? As long as the total number of hours remains the same, most jobs can be performed equally well on short and long shift patterns. There are some tasks (such as tedious detail inspections) that are best kept to shorter shifts. Longer shifts can be used under such conditions, but the employees will need to rotate to other positions periodically to keep themselves fresh.
  • Environmental conditions must be considered. Exposure to extreme heat, loud noises, toxins and heavy physical labor may simply be too much to endure for more than 8-hours. As long as longer shifts come with more days off, this is usually not a problem.
  • Pay and work policies will need to be reviewed. Most traditional policies (i.e. vacation, sickness etc.) are written for 8-hour shifts. Failure to modify these policies to accommodate longer shifts can result in tremendous financial costs for the company.
  • Crews on different fixed shifts may prefer to work different day-on, day-off patterns. A pattern that is perfect for a day crew may be extraordinarily difficult for a night crew to adjust to.
  • What does the workforce want? While longer shifts are certainly popular nationwide, they are not the unanimous preference of all shiftworkers. For your employees to make the right choice on shift length, they should be given a clear understanding of what they are getting into and what patterns are available.
  • Does it make good “business sense” to go to longer shifts? In most cases, a company can be neutral on this issue. However, there are instances where longer shifts save the company money, and others where they cost the company money. A careful business analysis can help you understand your alternatives.

What Is the Optimum Shift Length?

Answering this question is complex. Asking the following questions should provide a starting point for understanding all of the issues involved:

  • Do you need to cover 24 hours every day?
  • Is shift overlap required and how much? This typically refers to the need for turnover meetings between shifts.
  • What is the travel time to the work site? For example, underground mines can easily require 30-45 minutes just to transport a crew to their work area.
  • What is your maintenance or sanitation cycle? If you must stop and sanitize every 8 hours, why have a schedule that causes the crew to be there for 12 hours?
  • Are there any industry-related regulations prohibiting shifts that are longer than 8 hours?
  • How does shift length impact coordination between internal and external suppliers/customers?

Are Longer Shifts Right for You?

Carpenters have a saying, “Measure twice. Cut once.” This is certainly true with shift schedules, and especially the shift length. Employees are frequently hesitant to go to schedules with longer shifts, but once they get there, they rarely look back. Shiftwork Solutions can help you find the right shift length and the best schedule for your operations.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.