11 steps you can take today to keep your employees safe and your shift work operation going

In light of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 virus situation, I’m going to make recommendations that would normally seem unusual.  Typically, we plan and create shiftwork structures for long-term success.  We look at costs, employee engagement and a wide range of best shiftwork practices.

Today, I want to focus on short term actions: what can plants do today to keep their doors open and keep their employees safe?

Consider these ideas:

  1. If you are running three 8-hour shifts a day, drop down to two 10-hour shifts.  Use the 4 hours of downtime to clean/sanitize.
  2. Don’t have shifts start/stop right after each other.  For example, if you run two 10-hour shifts, make the four hours of downtime occur as two sets of two hours: two hours between each shift.
  3. Eliminate face-to-face turnovers. Consider digital alternatives; perhaps passed along online.
  4. Ask for cooperation in a time of unusual circumstances.  For example, many parents will now have childcare issues.  Look for volunteers to swap shifts to accommodate those that need different shift times for the time being.  Allow employees to donate PTO to a coworker that really needs it.
  5. Stagger breaks and lunches to minimize too many people being in the break/lunchroom at the same time. 
  6. Ensure adequate self-cleansing equipment is readily available; not just at entry points but at every workstation.
  7. Hold training on “best practices” for staying healthy (cough into elbow etc.)
  8. Encourage people to stay home if they are sick.  Put any attendance “point system” on hold.  See our post on the cost of paid time off.
  9. Incentivize people to take vacation now.  For example, if they take vacation off between now and the end of May, you will allow them to take 50% more days off with pay.  Remember, vacation taken now is vacation that will not be taken when you need people as you ramp back up later.
  10. Take advantage of extra downtime to upgrade/repair equipment.  Get as much done now as you can so that when you ramp back up, you are firing on all cylinders.
  11. Lead by example.  Keep social distances.  Be seen as always following sanitary practices.

The COVID-19 crisis will pass.  When it’s over, you want your workforce to still be with you.  Additionally, taking care of your employees creates goodwill within the community.  The right steps now can help you get through these hard times while emerging as the employer of choice going forward.

Call us today if you’d like to keep your employees safe and your shift work operation going. We can help you tackle short term and long-term challenges.  We can help.  (415) 858-8585.

How to be thorough when assessing the true cost of paid sick leave

The health and well-being of the employees is the companies’ top priority. As news about the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to develop, giving employees more paid sick time gets in the focus.

Although Congress has just passed (March 18, 2020) a major package including an expansion of paid sick days and emergency paid leave for a subset of workers, the bill is not universally applicable to all sizes of businesses and all employees.[1]  

Knowing the actual cost of paid time off can help companies assess the financial impacts of giving more paid time.  

So, what is the cost of the paid sick days? 

Calculating the cost of additional paid time off is relatively straightforward for companies with both 40 hour or 24/7 schedules.

Let’s start with this: there are 52 weeks in a year.  This represents 2,080 hours of work if your workers are on a 40-hour schedule and 2,184 hours of work if they are on a 24/7 schedule (per person before unscheduled overtime).  For example, increasing paid time off by 3% is equivalent to giving employees an extra 62 to 65 hours of paid time off every year.

However, most employers would continue the calculations as follows: “I just gave one person 64 more paid hours off.  I also now need to pay someone else to cover those 64 hours at an overtime rate. Thus, this cost me 64 pay hours plus 1.5 times 64 pay hours for a total of 160 pay hours!”

What’s amiss with this latter way of thinking? There are three inaccuracies with this calculation: 

  • First of all, the 64 hours that you are paying the person to be absent were going to be paid to him/her if she was at work so this is not an “extra” cost. 
  • Secondly, there is an extra cost to pay someone overtime to cover the newly created opening, however, overtime generally costs about 10% to 15% more than straight time; much less than the assumed 50% additional cost.  The reason for this is that while people get paid at a higher rate when working overtime, they don’t earn extra medical benefits, vacations, holidays, etc.  Those costs are associated with straight time wages, not overtime wages.  The liability for these costs is incurred when companies hire someone, not when someone works overtime.
  • And finally, the statement includes no consideration for what would happen if you didn’t give people paid sick time.  What is the cost of a sick person coming to work?  How many others will become sick? How well does a sick person perform?  How does a person view their company when they have always been there when needed and now that they are sick, they are on their own?  How are you viewed as a prospective employer if you don’t pay for sick days but the plant across the street does? The consequential costs of not providing paid sick leave are harder to measure, yet can be substantial.

There is another consideration with regards to paid sick time: How will it be administered? 

  • People shouldn’t be able to schedule it in advance because then it becomes a vacation instead of sick time. 
  • A use-it-or-lose-it policy encourages people to take all of their sick time every year.  A buy-back policy encourages people to come to work when sick so they can get a check at the end of the year when they sell the time back.
  • Carrying sick time over is probably the best idea, however, some companies don’t like carrying an ever-increasing paid sick time liability on the books, even though there is no additional cost.   There are several ways to make this more acceptable.  For example, let employees carry over as much time as they want, then when they retire, the company can buy back the unused sick time at a reduced rate.  This allows a worker to build up a huge store of sick hours that are available for use if they ever get seriously sick.  When they retire, they may have a year’s worth of sick time that is worth half a year’s wages. 

I’m not advocating for or against increasing paid sick time.  These guiding posts are here to help you make informed decisions ― about a subject that needs careful and accurate considerations.

Call us today to discuss your questions. (415) 858-8585.

[1]: https://www.vox.com/2020/3/18/21185065/congress-coronavirus-tests-paid-sick-days

What is the Worst Shift to Work? Night Shift? Afternoon Shift?

The night shift is difficult physically, but the afternoon shift can be hard on your family and social life.

In my last post, I talked about shift workers’ preferred shift, which is the day shift, and the implications of that preference on worker satisfaction levels.  An obvious follow-on question to the preferred shift assignment is to understand shift workers’ least-preferred shift.
Over the last 23 years working with shift work operations, I have observed that there is often one least preferred shift at a site, and it is either the night shift (also known as 3rd, graveyard, or sometimes the hoot-owl or hoot shift) or the afternoon shift (2nd or swing shift).  Which shift is least preferred at a particular site is typically driven by the demographics of the workgroup and the work environment.

Here are the overall results from our database of survey responses to the question “What is your least-preferred 8-hour shift?” : Least preferred 8-hour shift.

 

From a sleep management perspective, most shift workers have more trouble getting enough good-quality sleep on the night shift.  This makes it less desirable for facilitating high alertness.  On the other hand, it allows the people on night shift to meet other obligations in their lives like managing childcare, going to school, working a second job, and spending time with their families.

Afternoon shift allows many shift workers to manage their sleep patterns better (second shift workers get more sleep than either day shift or afternoon shift) so they often feel better on this schedule than on a night shift schedule.  The main downside to the second shift is that it requires work during the “prime-time” evening hours when family and friends are available.  For parents, this can be a deal-breaker since it may mean that they almost never see their families during the workweek.

This difference of opinion on the least desired shift is an opportunity when it comes to staffing your shift schedule.  On an 8-hour schedule, it is often possible to give an overwhelming majority of folks either their first or second choice of shift assignments and avoid the least desirable shift.  All it takes is some flexibility in the shift-bid system and sufficient cross-training of the workforce to meet the skill requirements on all shifts.

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.

Safety Footnotes

At Shiftwork Solutions, safety concerns are definitely something we have to pay attention to.  We keep abreast of safety research as it applies to shiftwork and brings that knowledge to the table when working with companies.

Over the years, there are a few standard issues that come up.  I’d like to cover those now.  I also would like to bring up a few safety practices that I have seen at other sites that lent themselves well to the establishment of a strong safety program.

As they occur to me…

  1. As one ages, the ability to get enough sleep in one session diminishes.  The main sleep period will shorten and people will find the need to nap during the day goes up.
  2. Shift length plays a very small role in how much sleep one gets in a day.  A person on an 8-hour shift may get a few more minutes of sleep when compared to a person on a 12-hour shift.  However, people get a great deal more sleep on days they don’t come in to work: about 60 to 90 minutes more.  So, its better to work a shift with more days off.  This usually means longer shifts.
  3. The older one gets, the harder it is to work more days in a row.  It is also harder to adjust to different shifts – a problem that is growing smaller as more and more companies get away from rotating shifts.
  4. We need about 8-hours of sleep a day.
  5. When people become sleepy, they care less about doing a good job.  This will start to show up in small ways as people begin to take short-cuts in their work.  Short-cuts can lead to quality, production and safety problems if left unchecked.
  6. Naps are a great investment.  A short, 10-15 minute nap can make one alert for the next several hours.  The problem with napping at work is that we don’t fall asleep instantly and, we need to deal with sleep inertia – the grogginess we feel after waking.
  7. A workforce that starts its day shift at 7:00 am will get about 20 more minutes per night than a workforce that starts its day shift at 6:00 am.
  8. People learn by (1) doing the task or (2) reading about the task or (3) watching the task being done or (4) conceptually imagining how the task might be done.  Apply this to safety at your site.  Don’t just rely on one method of making people “safety aware.”
  9. At one site we worked at, every time a group of people got together for a meeting, the first thing they did was ask “Who wants to tell us about a task they have coming up?”  The volunteer might say, “I am going to the warehouse to pick up some spare parts.”  Next, every single member would have to point out a safety item dealing with that task.  For example: “Make sure to wear your safety belt on the drive over” or “When you get there, make sure you wear the proper protective equipment” or “Check the pressure on your tires before the drive.”  As you can see, no issue is too small and there are lots of issues.  This exercise forces everyone to “think” for a moment.  I really like this idea.
  10. At another site, we didn’t hear “good-bye” or “I’ll see you around.”  The parting comment was always, “Work Safe.”
  11. At one of the mines we helped with schedule design we saw nearly 100 huge trucks moving around the site at any one time.  As we were tracking accidents we could see which hour of the week had the most safety incidences.  When that hour came up the following week, we would go out on the general communication system and say, “You are now entering the most dangerous hour of the week.”  As a result of the repeated reminder that hour nearly always became one of the safest hours of that week.
  12. When I go to a site, I sometimes leave off my safety glasses or ear plugs and see how the workforce responds.  When I get stopped right away by an hourly guy telling me to put on glasses, I know I am at a well run plant.  A plant that has a strong safety program is typically strong at a lot of other things as well. How would your site do in this respect?
  13.  

Work safe.

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.