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: contact@shift-work.com. 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 contact@shift-work.com.

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 contact@shift-work.com 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 contact@shift-work.com.

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 contact@shift-work.com

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.

Reducing Employee Turnover

A case study

Problem

This food processing company was experiencing severe problems with employee turnover. The underlying cause of this turnover problem was excessive overtime.

Located in a small town with several other labor-intensive companies, the company constantly competes for labor, often operating with less than a full complement of personnel. This staffing shortfall was resulting in substantial overtime which, in turn, created an even higher turnover. Overtime policies allowed senior employees to accept or decline overtime work as they saw fit. When the senior employees chose not to work overtime, the newer employees were forced to work tremendous amounts of overtime, especially during the undesirable periods (i.e. on weekends). The high overtime levels meant that new hires frequently worked long stretches of days in a row causing them to seek greener pastures.

Action

Employee preferences: Employees wanted predictability, a choice in the type of schedule they worked, and reasonable time off to spend with their families.

Business requirements: A business analysis indicated that considerable productivity improvement would be realized if most of the operation changed from a combination of high production on weekdays and limited production on weekends to moderate, steady production seven days a week.

Implementation: In the end, two schedules were implemented. One schedule was a traditional 5-day schedule using 8-hour shifts. The second schedule, used by half of the operation, was a 7-day shift schedule using 12-hour shifts.

Employees on the 7-day schedule were protected from working a scheduled weekend off. They also received about 10% more income and 78 more days off than those on the 5-day schedule.

Interestingly, the company had no problem filling the employee positions on the 7-day schedule. The increased predictability, income and number of days off actually made the 7-day schedule more popular than the 5-day schedule.

Results

After six months on the new schedule, the workforce was surveyed to provide a “before and after” picture. Using indices to measure performance, the change is shown below:

  1. Communication: +5.5%
  2. Management’s openness to workforce input: +13.8%
  3. Employees feeling that they are a part of the company: +11.9%
  4. General quality of work environment: +21.1%
  5. Facility rating relative to other companies in the area: +21.2%
  6. Schedule predictability: +40.6%
  7. Schedule flexibility: +47.5%

These improvements in employee perception pertaining to the company and the work environment resulted in a greater than 50% reduction in turnover.

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.

Communicating Major Changes: how a production facility did it successfully

Jim Dillingham, Partner, Shiftwork Solutions LLC

When leaders initiate a major change that affects their employees, they want everything to proceed smoothly. They don’t want to alienate the workforce or create any long-lasting disruptions or unnecessary delays. Change that affects the personal lives of people is the most difficult and riskiest type of change. Yet that is exactly what leaders do when they modify or replace their employees’ work schedules.

The leader’s challenge is how to get their people to support the schedule change. Employees have diverse lifestyles, so you can expect their preferences for a new work schedule to be equally varied. A thing as simple as changing a shift start time can feel like a catastrophic event to an unprepared workforce. How will they get their kids to school? Their carpool won’t wait for them. They can’t take that night class they’ve been thinking about. People have a myriad of responsibilities, activities, and interests that will be affected by any change in their work schedules. Every possible conflict can be blown up into an unsolvable problem.

Here is what a semiconductor company did to successfully handle the challenge. The work site was a production facility with more than 1,200 employees. Before the change, the shift schedule had relied on “weekend warriors” to handle the weekend shifts. Full-time employees had covered Monday through Friday. The weekends had been covered by two additional crews that only worked for the company on the weekends. One of the crews worked 12-hour day shifts on Saturday and Sunday. The other crew worked 12-hour night shifts on those same days. In some instances, these weekend workers also worked during the week to add to their income.

As you might expect, this was causing several problems:

  • The weekend crews experienced a high attrition rate and high absenteeism.
  • Finding replacements for the vacant weekend positions was an on-going concern.
  • Maintaining team integrity was difficult because the weekday shifts had many weekend employees who were not part of the core crew/team.
  • Using weekend warriors required five crews instead of four crews, the common approach for a business that operates 24/7. This required 25% more personnel, and thus a 25% increase in the number of employees to communicate with.
  • Productivity would drop when the weekend crew took over as the weekenders familiarized themselves with the production changes that took place during the five days they were away. This also happened to the full-time employees after being away for two days but to a lesser extent.

The management team decided to replace the old work schedule with a compressed work week” schedule that would require employees to work twelve hours per shift instead of eight hours but reduce the number of shifts worked each week. It would also eliminate the need for weekend warriors.

On the new schedule, employees would have seventy-eight fewer workdays and ten percent more income. One might think that these two figures would be reason enough to support a schedule change. The fact is that a workforce, uninformed about what is about to happen, will choose to remain on the current schedule for no reason other than they are familiar with it.

To gain support for changing the shift schedules, the company knew they would have to find a way to involve the workforce in the change process. To do this they did three things:

  1. They increased communications regarding the current situation and explained why a change was needed. They educated people about the problems the weekend warrior approach was creating. Managers held large group meetings, posted announcements, and sent e-mails to make sure the workers completely understood the reasons a change was needed. The goal was to have the workforce join together in support of the common cause. A key component of this effort was the company’s supervisors since communication between hourly workers and the first level of management is usually the most influential. Supervisors were first educated about the need for change. Then they were used to help pass that message along to their direct reports. This had the effect of empowering supervision while giving employees ready access to someone who could answer their questions.
  2. They brought in a neutral, third party to facilitate the change process. They felt the shift workers would trust the process more if it was run by someone who was not affiliated with the company. They did not want the change in shift schedules to come across as a management ultimatum. They hired us to present an impartial view of how to solve the current situation. We explained the steps that would be taken, including how the employees’ input would be used. Not everything was up to the workforce to decide. For example, the decision had already been made to get rid of the weekend warrior schedule. But the employees could play a major role in deciding what to replace it with. Our role also included responsibility for expanding everyone’s awareness of what was possible. Most shiftwork managers and employees have limited exposure to different schedules. This makes their “box” of options appear much smaller than it actually is. A critical feature of the facilitator’s work is that it must be transparent. This means no secrets. All work performed by the third party must be accessible by everyone. All analyses and all survey results presented to management must also be made available to the workforce. This was accomplished by giving the employees a shortened version of any results and letting them know where more detailed information could be viewed if they wished to do so.
  3. They involved employees in selecting the new work schedules. This began with a Lifestyle Survey that was given to all affected employees. The survey allowed employees to give their initial feedback about the pending change. It also allowed them to express preferences with regards to shift work in general. Several weeks later, the employees were given the results from the survey. This validation of results allowed employees to see that their input was actually heard. A second survey was prepared for the workforce that offered a number of alternative schedule solutions. These schedule alternatives were developed from an analysis of the business needs and coverage requirements as well as employee schedule preferences identified in the first survey. The employees were given a clear picture of the need to change. They also were educated about the different shift schedules that would work for their facility: what types were available and what people tend to find attractive (or unattractive) about different schedules. The survey allowed people to evaluate this set of schedule options. The results of the second survey were shared with managers and workers. The results were used to narrow down the schedule options to two 12-hour schedules. Every employee understood that their input was used to help identify the final options.  

The Results

The final two shift schedule options were presented to the workforce. Over 75 percent of the night-shift employees and over 95 percent of the day-shift employees agreed on what the new schedule should be. This strong consensus is directly attributed to the leaders’ efforts to communicate with their people and to actively solicit (and use) their input.

Even employees who did not initially agree with the need to change schedules eventually grew to understand and support the initiative. Employees who did not get their first choice of shift schedule or shift assignment felt that the process was thorough and fair. This sense of fairness allowed them to accept the change even though they wanted to keep their old schedule or change to something different.

If you are planning to make a major change in your business, keep these three concepts in mind. First, make sure everyone is well informed. People should have a solid understanding of the problem and its impact on the business. Second, build credibility at every step of the process. People must believe there really is a problem, the consequences are significant, and that management does not have a hidden agenda they are trying to sneak past the workers. Third and most importantly, involve the people affected by the change in selecting the best solution. Seek input from everyone, not just the most vocal people. It is especially important for employees to see that their input is used to influence the final outcome.

Communication, a clear process for selecting a solution, and employee participation are the three keys to success. This approach certainly worked well for this company. Hopefully, you will experience the same success by following these guidelines.

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

You can also complete our contact form and we will call you.

Are Maintenance Workers Really Different than Other Shiftworkers?

By Bruce Oliver and Dan Capshaw, Shiftwork Solutions LLC

Many maintenance managers will tell you their workforce is different than other shift workers — that their attitudes and behaviors are not the same. Recognizing, understanding, and accounting for how maintenance personnel evaluates shift schedules are essential to finding a schedule that will satisfy their needs and give you the required coverage to meet your business needs.

When it comes to shift schedules, what makes maintenance workers unique? Using our database of over 20,000 employee surveys, we compared the responses of maintenance personnel with those of the average shift worker surveyed. The database includes information on the following topics:

  • Demographics
  • Health and alertness
  • Working conditions
  • Shift schedule features
  • Overtime

Let’s look at the maintenance worker results for each of these categories and compare them to the overall shift worker results. If our assumption that maintenance workers are different is true, we should see some differences in the results.

Demographics

Almost 98% of the maintenance workers are male. This is a sharp contrast with other shift workers, 76% of whom are male. The maintenance field is clearly dominated by men. A graphic comparison of the two groups is shown in Figure 1.

Maintenance workers have worked 43% longer in their current department than the average shift worker (8.6 years for maintenance vs. 6.0 years for the average shift worker). Unlike production workers who can quickly learn a new job in another department such as quality control or the warehouse, maintenance workers tend to stay in their specialized trade. They usually are paid more and spend more time working weekday day-shifts, which also may influence their reluctance to transfer to other departments.

This finding has two important implications for maintenance workers:

  1. Maintenance personnel expects to stay in their jobs, possibly for their entire careers. If they are required to work on a schedule they don’t like, they may see little opportunity to correct the schedule. This makes the stakes and consequently the emotions high when alternative schedules are considered. In fact, the shift schedule is so important that a substantial percentage of maintenance workers said they will quit their jobs before changing to a new shift schedule (24.7%).
  2. Since maintenance skills are often transferable to other companies, maintenance workers are able to change jobs to another maintenance job in a different company. Losing people because of your schedule is expensive. Of course, this also means that an attractive schedule can be a very effective tool for recruiting and retaining the best maintenance personnel.

Health and Alertness

The opinions and preferences of maintenance workers and other shift workers are aligned when it comes to health and alertness. They have similar sleep patterns and habits (e.g. alarm clock usage and their hours of sleep while working various shifts are almost identical), and their self-reported alertness is similar.

Working Conditions

Maintenance workers also gave similar responses to those of the average shift worker on all facets of the work environment except the need for training. As shown in Figure 2, more maintenance personnel feel their employer doesn’t train nearly enough (65.8% from maintenance vs. 55.3% of the average shift workers). Maintenance employees are well aware that training can make their jobs faster and easier. They also often believe that more training for employees in other parts of the organization will reduce the number of breakdowns.

Shift Schedule Features

There were only a few schedule features where maintenance workers’ preferences differed from the average shift worker. As shown in Figure 3, a larger percentage of maintenance people prefer fixed shifts (88.3% from maintenance vs. 82.9% among all shift workers). Most maintenance workers are assigned to weekday day-shift since most preventative maintenance work is done during this time. Minimal staffing is needed for corrective maintenance on nights and weekends. The likelihood of maintenance workers getting the shift they want is pretty high, so it is understandable that more of them want fixed shifts.

Maintenance personnel gave lower ratings to the importance of keeping their current crew members together (maintenance = 3.11 vs. average shift worker = 3.71 on a 5-point scale where 1 is lowest and 5 is the highest possible rating). Unlike other job functions that require extensive teamwork, maintenance work is given to individuals or small groups. Maintenance work often requires a high degree of independence, making the individual team member composition less important than the team skill composition is to the success of the organization.

Overtime

One interesting difference noted between maintenance personnel and the average shift workers is their preference for time-off instead of overtime. When asked, “If you had to choose between more time-off or more overtime, what would you choose?” 70% of the maintenance workers said “More time-off” in contrast with 61.4% of the average shift workers. This is shown in Figure 4.

Maintenance personnel are paid more than other shift workers, so they are not as dependent on overtime. In addition, maintenance workers work most of their overtime on weekends, since many companies push the maintenance work to the weekends. Since weekends are the most desirable time off, it is not surprising that maintenance personnel will choose to have more time off instead of more overtime. To them, asking if you want more overtime is like asking if you want fewer weekends off.

Conclusions

The survey results reveal only a few differences between maintenance workers and the general shiftwork population. The most significant difference is the lack of mobility within a company coupled with the high mobility to move outside the company. Shift schedules are always important to shift workers, but if the only apparent choice to improve a schedule is to change companies, the importance to maintenance personnel is even greater. The nature of the job attracts strong, independent personalities, so when emotions run strong, discussions can be intense. This passionate response to schedule changes explains why so many managers perceive maintenance workers to be significantly different than other shift workers – even though their overall schedule preferences are very similar.

Since maintenance work can occur anywhere in the facility, maintenance workers have many opportunities to come in contact with employees from other departments. That puts them in a perfect position to support communications along the grapevine. It is therefore incumbent on the entire management team not only to be aware of the maintenance team’s differences but also to understand their unique and valuable roles in the organization and use shift schedules that work well for their maintenance team while still meeting their business needs.

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.

Considerations in Changing the Work Schedules of Non-Exempt Employees

by Bruce Oliver, Consultant, Shiftwork Solutions LLC (Republished with permission from the Society of Human Resource Management)

Organizations change the work schedules of their non-exempt employees for a variety of reasons:

  • Change the hours/days of operation to match the demand for their products or services.
  • Fix problems such as high absenteeism, hiring/retention issues, or excessive overtime.
  • Improve efficiency (e.g., lean manufacturing) or lower the operating costs.
  • Respond to employee requests for change or complaints about the current schedule.

Responsibility for gathering relevant information, identifying alternative schedule options, and implementing the new schedule is often given to the Human Resources (HR) manager. Since information on the subject is surprisingly scarce, this responsibility can be quite a challenge. It’s not something you do every day. Few people have the expertise to design a schedule for a group that works more than five days a week or more than one shift a day. Once you realize that schedule design is not the only step in changing schedules, nor the most difficult, you easily can be overwhelmed.

Despite the difficulty, this is a great opportunity for HR managers to orchestrate a significant change in the organization. As an HR manager, you are uniquely qualified to do this. You tend to have a broader perspective than line functions such as production or maintenance. You have more experience in communicating with employees. Your on-going role as a company steward has trained you to protect organizational interests while addressing employee concerns.

It is essential that you understand what is involved in changing work schedules. This paper provides a broad overview that will help you get started. Although every situation will have its own unique issues, as long as you address the following six considerations you will have a much better chance of reaching a successful outcome:

  • Change Process
  • Coverage requirements
  • Available resources
  • Schedule constraints
  • Employee preferences
  • Company policies

Change Process

In today’s tight labor market, organizations simply can’t afford to lose employees. Changing work schedules is an easy way to alienate the workforce and increase turnover. To ensure widespread support for the change, you need to have a plan for involving the key stakeholders and keeping them informed throughout the entire change process.

That sounds simple enough, but it’s actually the most difficult part of changing schedules. People are resistant to any kind of change. When it comes to work schedules, even a minor change can make a significant difference in employees’ lives. For example, changing the time that the work starts by 15 minutes may seem trivial, but it can have serious repercussions for people who commute in a carpool or use public transportation, parents with daycare requirements, and individuals with hundreds of other personal commitments built around their work schedules.

Key elements of the change process include:

• Prepare a clear business case. What are the reasons for the change? What are the consequences of not changing? Is the cost of changing less than the cost of not changing? A compelling justification can make a huge difference in garnering support.

• Identify key stakeholders. Who will be working on the new schedule? Who are the other interested parties? What types of concerns might they have? How might they benefit from a new schedule?

• Decide how to involve the stakeholders. How will the management team and the union be involved? How will employees participate? Which aspects of the new schedule are not open for debate? Should employees whose schedules may change at a later date be included at this time? Involving all key stakeholders whenever possible is critical to gaining widespread support for the change.

• Develop a communication plan. How will you explain the business case and its implications? How will you communicate progress: company-wide meetings, newsletters, bulletin boards, emails, the company web site, flyers, handouts, banners, crew meetings, or something else? Keeping employees updated throughout the process is essential.

• Announce the date of a schedule change. Will the change be made on a trial basis? If so, how long will it last? How will you decide whether to continue with the new schedule? When will other groups change? Establishing deadlines will demonstrate a commitment to change and alert employees who doubt that anything will happen.

Many larger organizations have found that the use of an outside facilitator is helpful in managing the change process. A neutral party helps to avoid the appearance that management is manipulating the workforce into doing something they don’t want to do. Finding an expert with broad experience in navigating the pitfalls associated with changing schedules will ensure a smooth implementation.

Coverage Requirements

How many employees do you need to show up at different times of the day? What skills do they need to have? Are these numbers the same all week? Answer this and you’ve defined your basic coverage requirements.

Determining the coverage requirements appears to be relatively straightforward for organizations with a workload that remains constant throughout the day and throughout the week. They need the same number of employees in each position to show up on every shift. In retail businesses, this is usually a function of the number of customer calls or visits. In service businesses, this is related to the number and types of service calls. In manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and mining, it may be related to the type of equipment, the number of machines, and/or the process followed.

Determining the coverage requirements for support organizations can be more difficult, however. If the business is changing from operating 5 days a week to 7 days, how does this affect the maintenance, warehousing and shipping groups? Do they need to work 7 days a week too? Each situation is different, so don’t overlook these other functions.

Organizations with variable workloads have a more challenging problem with their coverage requirements. Call centers, for example, may have a substantial increase in customer calls every evening. Retailers have more customer calls in the late afternoons, evenings and weekends. Manufacturers may have certain processes that run for only a few hours every day. These companies need to boost their coverage during the high workload periods to meet the demand.

Ideally, your schedule will match the number of employees with the workload throughout the day and throughout the week. You may be tempted to average the workload over an entire shift when it actually changes from hour to hour. Likewise, you may assume the workload stays the same each day of the week when it fluctuates from day to day. If the volume of work is excessive for just a few hours, employees and productivity/service levels will suffer. If the work volume is low, employees will be less productive or idle during this period of time. In either case, the business will incur unnecessary costs. Possible solutions include:

  • Schedules that have increased coverage on the busier shifts.
  • Schedules that have increased coverage on the busiest days of the week.
  • Different shift lengths to increase coverage when the shifts overlap.
  • Staggered shift start times to gradually change the coverage as each shift starts or ends.
  • Overlay shifts to add personnel during busy periods.

Available Resources

How many employees are needed to satisfy the coverage requirements? How many hours will they have to work each week? In addition to the base coverage, you need to consider absences such as vacations, illness, training, etc. Additional staff and / or overtime may be needed to cover these situations. Even though you think you have sufficient personnel, if a number of employees want to take a vacation at the same time, this could leave you short-handed. If someone takes a leave of absence due to health problems, pregnancy, or family care, you may not be able to replace them. The use of temporary employees may help, assuming you can find someone with the necessary skills.

Schedule Constraints

Schedule constraints include legal considerations (e.g., state laws requiring overtime to be paid after 8 hours of work) and union agreements (e.g., limits on the number of consecutive days worked). There are also company policies to consider. For example, your company may require that all employees rotate so they spend an equal amount of time on every shift.

These are referred to as “constraints” because they limit the number of possible schedules. If you need an 8-hour fixed shift schedule with a maximum of 5 days worked in a row, you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a schedule that gives you a lot of weekends off or long breaks. Without the constraint on the number of consecutive days worked, you would have a lot more options to choose from. Without the fixed shift constraint, you would also have more choices. If there are too many constraints, it may be necessary to add more workers, increase overtime, or sacrifice some coverage.

Employee Preferences

There are several ways to identify the employee work schedule preferences. In smaller groups, it may be possible to simply show employees several different schedule options that satisfy the coverage requirements. This will generate a discussion of the good and bad aspects of each alternative, hopefully leading to an agreement on the “best” schedule for the group.

In larger organizations, gathering employee preferences is rarely this easy. Anonymous questionnaires may be required to ensure that everyone’s opinion is reflected, not just the more vocal employees. Multiple steps may be necessary to explain why the change is needed, ascertain general schedule preferences, identify and review possible options, and discuss the implications of each alternative. There are two things you should keep in mind when using this multi-step approach. First, avoid getting too specific early in the process. Second, take time to educate employees about new schedules.

If you initially ask employees what specific type of schedule they prefer, you may get something that isn’t practical or doesn’t meet the business requirements. For example, employees may select a 10-hour shift schedule, not realizing that this would boost the staffing requirements substantially and double the coverage for six hours every day while the shifts overlapped. It’s better to begin by asking the question in general terms, e.g., “Would you be willing to work long shifts in order to get more days off?” This will allow more flexibility in developing schedule options. It will also prevent employees from getting their hopes set on a schedule that is not appropriate for the business and the distribution of the workload.

Since employees may not be familiar with different types of work schedules, some education about schedules may be necessary. This step will open the door to more possibilities. It will also reduce the tendency of people who will immediately reject anything that differs substantially from the current schedule. For example, employees may not consider 12-hour shift schedules because they think the shifts are too long. However, once they realize they would get twice as many scheduled days off and up to half their weekends off, they may be more receptive.

Company Policies

Most companies start with pay policies that were originally designed for eight-hour, Monday through Friday schedules. The policies are usually designed to minimize costs for normal operations while providing premium compensation when the employees are asked to work outside of their regular schedule. They also provide an easily understood way to compensate the workforce for holidays, vacations, and other paid time-off.

When you change employee work schedules, you need to tailor your pay policies accordingly. If you don’t change, there is a good chance that the old policies will:

  • Increase in labor costs.
  • Be illogical, and therefore difficult to understand.
  • Appear to be unfair to different workgroups, lowering morale.
  • Create situations that take pay away from employees, and give them extra pay in others, usually resulting in even lower morale.

There are two points to keep in mind when matching pay policies with the new schedule. First, you should ensure that the workforce has the ability to make as much money on the new schedule (for the same hours of work) as they make on their current schedule. Second, you should protect the company from increased labor costs caused by the wrong pay policies.

Common problems that result from using old pay policies with new schedules are as follows:

  • Unbalanced workweeks. This results in overtime in some weeks, and less than 40 hours of work in others.
  • Vacation tracking and pay. Traditional vacation systems often track vacation time in days or weeks. This no longer works when a day is not eight hours long, or a week is not five workdays.
  • Holiday pay policies. This is one of the most difficult issues to solve and explain to the workforce. You need to answer questions such as: How do you handle holiday pay if an employee was not scheduled to work on that holiday? Should they be paid for eight hours, or the number of hours they are scheduled to work?
  • Double-time. Old policies usually result in either the employee losing the double-time opportunities they had in the past, or significantly increasing double-time costs to the company.
  • Overtime and absence coverage. How do you cover an absence if you are working 12-hour shifts? How do you distribute overtime fairly?
  • Breaks, lunches, shift differential, attendance systems, meal pay, shift assignment, overtime distribution, and many other policies can also come into play when you change schedules.

Summary

Changing employee work schedules is not a simple task. There is a lot more involved than simply finding a work pattern that matches the new hours of operation or accommodates a preferred shift length. The six major considerations are the change process, coverage requirements, available resources, schedule constraints, employee preferences, and company policies. Skipping any one of these can result in implementation delays, unhappy employees, damage to your relationship with workers and the union (if you have one), poor business results, and higher costs. However, with proper planning, preparation, and communication, it is possible to produce a win-win result for employees and the organization.

Changing your organization’s work schedules may be one of the most important tasks you undertake in your career. Not only is the schedule vital to the performance of your company, but it is also an integral part of your employees’ lives. The time and effort you invest will increase the chances of achieving a positive outcome for everyone affected by the new schedule.

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