Making Shift Assignments

It’s human nature to not like change.  There are a lot of reasons for this, among the biggest is the fear of the unknown.  People “know” what’s going on now.  They “know” how things work.  Anything different is 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 it’s 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 a 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 the current skill set or shift assignment.  Typically, it is used as a 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.

Call Us and We Can Help

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 to discuss your operations and how we can help you solve your shift work problems. You can also complete our contact form and we will call you.

Draft Day – Assigning shifts on Your New Schedule

As supervisors and managers go through a process to change the shift schedule, the workforce will experience several different emotions; mostly in a predictable sequence.

First, there will be a surprise, fear or even anger as the news breaks – “We are going to move to a 24/7 schedule.”

Depending on your project’s process, the workforce will likely start to experience less and less anxiety along with an increase in anticipation.  This comes from education; the removal of the speculative or unknown factors associated with a new schedule.

At this point, you will be narrowing down your final choices.  Hopefully, the workforce has been participating along the way.  Things will appear to be “all downhill” from this point.

Then the final schedule will be selected – and everything changes.

Suddenly, the change will become very, very real.  With hiring and training going on, the workforce will begin to realize that this is really going to happen.  Most importantly, they are going to think “Hey, where am I going to end up once this change is made?”  They worry about getting put on the wrong shift or about being put on a crew that they are not familiar with.  They speculate about how their vacations picks will change and they will wonder about the nature of their job; will it change or even still exist.

In some cases, it will appear that some are brainstorming things to worry about.

It’s important to understand that this is perfectly natural.  It happens all of the time.  The good news is that the cure for this period of High Anxiety is simple – answer all of these questions as quickly as you can.

This brings me to today’s topic: Draft Day

Draft Day is the day where you assign people to their shifts and crew.  Here is how I prefer to do it:

  1. Let the workforce express a preference for shift assignment (Days or Nights etc).
  2. Let the workforce add extra considerations (“I want to be on the same shift as my wife” etc)
  3. Use a pre-established plan, making sure it is applied consistently in all instances.  This plan is made public in that the workforce knows what it is and they know before they express any schedule preference.  Typically I recommend something like “We will use your date of hire, your preference, and your current work area to make assignments.”  While it is often more complicated than that, I think this gives you a feel for how we approach assigning people to shifts.  You don’t want to have to cross-train your entire plant so it is important that you do not treat this as “We are creating X new positions and we will be using our current bid procedure.”  If you do, it could take months to fill out your crews, not to mention the expense of retaining everyone.
  4. If you are going from a 5-day schedule to a 24/7 schedule, you will be basically hiring the 4th crew.  This will represent a 33% increase in staffing in the affected area.  Clearly, you can’t hire an entire crew and put them all together on the least desirable shifts.  While you will get some experienced people that want to work the Night shift, you may still find yourself short of skills on Nights if you use pure seniority.  If it becomes necessary to put someone on a shift that their seniority says they should be able to avoid, it is important that you talk directly to that person.  Tell them why you are putting them on the shift they don’t want.  Also, let them know it is a temporary placement until the new hires can stand on their own.  If you talk to them, there will be no problem.  If you don’t talk to them…big mistake.
  5. Once you have all of the preference sheets from the workforce, hold a Draft Day.  This is where the first-line supervisors and managers get together to “slot” everyone in.  I like doing this with everyone in the same room at the same time.  This helps to ensure a consistent application of the policies used to put people on the crew.  (Order lunch in).
  6. After everyone has been assigned to a shift, take a look at the 15% to 20% that didn’t get their first choice (Yes, most will get their first choice).  Review each decision made to ensure that if an individual comes to ask “Why?” you are able to give them a good answer.
  7. Once you slot people in by Preference, Job and Date-of-Hire, you can go back and look at the special requests.  Do not use a special request to bump a more senior person off of a shift.  However, if you have two 12-hour Day shifts and Bob wants to work with Tim, you should look to see if they are both on Days and if you can accommodate their request based on skills.  In short, this is a lower priority but if you can do this, then you should.
  8. Once all of the above are satisfied, you may still have holes in your schedule.  This is likely to be the case if you are moving quickly with the change and the local labor market is tight.  It can take a long time to find and hire an entire crew.  By this time, you will be able to tell your new hires what openings you have on each shift.

As a final note: Do Not implement before you have your crews staffed and trained to a point where they can stand on their own.  If you implement too early, others will have to come in on overtime to

supplement your poor skill sets on some shifts.  This will feel like a betrayal to those that thought they were going to a new schedule that would give them a lot of time off.

Timing is crucial.  Try to get this done within 2 weeks of announcing the new schedule.  Until this final step is done, your workforce will be on High Rumor Alert which is never helpful.

Call Us and We Can Help

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 to discuss your operations and how we can help you solve your shift work problems. You can also complete our contact form and we will call you.

The Cost of Time

Suppose I asked you the following question:  “Will an employee make more or less money when they work overtime?”

You might quickly answer: “Yes.  They make anywhere from 50% to 100% more when they are being paid at the overtime rate.”

And you would be right.

Now, suppose I asked you, “Which costs you, the company, more to pay: overtime or straight time?”

This question is much more complicated and has a surprising answer.

When you take into account the cost of straight time, you must consider the additional cost of medical plans, retirement, vacations, holidays, etc.  While overtime and straight time both have payroll taxes, only straight time is burdened with all of these other costs.

The fact is that the cost to your company for an hour of straight time or overtime is probably about the same.  My experience is that they are nearly always within 5-10% of each other; sometimes straight time is more and sometimes overtime is more.

The math says that the higher your hourly rate is, the more likely it is that overtime will be more expensive.  Conversely, the lower your hourly rate, the more likely it is that straight time is more expensive.

This is a rather fortuitous result.  When your wages are low, you can use overtime to enable your employees to enhance their income.  In doing so, you may actually be lowering your hourly labor cost.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other shiftwork issue, please give me a call.

Call Us and We Can Help

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 to discuss your operations and how we can help you solve your shift work problems. You can also complete our contact form and we will call you.

Use Your Data — Know Your Business

Over the last 30 years, I have evaluated the operations of hundreds of manufacturing, processing, mining, and service organizations. Three things I have learned from that work:

  1. Companies know their business, but their knowledge is incomplete. They shoot targets, monitor KPIs, and compare their performance to their plans and budgets. But they don’t have time to actually think about their operations and performance.
  2. Companies have lots of data. It is not unusual to ask for real data and have a management team laugh heartily and say: “Oh, we have tons of data. So much data that you will be drowned in data.”
  3. Companies do not look at their data very much. Unfortunately, when asked what their mountain of data tells them about their operations, they go back to their targets and KPIs. They have data, but they use very little of that data because they believe there is too much data to understand what it is telling them.
  4. This lack of data analysis represents lost opportunities to compete more effectively within their industry. Some quick examples:
  • A world-wide, leading mining company was experiencing lower productivity on weekdays than weekends, resulting in more than a 7% (overall) loss in production capacity. Approximately 2% of this lost production was due to necessary operational and maintenance downtime, and the remaining 5% was unexplained. Why was it unexplained? The majority of lost production mid-week was attributed to the planned downtime. Since the available operational data had not been analyzed, there was no way to know that there was a potential to increase output by 5% by understanding and correcting the weekday operating problems. Instead, the problems were seen as insignificant. Imagine the value of improving an operation’s performance by 5% just by implementing procedures that are already in use within the organization.
  • An electronics manufacturer was experiencing over 25% lost capacity, resulting from shutdowns at lunches and breaks, on a board assembly line. In addition and for unexplained reasons, the line productivity ramped up as a day progressed, peaking mid-day on day-shift, and then fell off again as the remainder of the day was completed. This ramp-up/down phenomenon resulted in a 40% additional loss in capacity. In other words, the line capacity could have increased by an additional 65% just by operating continuously at its demonstrated peak productivity level yet no one knew the opportunity existed. Once again, imagine the impact of increasing capacity by 65% without additional investment This may push new capital investment off by years, not to mention the improved labor cost per unit impacts.

In this age of computers, these types of opportunities seem surprising. Yet it is not unusual to run into a management team that does what I sometimes think of as “managing by cocktail napkin”ย. Each day they face a set of problems indicated by their performance tracking measures but not really understood. They discuss possible solutions over lunch, take some notes on their cocktail napkins, finish lunch, and throw the napkins away because they still don’t understand the cause of the problems. The next day, they go through the same process all over again, never once looking at the underlying data from their operations.

With some effort and the willingness to scale a mountain of data (hundreds of thousands of data points in the cases above), the opportunities are clear. The data is available, but time for the analysis is not invested. The magnitude of these opportunities suggests that investing in this analysis will often result in a very real and fast payoff.

The bottom line here is that companies that do this type of analysis gain a competitive advantage in their industries. Since we do some of this analysis as part of our shift schedule evaluation projects, our clients benefit when they evaluate schedule alternatives. But you don’t need to be changing your schedule to do the analysis. You do need to know how to do the analysis or hire someone that knows how to do the analysis. And you should do that soon because your success is at stake.

I will be writing more about this topic over the coming months, including:

  • Looking at some example data sets and sources.
  • What questions should be asked of the data?
  • Answering these questions using some of the analysis tools already on your computer.

Of course, we are happy to help you if you would like outside help. Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585.

Help is on the way.

There is no such thing as a perfectly staffed shiftwork operation. Sure, there will be days when the number of people that show up is exactly the number of people that you need. It happens, but not often enough.

What does a typical day or week really look like?

The workload varies. This could be due to product mix, changeovers, maintenance or just seasonality.

The workforce varies. Vacation preferences tend to bunch up around holidays and summer. Sickness, STD, LTD and FMLA all add to the uncertain nature of daily staffing; not to mention the occasional flat tire.

If you throw skill sets into the mix, then you end up with a very complicated scenario. Sure, you only let 10% go on vacation at a time, but you better make sure that the 10% that off does not represent 100% of a skill set you need to operate.

When the workforce does not perfectly match the workload in both numbers and skills, action must be taken.

If you are overstaffed, you may need to send people home. This usually entails a supervisor walking the floor and asking people if they want to go home. Failing that, you could force people home (not a recommended option) or you could find “work” to keep them busy.

Over staffing is a very expensive proposition, one that is hard to correct once it has occurred.

What about under-staffing?

Absenteeism and changes in production conspire to make sure you don’t have the right people in place (numbers and skills) without action being taken.

That action usually means tapping people on the shoulder and saying, “Remember when you thought you were going home at the end of the shift?” or placing a call after call, hoping that someone will answer their telephone.

Absentee coverage has become even more problematic with 12-hour shifts. With extended hours, all overtime is covered by people at home being called in on their days off.

There are ways to make this a little easier. Daily and weekly lists are posted, telling people what days off they will be giving up. Volunteer lists enable people to sign up for vacancies that may or may not exist. The idea is to give overtime to those that want it or assign it to those that don’t.

There are several major problems with all of this.

1. It takes a lot of time every day to manage to under staff and over staffing issues.

2. There is no real-time way of determining what the staffing needs are. Often, the best guess is used.

3. There is no real-time way for the workforce to indicate if they are available or even prefer overtime.

4. There is no real-time method for matching staffing needs with employee desires.

5. The coverage policies, whatever they are, are imposed on a workforce resulting in blame, resistance and a feeling of unfairness.

Help is on the way. Soon, we will show you how to make all of these problems go away. Everything will be done in real-time. Supervisors will have hours of time freed up every week. Employees will actively participate. Costs will drop as you match the workforce to your exact needs for that shift.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585

Where did all of the 8-hour shifts go?

In today’s work environment, compressed workweeks, telecommuting and competition for labor have conspired to make 8-hour shifts a vanishing breed.

Twenty-five years ago, 8-hour shifts were everywhere.  Today, they are an anomaly – especially in operations covering 24/7 in the United States.

I stress the “United States” because our national labor laws allow for compressed workweeks (longer shifts with more days off) that some other countries, such as Japan, are unable to offer.

There are three reasons that 8-hour shifts (in 24/7 operations) have become the exception rather than the rule: (1) Overtime laws that only require that overtime rates be paid in excess of 40 hours in a week, (2) 8-hour shifts must rotate or, if they don’t, you must contend with supervision, staffing and cross-training issues (3) people like longer shifts if they result in additional days off.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Pay after 40 hours: All 24/7 schedules take the 168 hours in a week and divide them among four crews.  This comes to an average of 42 hours per crew.  If you work 8-hour shifts, you will average 42 hours of work and 43 hours of pay regardless of whether or not overtime is paid after 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.  On a 12-hour schedule, if overtime is only paid after 40 hours in a week, you will get 44 hours of pay.  However, if you get paid overtime after 8 hours in a day on a 12-hour schedule, you will average 49 hours of weekly pay.  This means, that if a company must pay overtime after 8-hours in a day, they will have to pay 49 weekly pay-hours for a 12-hour schedule but only 43 pay hours for an 8-hour schedule.  This is why you won’t see 12-hour schedules in places like Japan (or California) where overtime must be paid after 8 hours in a day – they are just too expensive to implement.

8’s must rotate: People frequently think that rotating shifts are a “choice” as opposed to a necessity.  This is almost never the case.  Shift workers will choose fixed shifts over rotating shifts by a margin of 9 to 1.  However, if you have 8-hour shifts, you will be rotating.  Why is this?  Think about it this way – In a continuous operation, there are 4 crews but only three daily 8-hour shifts.  If one crew is assigned to days and one is assigned to afternoons and the other is assigned to nights; then where does the 4th crew go?  The answer is that this crew would rotate quickly between all of the shifts as the crews take different days off.

There is a way to make 8’s work as “fixed” shifts, however, there are some significant complications that you will have to live with. Instead of having 4 crews, use three crews each of which is overstaffed.

For example: Suppose you need three people to show up.  Instead of having four crews of three people (a total of 12 people) you will have three crews of four people (also a total of 12).  Since a crew has four people and you only need three, every day, one of the four get a day off.  To ensure that every combination of 3 gives you the skills you need, cross-training will be required.  Also, this only works if the required crew size is a multiple of 3.  If you need 17 to show up, then the 8-hour fixed will not work (however, 18 works and so does 24 as well as any other multiple of 3).  Supervisor scheduling will no longer be able to match the crews they supervise since they will need days off to which means someone will have to cover for them.

I know this sounds complicated so give us a call if you need more detail.

People like longer shifts: Actually, they don’t like longer shifts, they like the additional days off.  How many more days off?  If you work a 24/7 schedule with 8-hour shifts, you will work 273 days a year (75% of all days).  If you work the exact same number of hours per year on a 12-hour schedule, you will work 182 days per year (50% of all days).  This means you will work longer days but get an additional 91 days off per year.  While people are often wary of the longer shifts before they try them; after they have been on a 12-hour schedule for a few weeks, you would find it difficult to find someone that would want to give up their newly found bonanza of extra days off.

As you may have noticed, I tried to minimize the amount of “math” behind the various issues.  However, this does not mean the math is not available to you. 

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585.