A bird in the hand

I help companies change schedules. I do this for a living.

Some people think the hardest part is coming up with a schedule. Generally speaking, that is the easiest part of my job. Helping people to overcome the anxiety of change is much more complicated.

I will give a short example here.

Companies that use schedules to cover 24/7, typically use 4 crews, each averaging 42 hours a week and thus providing coverage for the 168 hours in the week. This is just math and says nothing about the schedule. Each crew could work forty-two, 1-hour shifts or a singe 42-hour shift; both would provide the coverage needed.

The reality is that most people prefer 8-hour or 12-hour shifts. In fact, over the last 20 years, 12-hour shifts are selected by 95% of the companies I work with. They choose 12’s for 2 reasons: (1) more days off and (2) 8-hour shifts must rotate (to work properly).

Let’s start with the “more days off”. On a 12-hour schedule, you would work 182 12-hour shifts in a year for a total of 2,184 hours of work. On an 8-hour shift, you would work 273 8-hour shifts in a year; also working 2,184 hours. So, 12-hour shifts provide 91 more days off per year.

As far as rotating is concerned, with 8-hour shifts, you have 4 crews to cover 3 shifts a day. Either one of those crews must rotate or all of them must rotate. This mean sometimes working from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm and sometimes working from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am or 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm. On 12’s, two crews cover Day shift and two crews cover the Night shift. No need to rotate.

Now, shift workers love getting more days off. They also hate to rotate. This explains why I see so many of them choosing to go to 12-hour shifts to cover 24/7.

But what about that 5% that don’t want 12-hour shifts?

In every instance, this group is already covering 24/7. Not only that, they are already on an 8-hour shift.

When I ask “Don’t you want fixed shifts? Don’t you want 91 more days off a year without your pay being affected?”

The answer is “Yes…but I will have to come in on those days off to cover other people.”

This happens to be true. However, it will only happen around 10 times a year. So, you get an extra 91 days off a year, but on 10 of those extra days off, you will have to come in and work overtime.

They hear this. They understand the logic and then say, “I would rather get 91 days off per year on my 8-hour schedule than to get 182 days off on a 12-hour schedule when 10 of those 182 days off will have to be worked as overtime.”

Note, there is also overtime on the 8-hour schedule but instead of coming in on a day off, they hold over or come in early for 4 hours. So, 120 hours of overtime becomes 30 instances of adding 4 hours to an 8-hour schedule or coming in on 10 days off on a 12-hour schedule.

Take someone that is currently on a 5-day schedule and they will shake their head at this logic. There is no way they would choose a rotating schedule with only 91 days off per over a fixed shift schedule with 182 days off per year.

This goes to demonstrate the massive amount of “schedule inertia” that must be overcome to implement a change.

People like what they have even if they don’t like it very much.

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