Tag Archives: Sleep alertness shiftwork start times night shift days schedule comparison circadian

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

Alertness on 12-hour night shifts

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The problem with all night shifts, regardless of shift length, is that they don’t match up with the lifestyles of the rest of the world. On nights, you are expected to be awake when everyone else is asleep and then you are to sleep when everyone else is awake. A pretty tall order.

Most shiftworkers on nights report getting less sleep than on any other shift. There are several reasons for this. First of all, if your circadian rhythms are set to keep you awake during the days and asleep at night, they will actually be working against you. Secondly, we don’t like to sleep during daylight hours because we have family and social opportunities that we don’t want to miss. Finally, there is the sleep environment itself. It is hard to completely isolate yourself from the lights and sounds of the day when you are trying to sleep.

All of this means we sleep less when working nights. The problem with 8-hour shifts is that there are a lot of them. This generally means that the more shifts in a row you work, the farther you fall behind in your sleep. At the same time, the more shifts in a row you work, the more able your body is to match your circadian rhythms to your new sleep pattern, thus improving sleep. So, on the one hand, more days in a row means more fatigue while, on the other hand, more shifts in a row means better sleep – eventually.

Now let’s consider 12-hour shifts. There are a lot fewer shifts to work if you switch from 8-hour shifts to 12’s. This generally means that you will only be working 2-4 night shifts in a row instead of 5-7 8-hour shifts in a row.

One popular schedule pattern is the 2-3-2. On this schedule, you work 2 or 3 nights in a row before getting a 2 or 3 day break. The good news is that you don’t work too many nights in a row so you never fall too far behind in your sleep. The bad news is that since you work fewer nights in a row, you never get a chance to adjust to the shift. Additionally, you only have a few days off between shifts (on some patterns) which means you may have trouble readjusting to days (on your days off) as well.

If you go to a 4-on-4-off pattern, you will work more nights in a row and thus, fall farther behind in your sleep. However, the more nights in a row means (1) your body will adjust better to the night shift than if you worked fewer nights in a row and (2) more in a row means fewer times that you need to readjust to nights when you return to work and finally (3) you have 4 days off in a row which gives you a chance to adjust to days on your days off.

A 2-3-2 pattern means that you have to adjust to night shifts 78 times a year. A 4-on-4-off pattern only has 46 adjustments to nights in a year.

So, what is best for you? It comes down to your own behavior. If you find that you cannot adjust to nights at all, it is better to work fewer night shifts in a row to limit your accumulated sleep debt. If you adjust easily to nights, work more of them in a row to minimize those difficult first couple of days that we all go through when making the adjustment.