Best practices in shiftwork operations (Part 6 of 10)

  1. Poor distribution of overtime can cause more problems than overtime itself.  About 20% of every workforce never wants any overtime.   Interestingly, a different 20% want all of the overtime they can get.  The remaining 60% will work what they consider to be their fair share of overtime without complaint. What this means is that no matter what your overtime level is, some people will be happy while others are going to complain.  One of the best ways to minimize dissatisfaction with overtime is to make sure you have a distribution policy that focuses on having overtime for those that want it while never having to mandate it.  This can be complicated, requiring strategic staffing and cross-training plans.  However, the result can be a huge boost in employee satisfaction with overall work-life balance.
  2. No matter how much maintenance you think you need, you are wrong.  Plan for that.  Maintenance, specifically corrective maintenance, has no regard for what your staffing is at any given moment of the day.  If your staff is too lean, you risk having an extended downtime.  If your staffing is too high, your costs will be high with potentially no return on that cost.  The best plans include cross-training between trades, a robust call-out system a knowledge base of outside resources.  All of this can be fine-tuned if accompanies by a cost/risk analysis; a study that looks at the cost of various options versus the likelihood of unexpected maintenance downtime occurring.
  3. Sleepiness will harm production, quality, and safety.  High overtime, rotating shifts, and a poor understanding of circadian rhythms as they pertain to sleep needs can all contribute to a workforce that is less than fully alert.  A lack of alertness can impact a person’s judgment when it comes to things like the importance of quality and safety.  Proper staffing, good overtime policies, and employee education concerning sleep can all improve the overall alertness of your workforce.
  4. To attract employees, you need not be perfect.  You just need to be their best option.  Current and future employees will stay with your company so long as they see it as the best choice for them and their families.  Major issues that impact their opinions include the work schedule, overtime, flexibility, and income.  Know who is competing for your workers and strive to be the best choice when it comes to those issues that matter the most to your employees.
  5. Public recognition of a job well done is important. Praising in public for a job well done is Leadership 101.  However, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind of meeting production targets while dealing with a desktop full of high-priority projects.  What this means is that public praise needs to be consciously given a high priority or opportunities to do it may pass.  A recent study by Shiftwork Solutions LLC found that employees rated “public recognition” as one of the biggest contributors to their satisfaction with work-life balance.
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We have been helping companies to retain and attract quality employees across all industries for more than 30 years.

Why the country’s most popular 12-hour schedule has a problem, and how to overcome it

The problem

The most popular schedule in the country is the 2-2-3 (also called the 2-3-2 or Every Other Weekend Off).  Like most 12-hour schedules, half of the days in the year are scheduled off.  However, what sets this schedule apart is the popular feature of having every other weekend off as a 3-day weekend. 

The 2-week pattern of this schedule is shown below.  As you can see, by going back and forth between weeks 1 and 2, you end up working 2 or 3 days in a row with 2 or 3 days off in a row in addition to the alternating weekends off.

Shift workers tend to love this schedule.  However, our office will get a call about once a month that goes something like this: “We are on a 12-hour schedule and the people hate it.”  When this happens, we immediately know who the usual suspects are.  First, they are talking about the most popular schedule in the country (the 2-2-3) and secondly, the people that hate it are working it at night.

This schedule can be worked as a fixed shift where two crews are always assigned to Day shift and 2 crews are always assigned to the Night shift.  Alternatively, this schedule can have rotating shifts where crews rotated between the Day shift and Night shift weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or at even longer intervals.  In either case, it is always a problem for those working at night.

Let’s look at this schedule as if it was a fixed Day shift.  You can see that the crews work 2 or 3 days followed by 2 or 3 days off.  Every other week they are off on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  A typically 12-hour Day shift is from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm so their sleep pattern on their workdays and days off are probably going to be fairly similar.  This means when they come to work after some days off, they are already adjusted to the shift hours.  Similarly, they are already adjusted to being a “normal” day person on their days off.

Now let’s look at it from the perspective of a shift worker on nights.  With the same pattern, they no longer see 2 or 3 days on and 2 or 3 days off.  They see 2 or 3 days of work followed by a day off spent in bed trying to catch up on their sleep.  This has the effect of them only having 1 or 2 effective days off before returning to work.  Even the first day of their 3-day weekend is often lost to sleep.  Then, when it’s time to return to work, they are only just beginning to adjust to working a night shift (typically 6:00 pm to 6:00 am) before their stretch of workdays is over.  The effect is that they are never truly adjusted to be alert during the nights when they are supposed to be working, nor during the days when they are supposed to be enjoying their time off.

Night shift workers on this pattern typically say, “I feel like I’m either always asleep or always at work.”

If you are on a 24/7 schedule, there is a very good chance that you are nodding in agreement with me at this point.  While none of this is surprising, the solution to it may be.

The remedy and how to go about it

The solution is to allow your night shift and day shift patterns to be different from each other.  You don’t have to make this a zero-sum solution where the Night shift gets a better pattern but only if the Day shift loses its great pattern.  Leave the Day shift pattern in place and offer up patterns that your shift workers may prefer to work on nights.  This can be done with either fixed or rotating shifts.

In addition to offering a different pattern to the Night shift, you may also want to consider educating the workforce on things such as Sleep Deprivation and Circadian Rhythms. 

Shiftwork Solutions can help to address the challenges of this work schedule.  We can collaborate with your workforce and explore several different work schedules along with information about the benefits and downsides of each. We can help them find a work schedule that is both beneficial to them and the company. We also offer education sessions on the body’s biological clock, including a day-by-day sleep/wake strategy for whatever schedule you are on.

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

What companies are asking us as labor scarcity continues

Shiftwork Solutions is still seeing a trend that started in 2020, that labor, not capital, has become the productivity bottleneck.  This will continue into the foreseeable future since labor shortages are here to stay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 10 million unfilled jobs in the United States.  

In other words, the people you are seeking to help you operate your business are in short supply. Although, a US Chamber of Commerce study points out, not all industries are equally impacted. Some have a shortage of labor, while others have a surplus of workers. “For example, durable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and education and health services have a labor shortage—these industries have more unfilled job openings than unemployed workers with experience in their respective industries. Even if every unemployed person with experience in the durable goods manufacturing industry were employed, the industry would fill 44% of the vacant jobs.”

Labor scarcity has transformed the way companies are thinking about their operations. An increased number of companies – including highly automated ones – have come to us, with the goal not to necessarily change their schedule, but to evaluate their entire shiftwork operation from the employees’ perspective. These leaders know that understanding output requirements and their implication on the shift schedule is only one part of the story. Equally important is finding what their employees’ needs are and implementing solutions to attract and retain workers to their operations. 

We have completed several projects over the past couple of years where the company said, “We already have a schedule that provides the coverage we need.  We want to make sure it is the right schedule for the workforce.” Companies have been eager to find out:

  • Is the current schedule in the way?
  • What schedule characteristics do their employees prefer?
  • What shift length, rotation, or schedule pattern do they like?
  • Is overtime a problem? How many depend on it?   How much is wanted? How much is disruptive?
  • What about start times?
  • Are we training enough?
  • Are there sleep and alertness issues?
  • Does communication need to be addressed?
  • Is commuting something to be looked at?
  • Do employees feel like they are valued and are part of the company? What influences that?
  • How do employees view the company?
  • Is there a difference between newly employed workers versus old-timers, young versus older employees? What factors are influencing their views?
  • What’s the local competition for labor up to?

So, how do you find answers to the above questions? And how do you know if the answers are specific to your company and its policies or just to the nature of a shift-work operation? How does your company compare to other companies?

At Shiftwork Solutions LLC, we have decades of experience that help us to answer these questions.  It all comes down to employee engagement.  If you want to know what the workforce thinks about any work-life balance issue, ask them. Our comprehensive Shiftwork Work-Life Balance Survey finds the answers to these questions and more.

To do this, we come on-site and administer a survey specifically designed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your operations from the perspective of your shift workers.  We compare the responses of your employees to our large normative database we collected through the years and across industries. The survey helps us separate those issues that exist because of the inherent difficulties of shiftwork (working nights and weekends) and those issues that exist as the result of having the wrong staffing, policies, or schedule at the company. It shows how a company is doing compared to its peers in those areas.

Companies find the results from the survey both predictable and surprising.  There are always some issues that are already suspected and the survey merely confirms and quantifies these.  However, there are new aspects to be found that substantiate employee preferences and can help steer the company to take to take the right steps.

The survey results provide you with actionable items that address the issues you know for a fact, are important to your workforce. It will provide the key to implementing the next important step in attracting and retaining employees in your company.

Call or text us today at (415) 763-5005

Book a call here.

Complete our contact form and we will call you back

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

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.