How to Streamline Shiftwork Scheduling in 2022

The business and labor challenges have been unprecedented over the past two years in the manufacturing and distribution industries – workforce shortages, supply chain disruption, adopting new protocols, and the Great Resignation. Industries across the board, including transportation and warehousing, have felt the impact of record-high quit rates, which reached 3% in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employers are working harder than ever to ensure safety and productivity, which remain tandemly front and center, while constantly adapting to schedule changes due to the pandemic. While the workforce continues to fluctuate, companies remain dedicated to employee retention and finding new hires. Recent surveys have shown that job hunters want better career opportunities, compensation and benefits, and an improved work-life balance when searching for a new position.

Frontline managers want a solution to alleviate stress and eliminate administrative tasks that consume hours of work per week. Using next generation workforce management technologies allows managers to easily create data-driven schedules for multi-shifts, improve employee self-service, and find better off-the-clock access to employees this year. They imagine using a workforce management platform that helps:

  • Present weekly shiftwork schedules in 30 seconds
  • Ensures fair allocation of work
  • Enables managers to approve requests and see forecasts on-the-go
  • Review and approve time cards
  • Engage hourly workers by enabling improved communication between managers and co-workers
  • Manage and respond to callouts and easily send offers for open shifts
  • Facilitate employee/managers interactions via digital communications
  • Enable employees to contact each other in a secure, auditable channel

There is a way to meet both the needs of employers and employees. Using a workforce management solution, such as Legion WFM, to streamline shiftwork schedule management and optimize employee communications will free up your time, help control labor spending, and optimize employee engagement and productivity. No more hoping for a change in 2022. Legion can help you transform your manufacturing or distribution facility by simultaneously optimizing labor efficiencies and enhancing the employee experience while retaining hourly employees. Learn more by watching this recent webcast, “Transforming Distribution Center Operations with AI-Powered WFM.”

Best practices in shiftwork operations (Part 5 of 10)

  1. Actively look for way for the workforce to make decisions about their job.  In most cases, an hourly worker knows more about how to do their job than their supervisor.  This makes them an excellent source of ideas for improvement.  Additionally, like all of us, shift workers are more likely to support an idea that they helped to come up with when compared to an idea created by someone else that is now forced upon them for action.  And finally, shift workers that participate in decision making processes will have a greater sense of belonging and thus, a higher likelihood of staying with a company.
  2. Your employees want to “see you see them” working on off-hours and on the weekends.  It’s not uncommon for shift workers to complain that upper management should be at work on nights and weekends because shift workers are working those hours.  The reality is that everyone understands that people have different jobs and different schedules for those jobs.  What shift workers are really after is some level of recognition and appreciation for the fact that their schedule is tough.  If they are in on a weekend to work, it is important to them that upper management occasionally shows up if for no other reason that to acknowledge the hours these workers provide on a regular basis.
  3. People don’t like to be told what to do.  I’m often asked, “What shift schedule is the best?”  The answer is “The one that provides the coverage a company needs and is selected by the shift workers.”  Take two facilities and one schedule.  Both facilities work that same schedule.  A facility A, the schedule was forced on the employees. At facility B, the employees chose the schedule from a menu of schedule options.  Which facility do you think has a schedule the workforce is more likely to support?
  4. Overstaffing is the most expensive labor option.  When we compare the “fully loaded cost to the company” for straight time, overtime, part time and idle time (labor you don’t need but have because you are overstaffed) you will find the overstaffing cost to be greater by an order of magnitude.  However, be careful how you define overstaffing.  Having more people than the bare minimum may mean lower overtime and more schedule flexibility for your employees.  There is value in this that must be considered.
  5. Do not underestimate the value of strong first-line supervision.  People don’t quit their job, they quit their boss.  Your first line supervisors play the biggest single role in employee performance and job satisfaction.  Their job is a difficult one as they walk the line between pushing for better numbers while tending to the needs of their subordinates.  If you are having trouble retaining quality employees, look first to ensure you have quality supervision.

This is continued from Part 4 of Best Practices.

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

  • Call or text us today at (415) 763-5005 
  • Complete our contact form and we will call you back
  • Request a meeting by booking a time that works for you the best here.

What does work-life balance mean to your employees?

If you have 400 employees, you have around 400 different opinions about what constitutes a good work-life balance. So, how do you go about identifying which ones are the most crucial and what is your plan of action going forward, to address these issues?

After more than 30 years of working with shift workers and shiftwork operations, I recognize that when unemployment drops below 6%, recruiting and keeping a skilled workforce becomes a major challenge.  Nationally, unemployment is below 4% which translates into “There is no one out there to hire so we need to make sure we keep the people we have.”   

When it comes to improving retention for shift workers, paying attention to and respecting the need for their work-life balance has to be on the top of the list.  If you decide to take action, you not only need to be aware of their “wish list”, your workers’ preferences, but you must be able to distinguish between important and less important necessities, between inconsequential and real issues.

To help with this process we developed a Work-Life Balance Survey, the tool that gets the job done. It measures and quantifies what’s important, what has significance and separates the background noise from the real message. Our surveys cover a wide array of topics with questions ranging from sleep patterns, through overtime preferences and wages, to communications and inclusiveness.  Not only will you understand what your workforce thinks of these matters and what their main concerns are, but you will also be able to compare their preferences and perceptions to that of the average shift worker.  This will highlight your strengths as well as those areas that need more attention.  This is the exact information you need to improve the work-life balance for your employees.

To get a glimpse of what this looks like in the survey, here is an illustration of a summary of responses to the question “Do you depend on overtime to make ends meet?”

However, the work is not done here, as the financial, operational, and organizational goals need to be aligned with the human resource aspects of the newly found priorities.  Leaders also use the survey outcomes as input to formulate an action plan – as to what to implement next for improved worker retention. Shiftwork Solution experts have a proven method of walking management through these steps with ease to arrive at a clear, streamlined, and feasible action plan. 

In short, if you want to improve the work-life balance of your employees, ask them first what is important to them.  Don’t rely on the sound of the loud minority.  Don’t ignore the silent majority.  Get everyone involved.

We had a recent client say, “Before your survey, we did a company-wide employee survey at every one of our sites.  Your survey gave us far and away more insight into our employees than that corporate survey did.”

We’d love to talk with you about how we can help you find those insights and decide what to do next.  We can customize, interpret, and implement the Shiftworker Work-Life Balance Survey at your facility for an improved retention plan.

Call or text us today at (415) 763-5005 or complete our contact form and we will call you.

Best Practices in Shift Work Operations (Part 4 of 10)

  1. It takes an order of magnitude greater effort to recruit from another plant than from the ranks of the unemployed.

During times of low unemployment, it is important to understand the cost of your options for keeping a position filled.  You can hire people off the street but there is always the “Why don’t they already have a job?”  You can use overtime or temporary labor, both of which have downsides.  You can also hire someone away from a neighboring facility.  Not a bad idea, if you can afford it.  People will not simply change jobs to make money unless the financial offer is substantial.  Why? Because they will be giving up a lot more than just an hourly rate when they leave their current job.  They will be giving up their seniority.  They will be giving up their friendships.  They will be giving up respect earned from doing their job well. They will be giving up their daily routine.  These things have value.  This is why if you want them to change jobs and come to work for you, be prepared to bid a significantly higher wage to get them.

2. 5% of your workforce will complain regardless of what you do.

It is a mistake to think that you will make everyone happy. During our several decades’ experience of surveying workers about their preferences, we couldn’t help but notice that about 5% of every workforce seems to be unhappy with any option offered. Understanding that this is normal will save you a lot of effort that is often wasted when trying to make everyone content. Therefore, being willing to move forward for the remaining 95% ─ rather than holding things up for a few nay-sayers that will not be likely to get on board ─ should be your path forward. While the discontented few needs to be listened to, they should not be given a disproportionately large amount of weight in your decision process. There is no such thing as over-communicating.

3. The single biggest factor that affects the performance of any workforce is communications.

A common mistake is assuming that any message has been received and understood after a single effort has been made. To be safe, broadcast the same message several times using a variety of platforms such as emails, bulletins, videos, Town Halls, and company newsletters and provide a format for feedback and questions.

As a rule of thumb, if you are implementing a change that the workforce should receive as a “positive” event, but they don’t perceive it that way, you have under-communicated and the workers are left nervous. A grumbling workforce is a sign that more communication is needed.

4. Try to never stop or start a piece of equipment needlessly, that’s when they will break down.

Most maintenance personnel will confirm that starting up equipment is the most likely time that it will break down.    The best way to avoid this is to never shut down needlessly.  Run continuously if possible and only stop when there is no other reasonable alternative.  Instead of stopping for breaks or shift changes, have a plan to maintain the ability to cover these traditional stoppages.  If you have seven machines that run 5 days and shut down on weekends, change your plan to running five machines non-stop for seven days a week; stopping only for maintenance or changeovers. This will give you the same amount of weekly production time while both eliminating shutdowns and idling some equipment (in this example, 2 machines) for maintenance.

5. When it comes to overtime, predictability makes it more desirable.

Most companies use overtime; some quite a bit and others rarely.  From an employee perspective, views vary. Some employees like a lot while others never want any.

One thing that most employees can agree on is that the more predictable overtime is the better. If you now announce weekend overtime on Friday, try to see if you can move that announcement to Thursday. Any little bit of improvement in early notification helps. Predictability is the best way to soften the blow of unwanted or unexpected overtime.

This is continued from Part 3 of Best Practices.

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

  • Call or text us today at (415) 763-5005 
  • Complete our contact form and we will call you back
  • Request a meeting by booking a time that works for you the best here.

A message to the shift worker

The question of when and how to address workers before a change can be challenging. One of the main reasons companies come to Shiftwork Solutions for help is our reputation for engaging the workforce ─ before a shift schedule change takes place. However, there is always the question of “How should we first introduce Shiftwork Solutions to our employees?”  This is often done through plantwide meetings or bulletins that discuss the Shiftwork Solutions process and the need for change at the site.  As an alternative (or in addition to) these methods of introduction, especially when pandemic restrictions are in place, employees can view the video below.  In this recording, we address the workforce directly about our process and how they will be involved.

Make Flexible Scheduling part of your Shiftwork Operation

During the pandemic, many companies have found that flexible scheduling ideas such as work-from-home, helped them to attract and retain valuable employees. A neat trick during a tight labor market if you can pull it off. However, for many companies with production lines on-site, work-from-home is not feasible. Does this mean flexible scheduling is not something they can offer?  If so, they would be missing out on one of the major competitive advantages to attract a workforce.

Shift workers understand that their jobs don’t allow them to work from home.  This doesn’t mean that they don’t place a high value on schedule flexibility.  To them, schedule flexibility means that (1) they can get extra work when they want it but (2) can also count on having scheduled time off when they expect it.

For most 24/7 operations, being able to accommodate these two desires –overtime and predictable time off – is a function of three things: staffing, policies, and the schedule. The combination of all three of these will create the maximum schedule flexibility that you can offer to your workforce.

Staffing, under most circumstances, will dictate the total amount of overtime an operation will have. Is the overtime too much or too little? How can you tell and how can you make adjustments?

Policies, specifically overtime distribution policies, ensure that overtime gets to those that want it without forcing it on people that don’t. How do you know which policies fit both the needs of production and the needs of your workforce?

The schedule tells you when the straight time and overtime will occur and allows you to distribute your staffing and apply your policies in the most efficient manner possible. How do you establish the proper relationship between the shift schedule and the nature of the workload?  Notice that the schedule tells you when the overtime occurs but not how much.  The latter is a function of staffing.

The most important thing about the schedule is that if you have the right one, you can offer the “Holy Grail” of schedule flexibility – No Mandatory Overtime, the shift schedule feature most desired by the workforce.  This way, if someone is at work, it is either a regularly scheduled workday or the person volunteered to come in and work overtime. This will help establish the predictable time off as well.

To achieve maximum flexibility for your workforce these are the 4 steps that need to be taken:

  1. Have a schedule that distributes your workforce across all of the days that you will need to work.
  2. Adjust staffing to achieve your target overtime level.
  3. Create an overtime distribution plan that does not include mandatory overtime but does incentivize people to come in on a voluntary basis.
  4. Communicate the plan to your workforce and follow through.

Everyone is competing for labor today. Many companies are going to pick the low-hanging fruit first and will offer higher wages, more microwaves in the lunchroom, and other perks. The company that is going to win the race for labor is the one most willing to go the extra mile. This is the company that will have the competitive advantage in the search for labor.  The key is in finding the proper balance of staffing, policies, and shift schedule patterns.

Call us or schedule a chat with us if you’d like to find out more about the steps you need to take to find the right combination of staffing, policies, and schedule to create your competitive advantage. We can show you how to better understand your workforce’s needs with regards to a schedule’s work-life balance.

  1. Call or text us today at (415) 763-5005
  2. Complete our contact form and we will call you back
  3. Request a meeting by booking a time that works the best for you here.

We have been helping companies to retain and attract quality employees across all industries for more than 30 years.

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) 763-5005
  • 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) 763-5005
  • 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) 763-5005
  • 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.