Tag Archives: communications

5 things H.R. needs to know about shiftwork

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Let’s start with this – My intent with this post is NOT to tell H.R. how to do their job. Rather, I want to round up many of the issues surrounding shiftwork in an effort to put the spotlight on those I have found to be most important to H.R. professionals.

So, let’s get to the list…

#1: No one is going to come to H.R. to tell you how much they like the schedule they are currently working.  When people are unhappy, they complain. When they are happy, they are quiet.  This means that people coming to your office to complain about the schedule will ALWAYS out number those that come by to tell you they love it.  Just be aware that listening to those that come to you is not a representative sampling of your workforce.

#2:  What the average shiftwork wants or what a nearby plant is doing has little bearing on what you should be doing with your schedule.  After nearly 30 years in the business, I can tell you exactly what the average shiftworker likes and doesn’t like; and yet…I have never met an average shiftworker.  Everyone is unique.  In the same way, your business is unique from the company down the street.  What works for one company is not necessarily what will work best for you; even if you are in the same industry.

#3: As a service organization, H.R. works for several different interests including: planning, production, maintenance, quality, administration and leadership.  All of these have different functions and thus often require different shiftwork structures and outcomes.  Serving several masters is no easy task.  All need to be heard.  All need to be tended to.  Remember, if H.R. was easy, no one would need you.

#4: Recruiting and retention of skilled employees is always affected by the shift schedule being used.  Supervision, absenteeism, vacancy coverage and overtime will also be impacted.

#5: Process is everything when it comes to changing a shift schedule.  How you communicate plans and ideas as well as how you solicit input from affected parties will determine the ultimate level of success you experience with your change.

Jim Dillingham, Partner

(415) 265-1621

Jim@shift-work.com

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

Making shift assignments

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It’s human nature to not like change.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’m convinced that one of the “biggies” is fear of the unknown.  People “know” what’s going on now.  They “know” how things work.  Anything different is an unknown.

A schedule change is probably the biggest change your workforce will go through in a generation.  As you might expect, there will be some resistance.  About 5% of your workforce will resist simply because its in their nature to be negative.  The other 95% will have varying degrees of concern; almost all of which will be centered around not knowing, with complete clarity, what is going to happen.

What will the new pattern do to their lifestyle?  How much money will they make?  What opportunities, if any, will they lose when the change is made?  Will they still get all of their benefits?  What will happen to vacation?  Can they be on the same, or different, shift as their spouse?

This list goes on an on.  Your goal should be to create transparency.  The more open and informative your process is, the less stress will be put on your workforce.

The one statement that you don’t want to hear is – “That is not fair.”

This is not a statement that comes from change and not “knowing.”  This is a statement that often comes from complete understanding.  This is not a statement about “change”.  This is a value statement; one which must be closely investigated as soon as it comes up.

Why? Because whoever said it might have a point.

No other issue is more likely to bring up the idea of “fairness” than shift assignments.

If you go from a 3-crew, 5-day schedule to a 4-crew, 24/7 schedule, you will have to redistribute your workforce.  When this happens, people will first become concerned that they will not be assigned to the shift they want.  Once they know their shift assignment, their internal “jury” will take over.  This jury is not concerned with whether or not they got the shift they wanted.  This jury is only concerned about fairness.

For example, take two employees.  Both want to be assigned to the Day shift.  Employee #1 started last week.  Employee #2 started 30 years ago and is the most senior person at the plant.

If both of these are assigned to the Night shift, they will have very different reactions.  Neither wanted to go to nights, but employee #1 understands how being new means he won’t get his first choice.  Meanwhile, employee #2 is going to march straight to the H.R. office and say the dreaded, “This is not fair.”

Without getting into the multitude of ways to assign shifts, I am going to list a few guidelines that, if followed, will greatly reduce the instances of “not fair” resulting from your schedule change project.

  1. Do not realign the entire plant.  There will be those that say, “Every job is being changed so we should all be allowed to bid for every job in the facility regardless of whether or not we are trained for the job.”  This position needs to be confronted with the practical and economic reality of shutting down the facility to potentially retrain 100% of your workforce. It’s not going to happen.
  2. Minimize change.  If someone is on a particular shift, they have the first right to stay on that shift.  A person on an 8-hour day shift should have first shot at staying on day shift, even if that shift is going to 12-hours, regardless of seniority. This is easier than you may think since going to 12’s will generally result in twice as many day shift positions.
  3. A typical policy statement will include language like “We will use seniority among those that are currently in the department followed by seniority among those that are outside the department but already trained to do the work.”
  4. Use seniority whenever possible.  This is a very defensible position (as opposed to making assignments alphabetically or by height or shoe size.)    Seniority, while important, should not override all other considerations such as current skill set or shift assignment.  Typically, it is used as the tie-breaker.
  5. Do not allow bumping unless a job is eliminated.  Bumping means that I can take your job because I’m senior or more qualified.  In this instance, there is a clear winner and loser.  The loser will then go bump someone else who then bumps someone else.  Don’t do it.
  6. Once the dust has settled, you may find that one shift is particularly weak and needs a senior person from one of the more desirable shifts.  This may result in your taking a senior person and putting them on a shift that they normally wouldn’t be assigned to.  If this happens, take that person aside and explain that you need their help.  Also, tell them what you will be working on to rectify the situation (including how long they should expect to be on the undesirable shift).  You will be pleasantly surprised at how helpful people are willing to be if you don’t simply take their compliance for granted.

At Shiftwork Solutions LLC, we have the most experienced Shiftwork Experts in the world.  If you have any questions about this topic, or any other, please give us a call at (415) 763-5005.