Is it possible to implement multiple schedules at one site?

One of the most common questions we hear from our clients at Shiftwork Solutions is, “Can we implement more than one schedule?”

The answer is yes!  This may be the best solution for several reasons, but it comes with caveats.

  1. More schedules mean more complexity.
  2. The complexity must be evaluated on a risk v. reward basis.  Is it worth it?
  3. Framing this with the workforce is important.  Often, multiple schedules address a current condition that may change somewhere in the future.

To examine how multiple shifts could be the answer for you, I am going to create an example.  In this example, there are two production lines.  One needs to run 24/7 while the other needs only five days a week with some weekend overtime.

Your options are as follows:

  1. Put both lines on a 24/7 schedule.  This makes sure you have the coverage you need.  However, it also overstaffs one of your lines.  Having a crew show up when you do not need them is a very expensive way to do business.  Yes, you could say “We’ll find something for them to do,” but if this “something” isn’t being done before the change, why would you need it after the change?  You could send people home when there is no work but do not expect all of your employees to embrace this practice which essentially lowers their incomes.
  2. Keep both lines on a 5-day pattern.  Assuming you still plan on meeting customer demands, this will create a lot of weekend overtime.  You need the weekend production time, but you have no regular schedule to make that happen.  While overtime has many benefits, in the long run, you should expect to see lower productivity, poorer quality, and higher absenteeism.  Keep in mind, probably 20% of your workforce loves all the overtime they can get while an equal number wants nothing to do with overtime.
  3. Implement a 24/7 schedule on the line that needs it and leave the 5-day schedule in place for the line that needs 5+ days of runtime per week.  When we do this, we should expect the following:
    1. The employees on 24/7 will want 12-hour shifts to get half the days of the year off.
    1. The employees on the 5-day schedule will have 8-hour shifts which allow them to keep their current daily routines in place.
    1. There will be overtime due to absenteeism and some weekend work needed on the 5-day line.
    1. If weekend overtime is needed on the 5-day line, remember that the 5-day people can cover the overtime AND half of the 24/7 crews are off. All of them can be used to share the weekend overtime.
    1. Complexities will crop up.  How do you supervise two different schedules?  How do you distribute overtime between the schedules?  Will the pay-policies for the 5-day schedule work on the 24/7 schedule?

In summary, multiple schedules can be tailored to fit both the operational needs of your organization and the diverse work-life balance needs of your employees. If you come across any issues that keep you puzzled, contact Shiftwork Solutions today; we know how to remedy them.

Find out how we can help you succeed:

  • Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 
  • Complete our contact form and we will call you back
  • Request a meeting by booking a time that works for you the best here.

Best Practices in Shift Work Operations (Part 3 of 10)

  1. Don’t assume a 15-minute change in shift times is “no big deal”.

Managers judge a schedule by “the coverage it provides.”  Shift workers, on the other hand, judge a schedule by “the time off it provides.”  In other words, they are looking at the type of lifestyle they can carve out around the time they are not at work.  This makes the schedule very personal as it tells them when they can live the not-at-work part of their lives.  When you change a shift start time by even a very small amount, it is a big deal.  To shift workers, it will feel like you are reaching into their private lives and moving things around.  Maybe, they can no longer pick up or drop off their kids at school.  Maybe, they can’t catch the same bus.  Maybe, they will have to drop out of a church committee.  All because of a seemingly small change.

2. Continuous schedules can be much more attractive than non-continuous ones.

If you ask just about any person on the street the following question, “How would you like to work 12-hour workdays and give up half of your weekends off?”  Probably around 100% would say “No way!”

Let’s ask the same question a bit differently.  “How would you like to have 78 more days off a year.  Also, how would you like 10% more income?  Also, how would you like to be able to get off 7 days in a row just using 24 hours of vacation time?  Also, how would you like to virtually eliminate unscheduled, mandatory overtime? Also, how would you like to work a schedule that greatly increases your chances of getting to a day shift?”

You will likely get a different answer.  From time to time, Shiftwork Solutions helps companies go back to a 5-day schedule from a 7-day, continuous schedule.  This type of project faces much more resistance from the workforce than going the other way; from a 5-day schedule to a 7-day continuous schedule. Why? Because they have experienced firsthand the benefits that you can only get from a continuous schedule.

3. Cross-training does not mean everyone can do everything.

Imagine you have a crew of 20 employees.  Each person has a unique skill.  Place them all in a circle and then decide, how much cross-training do you need to do to ensure that a new employee can join the group and ensure that your facility will still run no matter who is absent on any given day.

Often, the first response is: “Everyone needs to know how to do everyone else’s job.”

The right answer is: “Everyone needs to know how to do their job as well as the job of the person standing to their left.”

Why is this so?  Suppose, your nuclear physicist is on vacation and you need to fill that position somehow using a new hire that only knows how to stack boxes.  That new hire will relieve the current box stacker who will relieve the label operator who will relive the filler operator and so on.  Everyone gets bumped to the left (remember we started with them all in a circle.)  Eventually, the assistant nuclear physicist is relieved and that person then steps in to fill the position of the nuclear physicist that is on vacation.

4. Temporary workers cost less and are generally even less productive.

When it comes to a lot of things, “you get what you pay for” seems to ring true.  This is often the case with labor.  Filling a position with temporary labor may mean that your labor cost per hour will be lower.  It may also mean that your productivity per labor hour is lower as well.  This is not always the case but it is worth paying attention to.

At a plant we helped solve productivity issues, temporary labor was about 75% the cost of straight time labor.  Sounds like a great deal ─ until an investigation showed that a full-time employee was six times as productive in certain jobs. 

There are a lot of times when temporary labor performance is indistinguishable from full-time labor performance.  There are several reasons why using temporary labor is a great idea for your facility.  But beware of the time-tested adage “you get what you pay for”.

5. In times of low unemployment, labor is the Cost Maker.

We tend to think that companies set their labor rate.  While this is true, the company doesn’t do this in a vacuum.  Outside influences will determine the rate that the company decides to pay. If unemployment is high, say 10%, companies will find it easy to hire workers and fill positions.  Every opening will have dozens of applications.  However, if unemployment is low, say 5%, the tide will have turned.  There is virtually no one that is looking for a job.  You are left hiring those few that remain unemployed for some reason or, you are faced with the very expensive proposition of enticing someone to leave their company to come work for you.

To compete, you raise wages.  Labor will go towards the highest bidder. 

This is continued from Part 2 of Best Practices.

Find out how we can help you optimize your shift work architecture:

  • Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 
  • Complete our contact form and we will call you back
  • Request a meeting by booking a time that works for you the best here.

Attracting and Creating a Sticky Workforce

Over the last several years, the number one issue that companies bring to Shiftwork Solutions is the difficulty they are having with keeping vital job postings filled.   This comes from a combination of high turnover and less than fruitful recruiting efforts.  

Let’s start with the obvious ─ there is a lot of value in successfully addressing these matters. For example:

  • If you don’t have a workforce, you can’t produce your goods.
  • If your workforce is too small, then you either fail to produce enough or you run into high overtime.  High overtime generates problems with safety, attendance, productivity, and attrition.
  • If you have no trouble hiring but can’t keep people then you have a costly training burden.  Not only do you lose productivity as you train but, when people leave, they don’t “check at the door” those skills you paid for them to acquire when they leave.

There are several possible courses of action to address these problem areas.  I’d like to just cover a few of the solutions I’ve come across in my years of working with shift workers.

  1. Money solves a lot of problems but it certainly doesn’t solve every problem.  You need to have wages that are sufficiently competitive with other companies seeking to hire the same people as you.  If margins make wage increases a “non-starter”, consider making more overtime available.  Keep in mind, a fully loaded hour of straight time will cost you about the same as an hour of overtime.  Still, the income for an employee is 50% higher per hour of overtime.  Cost neutral to the company and highly beneficial for the employee.
  2. A sense of “belonging” is important. Belonging has two basic components.  First, an employee is recognized by his or her fellow employees as well as by management.  Secondly, an employee feels like they are contributing members of the workforce.  I’m going to expand on these in the next two points.  Suffice to say that if an employee feels like they belong, they will stay.
  3. Recognition is more than just putting up a picture of new hires on the bulletin board.  New hires should have a sponsor; someone at their level that can show them the ropes.  Also, supervisors should regularly and formally, check in with new hires.  For example, 10-minute talks, one-on-one each week for the first month just to see how things are going.  It is important to recognize the fact that socialization at work is not the same as it was a generation ago.  Today, people go to the lunchroom and pull out their cell phones.  Imagine coming to work and not knowing anyone else in the lunchroom, no one even sees that you are there. 
  4. Contribution is more than just raising your hand during a pre-shift discussion.  Employees are quick to tell the difference between pretense and reality when it comes to being told that they are an important member of their crew.  Give them something to own.  For example, “This shrink wrap machine is yours.  Make sure it is maintained, cleaned, and fully functional.  Let us know what you need to be successful at that.”  This is empowering.  This person will know that they are contributing.
  5. Management by walking around is so important and so easy to do.  The top manager, walking the floor just to let the employees know that they have been seen working hard.  Walking the floor is intentionally not an inspection.  Let them see you, see them.  Make it social.  Say “hi”.  Ask about their kids.  Talk about the local sports team.
  6. Supervision matters.  One of the main reasons for employees leaving a company is their relationship with their supervisor.  The supervisor is too numbers-driven, doesn’t listen to the people, or is unavailable.  All of these types of comments point to the idea that a worker does not feel important to their leader and thus to the company.  It is noteworthy that even the best supervisors can fail if they don’t have the time to care about their workforce.  One supervisor to 60 employees is stretching that person way too thinly.  Think about one supervisor for every 12 – 20 employees.

All of this comes down to “treating your employees as you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes.”

Find out how we can help you succeed:

  • Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 
  • Complete our contact form and we will call you back
  • Request a meeting by booking a time that works the best for you here.

Turning Disruption into Opportunity

2020 has been a year unlike any other. The pandemic upended daily routines and many of our clients have been facing unexpected challenges. Swings in consumer demand and COVID-19 compliance issues tested even the most talented problem solvers. In these situations, many companies saw an increased need for specialized expertise to navigate unfamiliar waters.

Addressing fluctuating demand with a given set of assets is a complex task when companies find that the procedures in place no longer work. A different schedule is often an effective solution for tackling such issues. However, switching to a new schedule can be tricky when firms want to engage the workforce in the change process and achieve the right work-life balance for their most valuable assets, the employees.

Facing these obstacles, companies have been asking us in 2020: “How can we implement dramatic changes in short order without overburdening a workforce already feeling the daily distress of COVID-19?” “How can this change be managed without the face-to-face communications that had always been the most important component of nearly all change processes?”

Recognizing this, we reimagined how we best serve our customers in choosing and introducing new shift patterns for the workforce. Expanding upon our current practices we redesigned how we connect with workers, deliver results, and implement the desired outcome.

Today our processes are aligned with our client’s COVID compliance needs. Backed by online tools and communication applications, our extended services help companies successfully engage their workforce in a schedule change process. Just like before, we assist with the selection and implementation of a schedule yielding the desired production output while addressing worker preferences. We help our clients keep up with rapidly shifting customer demand, make sound business decisions, create and maintain a reliable supply, and have happy customers. Let us know if you’d like to hear more and book a chat with us here.

Creating Social Distancing While Maintaining Production Levels

The global pandemic has caused a major economic slowdown forcing many companies to scale back production due to sharp cuts in demand. Suppose this doesn’t apply to you and instead, your demand has remained unchanged. Do you need to do anything differently? If your company depends on having a healthy workforce, the answer is obviously ‘Yes’!

We had shared tips for scheduling during the pandemic a few weeks ago in a blog post.  We included ideas such as staggering shift start times and lunches as well as creating a gap between crews.

Today the question is: how to create such a “gap” while maintaining production?

Let’s take the example of a company running 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. To maintain production, they need to maintain 120 hours of production every week. They want to keep their workers, however – in the current shift – there is no distancing in place (maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters distance between workers).[1] How can this be overcome? How to create that space while fulfilling your production and employment goals? Suppose, instead of shift handovers the workers never see each other.  What could be more “distancing” than that?

Request your free example here: Enter CLAIM120HOURS.

Shiftwork Solutions experts are available to help you adapt to new production goals and match your workforce to your production need. Give us a call at (415) 858-8585 or send us an email to

Ramping down production in an uncertain economic environment

Staffing done right in a shiftwork operation

The Institute for Supply Management’s New Orders Index reported nine industries where new orders declined in March [1]. If your company is among those who experienced a demand drop due to the COVID-19 disruption and therefore, you want to swiftly ramp down your production ― you are going to need a plan of action.

We are not talking about a traditional downswing.  Those happen all the time due to factors like seasonality, changes in consumer behaviors, or obsolescence.  What we are going to cover here is how to ramp down quickly due to a sudden, and unexpected change in demand.  To further complicate this scenario, we will couple it with a foreknowledge that at some unknown point in the future, you will need to ramp back up again; possibly very quickly.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution here.  However, there are several considerations, some of which may apply to you while others are out of the question for your operation.  In all cases, we recommend that you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  Act as if the slowdown will last for a very long time but be ready to ramp up if things turn around quickly.

Workforce Considerations

While every employee is important to your operation, some are more costly to replace than others.  If you have to let people go, make sure you have a priority list of those high-skilled employees you don’t want to lose.  Keeping those skilled people will help you ramp back up quickly when the time comes.  If a skilled position is eliminated as you cut back, lose the job but keep the person.  Find another place for that person to work.  A high-paid operator can move down to a lower-paid position such as a stacker, for the short run.  Make sure you communicate that such a demotion is “just until things return to normal” and that a cut in pay is not involved.  An operator that is moved to the stacker position would still get operator pay – if you want to keep that person.

It may be that you just need to cut back on hours across the board.  Everyone loses some hours.  This shares the pain of cutbacks.  You don’t let some people go so that others will be unaffected.  This can be done in conjunction with efforts to maintain social distancing.  For example, if you are covering 24/7 with 12-hour shifts, you can instead use 11-hour shifts.  This would allow you to cover 22/7 while allowing downtime between shifts to allow for sanitizing while minimizing interaction between employees on different crews. 

Consider reducing your crew size using voluntary/mandatory layoffs of pre-determined lengths.  One group goes on layoff for a certain number of weeks and then they return while another group goes on layoff.  The idea is to keep your employees close to your company so they can all come back when needed.

Non-Human Capital Considerations

“There is never enough time to get things done.”  I think I have heard this at every company I have worked with over the last 30 years.  And its always been true…until now.

Cutting back on production does not mean that everything it takes to produce must come to a stop.

What have you wanted to do but couldn’t because lines were up and running?  Take a look at what you wanted to do in the coming months or even the coming years.  Pull that work forward.  Get your maintenance PM’s up to 100%.  That line you wanted to upgrade in 2021, upgrade it now.  Taking down water, steam, and HVAC systems can easily bring everything to a stop. Now is the time to get that work done.

It may be more costly than originally projected to move a project forward.  However, if you take into consideration that moving a project forward will avoid production interruption in the future, the math may change dramatically in favor of getting it done now.

In summary

When demand returns, market share will go to the one most ready to capture it.  Well maintained production lines with the latest upgrades will put you in the pole position.  A trained workforce, ready to get back to work will put you at the front of the pack.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

Don’t see the downturn as “unfortunate.”  See it as an opportunity – because it is.

Shiftwork Solutions experts are available to help you adapt to new production goals and match your workforce to your production need.  We align workforce schedules with your business goals and implement a tailored solution in a guided change process. We emphasize communication in every phase from planning to execution and involve the workforce to arrive at the most optimal result for your situation.  Our proven, data-driven process will enable you to bring about the desired changes to efficiently engage your workforce and “Do it Right” as fast as possible. 

Give us a call at (415) 858-8585 or send us an email to and we’ll call you.

If you are currently ramping up to help fight the Covid-19 virus, make sure you mention that so we can move you to the front of the line.

[1] March 2020 Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business® Source  

Ramping up production

Staffing done right in a shiftwork operation

If your company is among those who experienced a demand surge due to recent disruptive changes and therefore, you want to swiftly ramp up your production ― you are going to need a plan of action.

How do you take the first step in the design of matching the workforce to the increased production needs?

Top considerations before executing production expansion

To avoid inefficiencies our first bit of advice is to be thorough before proceeding forward.  It is perhaps more important than any other time to act swiftly, yet doing it wrong the first time and fixing mistakes retrospectively is often time-consuming and costly.

Defining your goal and evaluating your options in advance are the keys to success. Answering the following questions will put you on the right trajectory to achieve the planned outcomes and deliver the wanted changes sooner. It will also clarify the steps to be taken for an apt change in your operational routines. Consider these about demand and output, resources, operations, and financial implications:

  • What is the expected output volume?
  • Is this growth temporary or permanent?
  • When do we need to reach a higher capacity?
  • How do we match our in-kind assets to our human resources to achieve the desired outcome?
  • How many people do we need?
  • How do we schedule the workforce?
  • Can we use temporary labor and overtime in the short run?
  • What schedule will be most beneficial to the workforce?
  • What schedule will be most beneficial to the company?
  • How to take care of the skill distribution?
  • What leadership roles will be affected?
  • Do we need more supervision? What supervisor/worker ratio is ideal for the given workforce pool and goals?
  • Will our maintenance plan need to change?
  • What happens to support services when producing more (QA, Logistics, sanitation, etc.)?
  • How will safety, quality control be impacted?
  • Can we make continuous improvements and reduce waste in our LEAN production environment while in an expansion?
  • How will raw materials and finished goods inventories be impacted?
  • What external factors could limit your options (i.e. supply chain, shipping, receiving)?
  • What about profitability? What happens to our cost structure if we produce more with fixed capital? What will be the financial impact of overtime or straight time work?
  • Can we have a schedule that produces savings or improved cost/margin ratios? What schedule pattern will boost our ROI?

Lessons learned

The above guide will help you address the most important considerations when planning ahead.  However, all of this assumes you have the time and expertise to proceed with an expansion project along a reasonable timeline.  We far too often see that the mandate is “Get it done now no matter what the cost!”  And that is when inefficiencies are created, opportunities missed, an agile response is hindered, costs soar and the production capacities are not utilized to their maximum potential. When the management becomes aware of those occurrences they often acknowledge:  “We didn’t have time to do anything other than throw bodies at the problem.” Familiar?

Going forward

Consider the above questions before executing a growth strategy and if you want to “Do It Right the First Time”. Businesses must continue driving efficiencies, and pay attention to engaging the workforce on every skill level and respond with agility to achieve the wanted outcome.

Shiftwork Solutions experts are available to help you adapt to new production goals and match your workforce to your production need.  We align workforce schedules with your business goals and implement a tailored solution in a guided change process. We emphasize communication in every phase from planning to execution and efficiently engage your workforce to arrive at the most optimal result for your situation.  Our proven, data-driven process will enable you to bring about the desired changes to “Do it Right” as fast as possible. 

Give us a call at (415) 858-8585 or send us an email to

If you are currently ramping up to help fight the Covid-19 virus, make sure you mention that so we can move you to the front of the line.

Free Video Conference Consultation

During this time of uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 virus, we here at Shiftwork Solutions have asked ourselves, “What can we do to help our shiftwork communities get through this?”

Last week, we shared some “out of the box” type ideas to consider in your battle against Covid-19. We’ve received several positive responses to this post. Additionally, companies contacted us to discuss the steps they are experimenting with to balance demand and resources.

We’d like to keep up our support by popular demand.

We are offering a free video conference call with one of our shiftwork experts. You can drive the agenda and discuss your shift work, operation, and staffing related questions, including:

  • Considering higher overtime to use as few employees as possible?
  • Are you struggling with the “Ramp-Down” or “Ramp-Up?”
  • Are you thinking about shorter work weeks to keep as many employees as you can?

There are any number of issues that we would be happy to discuss with you. This includes your stories of success or of things to avoid.

To set up a Video Conference Call, send us an email at

Things to Consider when Changing Shift Schedules

by Jim Dillingham, Partner, Shiftwork Solutions

It’s amazing how something that looks so simple can be so hard. After all, what could be easier? Just post a new schedule on the bulletin board and implement it on Monday. Or post a couple of schedules and let the workers choose the one they want. How could anyone object to that?

Many managers are perplexed when something as simple as changing shift schedules causes so much strife among the workforce. The best place to start is with an understanding of the underlying issues.

A significant effort is usually required to identify the type of schedule that will satisfy the business requirements. Once this daunting task has been accomplished, the biggest challenge still remains. How do you get widespread support for the new schedule?

One factor increasing the complexity is that managers and workers look at the schedule from different perspectives. Show a copy of a shift schedule to a group of managers and they will immediately check whether the schedule provides all of the coverage their operation requires. Hand out the same schedule to a group of shift workers and they will begin to do things like count their weekends off, calculate the best times for vacation, see who works on Christmas, etc. Managers judge a schedule by its coverage; shift workers judge a schedule by the time-off it provides.

A second (and more significant) difficulty is that the shift workers will not agree on what a good schedule is. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. A shift schedule that one worker believes is perfect may spell disaster for another. Some managers believe (or hope) that since everyone works at the same site doing the same work, they should all be comfortable with the same type of shift schedule. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

Shift workers have strikingly different lives away from work. Some have second jobs and some are students. There are single parents and people with civic, religious, or social organization responsibilities. Think of the variety of activities your people participate in, such as youth sports coaches, bowlers, hunters, skiers, golfers, etc. If you have 500 shift workers, they will have 500 different uses for their time off. Because of the diversity of activities, responsibilities, and interests, some will want to have lots of time off each day while others will prefer more full days off. You will find some who want partial weekends off (if they have to work a weekend at all), and others who would rather work full weekends so they can have full weekends off at another point in the schedule. The bottom line is that when you change a shift schedule, you impact the lifestyles of your workforce, and because of the diversity of lifestyles, not everyone will be affected in the same way.

Consider these before deciding about the new schedule

Still want to change schedules? Keep the following three principles in mind, and you will go a long way towards smoothing the transition:

  • Clearly define the business case for changing the schedule. Among the drivers can be changing demand or customer requirements, organizational or cultural change, new business imperatives (such as new strategic direction), or technology improvements. You don’t want to change schedules if you don’t have to ― once you make the change, you want to be sure it was the right one (or you get to do it again later!).
  • Communicate with the workforce. Tell them why and when things are going to happen. Left in an information vacuum, the workforce may perceive that the schedule change is arbitrary, or “management is out to get us”.
  • Actively seek input from the shift workers. Use a methodology that allows everyone to have input before the change takes place. Be careful not to pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the few individuals who claim to speak for everyone else. In most cases, they are speaking for themselves.

Consider these before introducing the new schedule

Once you know what the new schedule is going to be, it’s time to think about how you’re going to handle the following considerations:

  • How will current pay and work practices be affected? Mistakes are long-lived, even when corrected. Once you give something away, it’s difficult to take it back. Vacations, shift differentials, bereavement, and holidays are a few of the policies that will need to be reviewed.
  • When are you going to implement it? Small changes can be implemented quickly while major ones (e.g., going from 5 to 7 days of coverage) may require giving the workforce several weeks to prepare. Certain times of the year are better for implementation than others. For example, it is probably not a good idea to change schedules in the middle of the holiday season.
  • Resource assignment: who will be assigned to what shift? Skill balance and length of service are the types of issues that need to be considered. This is an especially “hot topic” for a fixed shift operation.
  • What will the overtime policies look like? Even if overtime levels remain unchanged with the new schedule, the distribution of the overtime may be different. For example, on an 8-hour schedule, overtime is typically worked by coming in before or staying after the normal shift; on a 12-hour schedule, overtime is usually worked on a day off.

Changing schedules can be a rough ride. That’s why a lot of companies decide not to proceed and may forego the potential business benefits of a schedule change – often measured in $M. If you and your management team are committed to making the change, follow the three principles and take the four considerations listed above into account. You’ll be glad you did, and so will the rest of the company. 

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.

Characteristics of Effective Shift Schedules

When considering alternative shift schedules, you should evaluate how they affect your cost structure and whether they make your operation easier to manage. At a minimum, an effective schedule should:

  • Keep your best and/or most expensive equipment productive, i.e. maximize your equipment utilization.
  • Provide continuous coverage in areas that have significant start-up and shutdown costs.
  • Match the coverage to the workload. In other words, provide enough coverage to get the necessary work done, and no more.
  • Have the ability to flex up to meet customer demands, flex down when the workload is low.
  • Not be constrained by pay and work policies that make normal operating situations excessively expensive.

Let’s examine each of these five characteristics in more detail.

Maximize Equipment Utilization

Equipment utilization can be a huge economic driver in establishing the level of coverage that your schedule should provide. Since there are 168 available operating hours in a week (24 x 7), you should use this as your basis for evaluating equipment utilization.

Part of the operating hours is used for maintenance, setup, cleaning and product changeovers. The typical plant loses 15% of its operating time to perform these functions, which reduces equipment utilization to 85%.

Many companies plan their operations around a schedule that provides five days of coverage, 24 hours a day. This is a 120-hour planning week that, at best, yields an equipment utilization of 71.4% (120/168). Using the typical 0.85 operating factor results in a utilization of only 60.7%.

Therefore, the typical facility running five days a week can expect to increase equipment utilization by about 24% (85% – 60.7%) with a 7-day schedule.

Figure 1 demonstrates the value of improving the equipment utilization for $1 million worth of equipment. As an example, if your plant has $25 million of capital and equipment invested at a 10% cost of capital, you could realize a savings of $550,000/year by changing from 5-days to 7-days a week.

Provide Continuous Coverage

In a manufacturing environment, there are often significant benefits to using a schedule that provides continuous coverage. Operations that unnecessarily shut down their equipment for breaks, lunches, shift changes, or at the conclusion of the workweek are probably increasing their overall cost structure. Increased costs are generated by:

  • Losses of equipment utilization of up to 11%.
  • Labor required to complete start-up and shutdown procedures (cleaning, setup, and adjustment) that do not result in actual production and would not be required if the equipment continued to operate.
  • Scrap created as part of the start-up or shutdown process.
  • Lost capacity opportunities experienced as “bugs” are worked out of the system on start-up. This also results in lower labor productivity.
  • Increased maintenance problems caused by cycling the equipment more than necessary.

Continuous coverage can be provided at shift change by having face-to-face turnover meetings between operators on attended equipment. While this may require some overlap, it also creates an environment of accountability and fosters communication between shifts.

Equipment does not need to be shut down for breaks and lunches if a break relief system is used. One of the best systems uses dedicated relief personnel who move from position to position to allow operating personnel to take breaks. In addition to keeping equipment running, this type of system encourages personnel to stick to their assigned break times so that they do not adversely affect their co-workers.

In some plants, an alternative to using relief personnel is to run short-staffed during breaks and use cross-trained personnel from nearby areas to alert personnel on break if a problem occurs. This usually is not as effective as using actual relief personnel, since problems that do occur during a break are normally not handled as well as they would be if dedicated personnel were readily available.

Match Coverage to the Workload

It is surprising how many companies force their production and staffing plans to fit their shift schedule rather than the other way around. This type of mismatch can result in hidden costs that could easily be eliminated with an appropriate schedule.

As an example of this type of situation, consider a manufacturer with ten production lines using a traditional 120-hour (5×24) schedule. This plant’s product demand requires the ten lines to run about 90% of the time. In other words, one line will normally be scheduled down at any given time, resulting in 10% overstaffing in the plant.

An alternative to this strategy is to design a schedule that would provide 90% of the current coverage, i.e. a schedule that provides full coverage for 108 hours each week. This will eliminate the 10% idle time built into the traditional 120-hour schedule, and lower facility costs such as utilities.

Let’s assume the managers at this plant have done their homework, and recognize the overstaffing situation. They realize that their employees are going to be absent for about two and a half weeks for vacations and about one week for illness and other reasons (this is about 7% absenteeism). Given this situation, they have made the decision to staff for ten lines, and reassign personnel from the down line to fill coverage gaps on the operating lines.

This all sounds reasonable, but it isn’t cheap. Even if the absence theory holds up, the plant still appears to be three percent overstaffed. In reality, the absence theory does not hold up either. Seven percent of the workforce will not be absent every day the plant operates. Some days it will be more than seven percent and on other days it will be less. The two possible solutions are to reduce the day-to-day staffing and never run ten lines at a time or to implement a schedule with less than 120 hours/week of coverage.

Prepare for Variable Workloads

Many manufacturing companies experience variable workloads due to changes in product demand, or variable staffing availability due to vacations and illness. For example, Figure 2 shows the weekly operating hours needed to meet the production demand for one year at a Mid-Western manufacturer.

In order to provide exactly the right amount of coverage for this type of variable workload using personnel working 40-hour workweeks and no overtime, we would continually increase and decrease the staffing in parallel with the changing product demand. For example, assuming 100 people are required to staff this plant with straight time, given the changing product demand, the number of people required would vary as shown in Figure 3.

Since most companies want to keep employees for the long term, they try to maintain the same staffing level throughout the year. This makes a situation like the one shown in Figure 3 undesirable. Therefore, variable demand fluctuations are met by varying the coverage with secondary coverage adjustment mechanisms, such as planned overtime, temporary employees, training and other discretionary work management, and planned time-off management. Short-term adjustments include unplanned overtime and using temporary or contract labor.

Revise Pay and Work Policies

The best shift schedules have a set of pay and work policies that are matched to the schedule. Most pay and work policy systems were designed to manage a Monday through Friday, eight-hour shift schedule. Typical policies on this schedule include:

  • Daily premium paid for hours worked beyond 8 hours/day.
  • Weekend premiums for working on Sat. and Sun.
  • Holidays, vacations, and other paid time-off are paid and tracked in eight-hour blocks.

When these policies are applied to schedules that use different shift lengths or cover more than five days in a week, they will usually increase the cost to operate the facility. This increased cost results in more operating restrictions and lowers your ability to respond to your customers’ demands.

The best schedules have custom-designed pay and work policies that allow the operation the maximum flexibility while still meeting the principles that traditional schedules were designed to meet. That is, they:

  • Meet all Federal, State, and Local labor laws.
  • Pay employees a premium when they must work in unusual situations (e.g. work longer than scheduled or on a day-off).
  • Provide income replacement for paid time off.
  • Equalize pay when workweeks are not balanced.
  • Equally compensate employees working the same jobs, side-by-side, under the same conditions (including the number of hours worked and days off), on different shift schedules.

Satisfying these principles should result in a schedule and pay/work policy combination that avoids the 2-15% cost increase that many companies feel they must absorb when they change to a schedule that better meets their production demands.

Satisfy Employee Requirements

While the focus of this article has been on the business characteristics of effective shift schedules, effective schedules also meet the needs of the workforce. The schedule belongs to the people that work it, and at most companies, things run better when the people are happy. Some of the top issues that employees want to see addressed when they are asked to evaluate alternative schedules are:

  • Pay — especially overtime and weekend/shift premiums.
  • Time off — especially on weekends and holidays.
  • Predictability. Most workers prefer some consistency in their time off.
  • Job difficulty & fatigue — long shifts, numerous shifts worked in a row, and rate of rotation all can affect the attractiveness of a shift schedule.

The bottom line is that you must understand what your employees want if you are going to implement a successful schedule. The best schedule for the business is no good if the employees can’t live with it.

We can help you find the most effective shift work solution to address your needs. Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585.