How to Cover Absences and Other Staffing Shortfalls on a 12-Hour Shift Schedule

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Although 12-hour shifts seem to be a popular choice for most 24/7 operations, there is one issue that never has been adequately resolved: how to cover absences, temporary staffing shortfalls and variations in demand, i.e. open shifts.

With 8-hour shifts, open shifts can be covered by (1) holding someone over so they work two back-to-back shifts, or (2) having someone from the previous shift stay over for 4 additional hours and having someone from the following shift come in 4 hours early. In either case, it’s fairly easy to fill the vacant shift since the candidates are already at work or planning to come in later that day.

12-hour shifts are too long to use either of these approaches. Holding someone over for a second shift would mean they would work 24 hours (36 hours, if they are scheduled to work the following day). Even with a split shift, that would mean working 18 hours straight – much too long in our opinion.

Instead, it is necessary to find someone who is not scheduled to work that day. Though that sounds simple, it’s not. Employees with the day off may have left town or they may be too busy to answer the phone. Trying to reach them can be a full-time job for supervisors. Finding volunteers to work the overtime won’t be easy either, since few employees are willing to sacrifice their day off.

Supervisors of operations using 12-hour shifts complain that they spend an inordinate amount of time calling employees to fill these vacancies. They are doing the work of a scheduling clerk rather than supervising. This is not an effective use of their time.

Software is now available that makes this task easier and less time consuming. Although it was originally designed for hospitals, we immediately recognized the potential advantages for other industries. We contacted the software developers and asked if they would be willing to modify the program to accommodate other 24/7 operations. They agreed and have been working with us to make the necessary adjustments.

We believe this software is the best choice for all shiftwork operations that use 12-hour shifts. Here is a summary of the benefits for (1) employees, (2) supervisors, and (3) the company.

Employee Features and Benefits

Employees will be immediately attracted to this program’s many features. First of all, they can look up their schedule online to make doctor appointments, plan vacations, or determine their availability for future events. This is especially helpful for employees working a schedule with rotating days off, since this type of schedule makes it harder to keep track of the days you are scheduled to work.

Your employees will be especially pleased with the ability to request and secure approval of time-off (vacations, illnesses, etc.) online. They also can submit requests to switch shifts with someone else, if your company allows shift swapping. Not only will this reduce paperwork, but it also will result in faster responses. Employees frequently complain about not being able to find coverage when they want to take vacation or having to wait for last-second approvals, so anything that makes this process easier and faster will surely be welcome.

When there are gaps in coverage which need to be filled, eligible workers will be alerted by email or text message that an overtime opportunity is available. They can then express their interest and receive notice of approval via their preferred communication channel(s). Like the time-off request and approval process, finding and securing approval of overtime work is a constant source of frustration for many shift workers. Anything that makes the process more efficient will be appreciated.

In summary, from the employees’ perspective, this new software has five significant benefits:

  • Convenient online access to your schedule.
  • Easier to submit requests for time-off or shift swaps.
  • Faster responses to those requests.
  • Improved notification of overtime opportunities.
  • Greater involvement in the scheduling process.
  • Supervisor Features and Benefits

    Once your supervisors hear about this new, feature-rich software, they will become instant fans. They will be able to print out schedules in calendar formats, identify gaps in coverage, and track absences or create reports that show who and why workers are absent for a given time period. Although these are useful features, the primary advantage for supervisors comes from the software’s ability to help them fill open shifts.

    This is where the software excels. It brings together all the information supervisors need to fill an open shift, such as job skills, crew, seniority, and overtime worked in recent periods. Using this information, supervisors can quickly create a list of eligible employees and notify them via text message or email that an opportunity is available. If no one volunteers within a set amount of time, the supervisor can select someone to cover the position using various criteria such as reverse seniority. This has the potential to significantly ease the supervisor’s burden of keeping their shifts filled, thereby freeing their time to focus on other responsibilities.

    This is especially helpful when it comes to filling short-notice absences. With a few clicks of the mouse, the program will identify qualified candidates for the open position and send notices to those selected.

    In summary, from the supervisors’ perspective, this new software has three significant benefits:

    • Ensures adequate coverage by identifying gaps and helping to fill the open shifts.
    • Saves time, which will allow them to supervise instead of being high-paid scheduling clerks.
    • Improves communication with subordinates (time-off requests, shift swaps, and overtime opportunities).

    Company Benefits

    Everyone knows the importance of having enough coverage to meet the company’s production requirements (which are designed to satisfy customer demand). The scheduling software plays a key role in maintaining sufficient employee coverage to achieve that level of production. Not only does it warn you of coverage gaps, but it also helps to eliminate any shortfalls.

    By reducing the time supervisors spend on filling open shifts (especially last-minute absences), the software allows them to spend their time on their other responsibilities. In most cases, this should result in greater productivity from the entire workforce.

    Contact us today to get expert help with your shift schedule issues.