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.

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.

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.

Employee Shift Work Schedules: an Introduction

Be sure to look at our News Topics (on the menu bar above) to find a wealth of information about all sorts of shiftwork issues, including schedules, staffing, overtime and change management.

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

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14.5 million full-time wage and salary workers, 14.5% of the total, were working a shift other than a daytime schedule in 2001. These “shift workers” are often stereotyped as blue-collar manufacturing, mining or transportation employees. In fact, shift workers can now also be found in around-the-clock customer service call centers, retail establishments, information technology monitoring, and support centers, hospitals, utilities, hotels, casinos, emergency response services, and 24-hour news operations.

As the need for extended operating hours grows, more and more organizations are adopting work schedules that require longer and/or multiple shifts. HR Generalists are often asked to participate in efforts to develop and implement the new work schedules. This is the perfect opportunity for them to take on a leadership role, and ensure that the schedule satisfies both the business requirements and preferences of the workforce. However, if they are new to the job or unfamiliar with shift schedules, this can be quite a challenge. This paper will introduce HR Generalists to five fundamental components of shift work schedules:

  • Shift length
  • Schedule format
  • On-off work pattern
  • Overtime
  • Scheduling policies

Shift Length

Most shift workers want to work shifts longer than 8 hours in order to get more days off. The benefits can be substantial. For example, on a 24/7 shift schedule with level coverage (the same number of employees working on every shift), 8-hour shifts will provide 91 days off per year, 10-hour shifts will provide 146 days off per year, and 12-hour shifts will provide 182 days off per year

Ten-hour shifts are preferred by many employees because they are viewed as more tolerable than 12-hour shifts. Unfortunately, 10-hour shifts are unsuitable for most 24-hour operations. They take more personnel because they require 30 hours of work per day instead of 24 hours (3 * 10-hour shifts/day = 30 hours/day). They also result in 6 hours of double coverage when the shifts overlap (30 hours – 24 hours = 6 hours). If the workload is constant throughout the day (as it is in most continuous operations), these overlaps increase the coverage and the staffing requirements unnecessarily.

However, 10-hour shifts can be a good fit in organizations where the workload fluctuates, especially if there is a busy period that occurs around the same time every day. Good examples are law enforcement and communications/dispatch centers that can use extra help every evening during the rush hours. The key is to align the shift overlaps with the periods of high activity, so the coverage is matched with the workload. This will improve service levels and boost the morale of the people who have to work during these busy periods.

In organizations with constant workloads, 12-hour shifts are the best alternative to 8-hour shifts. Few employees seem to like the long days, but they love the extra days off. Some companies are reluctant to adopt 12-hour shifts out of fear they will cause health or safety problems. Research on the subject contains mixed results, but this is because the studies failed to take account of differences in the types of work schedules examined, such as starting times, fixed vs. rotating schedules, the speed, and direction of rotation, hours worked per week, the number of days worked in a row and the number of days off. In our experience, 12-hour shifts are a good option for many 24-hour operations. But several considerations are in order:

  • Can the employees really work 12 hours without any adverse impact on productivity, quality, and safety?
    As long as total hours remain the same, most jobs can be performed equally well on short and long shifts. There are some tasks (such as tedious detail inspections) that are best kept to shorter shifts. Longer shifts can be used under such conditions but the employees will need to rotate to other positions periodically to keep themselves fresh.
  • Environmental conditions must be considered.
    Exposure to extreme heat, loud noises, toxins, and heavy physical labor may simply be too much to endure for more than 8-hours. However, if the longer shifts come with more days off, this is usually not a problem.
  • What does the workforce want?
    While longer shifts are certainly popular nationwide, they are not the unanimous preference of all shift workers. For employees to make the right choice on shift length, they should be given a clear understanding of what they are getting into and what patterns are available.
  • Does it make good “business sense” to go to longer shifts?
    In most cases, a company can be neutral on this issue. Careful business analysis can help you understand your alternatives. The details of this analysis are beyond the scope of this paper.

Schedule Format (Fixed or Rotating Shifts)

Fixed shift schedules mean that employees always work the same shift (e.g., day shift). They may work different days each week, but always on the same shift. Rotating shift schedules mean that employees will regularly switch to a different shift (e.g., days to afternoons to nights).

Rotating shifts have the following advantages:

  • Skills are balanced on every shift. Since all crews take equal turns at covering the undesirable shifts (weekends and nights), there is no incentive for all of the senior, more skilled workers to pool together on a single crew.
  • All workers are given equal exposure to the day shift. As crews rotate through their turn on day shift, they are exposed to managers, engineers, vendors and company support personnel.
  • Training assets can be consolidated. Since all employees rotate through day shifts, there is no need to duplicate training efforts on the other shifts.
  • Product uniformity goes up. As a result of equal training, equal exposure to support and management, and equal skills, all crews will perform in a much more uniform manner.

Fixed shifts have the following advantages:

  • Employees prefer fixed shifts. Senior people want to get (and stay) on the day shift. Junior employees like the idea of eventually being able to move to their favorite shift. And most people simply want the stability of always knowing when they have to be at work — allowing them to better plan their family and social lives.
  • Unbalanced workloads can be more easily matched. If the workload is lighter on the night shift or if it requires different skills, it is simple to change the size or composition of the crew to match the specific conditions.

On-Off Work Pattern

The on-off work pattern describes the number of consecutive days worked and the number of days not worked. Most office workers have a pattern of five days of work (Monday to Friday) followed by two days off (Saturday and Sunday). Shift workers, of course, have many more possibilities. At one extreme is a series of short work periods separated by short breaks. A simple example is a work schedule consisting of two days of work followed by one or two days off. At the other extreme is a pattern consisting of long stretches of workdays followed by long breaks. An example is a work schedule consisting of seven days of work followed by one to four days off.

Considerations in choosing an on-off work pattern include:

  • Weekends off. Employees prefer to have weekends off. They want to spend this time with their family and friends. After pay, it is usually the first thing they look at when evaluating the attractiveness of a schedule.
  • Consecutive days off. This is the next priority. Employees prefer long breaks, whether it’s to catch up on their sleep or to take mini-vacations. Long breaks can create communication problems since a lot of things can change while employees are off. When they come back to work, it may take several hours to get up to speed on the current situation.
  • Consecutive days worked. Working long stretches can be tiring. Even with long breaks, this may not be tolerable for some employees. On the other hand, working more days in a row is the only way to increase the length of the breaks.

Overtime

Overtime enables companies to effectively manage variable workloads without increasing staffing levels. It also provides employees with a source of supplemental income without having to spread their loyalty to other employers. When used properly, overtime can be a very powerful tool for meeting increased workload demands while minimizing costs and maximizing employee compensation and satisfaction. However, overtime that is out of control can lead to higher costs, lower quality, low employee morale and increased employee turnover.

The benefits of using overtime include the following:

  • Overtime can be increased and decreased to match labor resources with workload demands.
  • Personnel working on overtime do not require additional training.
  • Staffing levels do not need to change to use overtime.
  • Overtime coverage is available on short notice.
  • Most employees want to work some overtime to supplement their income.

The problems with using overtime include the following:

  • High overtime levels can result in lower morale and decreased productivity. If excessive, it can result in greater absenteeism, increased accidents, and higher employee turnover.
  • Prolonged, high overtime levels can result in the workforce becoming dependent on the overtime to make ends meet. Reducing overtime in this situation can be financially devastating for the workforce and lead to deteriorating employee relations.
  • Cost. In a stable work environment, overtime should average between 5% and 15% of the straight-time (non-overtime) hours worked. Less than 5% overtime indicates you are over-staffed. More than 15% of overtime indicates you are under-staffed.

Scheduling Policies

There are two sets of scheduling policies that may need to be revised when you adopt a new shift schedule. The first set covers the assignment of employees to different shifts or crews. The second deals with the pay policies especially paid time-off. Of course, there are many other scheduling practices, but these two groups include the procedures most likely to be perceived as unfair by employees, and they are a common source of grievances and poor labor relations.

Shift assignment. When employees are assigned to a specific (fixed) shift, the primary goal is to balance the skill levels. As mentioned in the Schedule Format section of this paper, the common practice of using seniority as the final determinant of shift assignments will result in employees with the most seniority (and presumably the most skills) on the day shift. To avoid this, some companies base the shift assignment on multiple criteria, such as skill ratings and seniority. They may require each crew to have an equal number of personnel from each skill level or a minimum number of skill points. Seniority then becomes more of a tie-breaker than the primary consideration in who goes to each shift.

Pay policies. What works for traditional eight-hour work schedules may not be appropriate for multi-shift operation. If the pay policies are not matched with the schedule, they may:

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

Common pay policy problems in 24-hour operations include:

Unbalanced workweeks.
This results in overtime in some weeks, and less than 40 hours of work in others. The cost of the company can be tremendous. Hours that could have been paid at straight time with the right policies are paid at overtime rates. It can often be corrected by changing the start of the workweek.

Vacations. 
Traditional vacation systems often track vacation time in days or weeks. This no longer works when a shift is not eight hours long, or a workweek is not five days. In most cases, this can be fixed by changing the vacation into hours available each year.

Holidays.
How do you handle holiday pay if an employee is not scheduled to work on that holiday? Should they be paid for eight hours, or the number of hours they are scheduled to work? How do you keep paychecks whole without significantly increasing holiday benefits (and costs)? Each situation is unique, so careful consideration is warranted.

Absences. How do you cover an absence if you are working 12-hour shifts? Some organizations ask employees to work on a scheduled day off. Others will split the shift so that someone working the previous shift works 6 hours longer than scheduled and someone from the following shift comes in 6 hours early.

When collective bargaining agreements are involved, it is important to involve the Union representatives at the same time you begin discussing the schedule changes. Schedule alternatives and accompanying work/pay policies need to be considered as a package rather than as separate, independent issues. If the new policies (and schedules) are acceptable to the Union, they can be adopted through a letter of agreement to avoid a complete renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement.

Summary

We have discussed five major components of shift work schedules: shift length, schedule format (fixed or rotating shifts), on-off work patterns, overtime, and scheduling policies. Obviously, many aspects of schedules were not covered, including shift start times, the start of the workweek, the speed, and direction of rotating shift schedules, breaks and meal periods, shift pay differentials, level vs. variable coverage requirements, nap policies, and many more.

Keep in mind that you can’t tell whether a schedule is good or bad just by looking at these five characteristics. As long as your schedule satisfies your business requirements, only your employees can tell you whether the schedule is good. The same schedule at two different sites (even in the same industry) can be perceived differently. Employee demographics will differ. Experience with various types of schedules also will differ. And the previous schedules used at each location may not have been the same.

The key is to recognize that the employees determine what they like and don’t like. They are the ones to say what constitutes quality in their lives. If you want to know their opinion about a shift schedule, you have to ask them. But don’t be surprised when the information you get back shows a broad range of opinions with no clear consensus. We are all a little bit different. And isn’t that exactly what HR is trying to promote?

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

When should Management consider a Shift Schedule Unsustainable?

Most production managers have been there. Demand is higher than their ability to supply ― without the use of overtime.  The logical, and possibly, the best solution in the short-run is to go ahead and produce more by using overtime hours.

What is going on when you ramp up overtime?  What are the costs?  What are the benefits?  Most importantly, if using more overtime is a good decision now, is it still a good decision going forward?  In other words, are the cost-to-benefit rewards consistent over time?

The benefits in the short run should be clear – you are meeting the demands of your customers. Furthermore, you are doing so without additional capital and at only a small inconvenience to your employees. The cost of such an action, using overtime, is minimal.  The actual labor cost of a fully-loaded straight time hour and an hour of labor paid at the overtime rate are probably comparable.  The workforce is likely to tolerate a reasonable amount of overtime.  In fact, our database indicates that you should expect about 20% of your workforce will take all the overtime they can get.

What about the long run?  What happens if you start running your operations every Saturday instead of just a few?  What happens when you start running through the weekend?  In other words, your employees work Monday – Friday, then they work the weekend and then, they work Monday – Friday again. That’s twelve days in a row!

Business leaders recognize occasional overtime is not a problem but they are equally certain that overwhelming overtime is.  The question becomes, “When are you going to do something about this?”  When have you crossed the line from “Overtime is Reasonable” to “Overtime is Out of Control?”  This line can be fuzzy when you cross it but looking back, you will see that you are on the wrong side and possibly have been for some time.

Expect these things to happen as your schedule ― packed with overtime ― becomes unsustainable:

  1. Employees will begin to complain about never having a day off
  2. Absenteeism will begin to go up as employees find ways to get time off and have plenty of overtime income to finance missed work
  3. Recruiting new employees into a high overtime schedule will be difficult
  4. Turnover will increase as your employees seek “greener pastures”
  5. Quality will begin to suffer as sleep deprivation begins to affect performance
  6. Productivity per labor hour will drop
  7. Safety incidents will begin to rise
  8. Labor costs go up as performance per labor hour drops
  9. First level supervision will become less supportive of management goals as their overtime goes up in parallel with their workers
  10. Total productivity begins to drop as the workforce tires and vacancies become difficult to fill
  11. A significant portion of the workforce will begin to rely on their overtime to make ends meet, making them resistant to lowering overtime levels

The above symptoms tend to blossom as time goes by and are often ignored in their infancy.  (This is understandable as the very genesis of the situation is one where you are scrambling to find a way to meet your production numbers. You had higher priorities.) Eventually, a shift schedule, inundated with overtime, will reach the point when you ask yourself, “How much longer can we keep this up without creating new problems?” (Points 1-10.)  This is when you realize that your current shift schedule is unsustainable.  Yes, you can hold it together with “duct tape” solutions, but you can never make it do well what it was not intended to do.

If you resort to replacing overtime hours with straight time hours (hiring more people) but you don’t change your schedule, you will end up overstaffing where you already have coverage ― while adding no new hires where you currently have no staffing.  Labor costs will go up and high overtime will remain unaffected.  In short, you added straight time hours but the hours didn’t land where you needed them to.

If you want to reduce overtime without overstaffing you need a new schedule.  

At Shiftwork Solutions, we create custom-designed schedules that enable business leaders to increase production, attract a skilled workforce and keep costs under control. Our data-driven processes, communication centered approach and project execution bring about the changes needed to improve business operations and production output, reduce per-unit costs, all while creating an environment where workers feel empowered to help the organization achieve its goals.  Our experts bring in best practices from wide-ranging industries with complex operations to tailor solutions for specific operational needs. Call or text now at  (415) 858-8585.

Why Your 12-hour Schedule is More Attractive than You Think

If you are a Human Resources Manager, then you are well aware of the difficulty in finding quality employees in today’s tight labor market.  You and everyone else in your local area are competing for an ever-shrinking pool of potential employees.  You have a 12-hour schedule and, at first glance, this seems to be putting off new hires before they even start.

If this is true for you, then you may find yourself asking, “Maybe an 8-hour schedule would be better for attracting employees.  Should I try that?”

The answer to this comes from recognizing your audience and the motives of those you are trying to recruit. You might be on a winning track if your offering, is based on the appreciation for your candidate’s goals and showcases the values and benefits of a 12-hour schedule in comparison to an alternative employer and schedule that your candidate may be considering.  Often you will find that your 12-hour schedules are just not “packaged” right in order to make the point that you are the better offer.

Let’s take an example.

The facility across the street is offering an 8-hour day shift with every weekend off.  They are also advertising “No overtime!”  The final nail in the coffin is that they are offering 10% more per hour than you are.

How can you compete? You could point out:

  • the great healthcare plan you have, but if your potential employees are young enough, they are on their parent’s plan.
  • the great retirement benefits but again, younger employees will see retirement as a very distant issue. They want more immediate compensation.

This may feel hopeless but in reality, you may be holding the winning hand; that is if you can get the right message out. Try this instead:

  • “Our schedule has the same annual pay as the company across the street.” You can say this because a 12-hour schedule averages 44 pay hours a week instead of 40 (like the schedule across the street).  The extra pay hours make up for the lower rate of pay.
  • “We don’t have mandatory overtime, but we do offer overtime to those that want it.”  This will appeal to those that don’t want overtime as well as those that do.  The ability to work a lot of overtime is a big attractor for at least 20% of your potential new employees.  Point out how much more money this is. “This can add as much as $XXXXX on an annual basis.”  Remember, they may have a 10% higher wage across the street but overtime pays 50% more!
  • “Our schedule has 78 more days off than the schedule across the street.”  This is a key benefit of 12-hour shifts.  Yes, the days are longer but 78 more days off is very, very attractive.
  • “We offer a 10% shift differential for those that work on the Night shift.”  If your shift differential is not this high, then consider changing it.  10% is the minimum rate it takes to attract people to non-day shifts.
  • “You can use 24 hours of vacation and get a week off.”  This will depend on the schedule pattern, however, a better vacation using fewer hours is a lesser-known benefit of 12-hour shifts.

Depending on the specific 12-hour schedule that you are using, there can be several other benefits that might help you appeal to potential new employees.

Let us help you design a shift schedule that makes you the employer of choice.  We can transform your work environment.  Our employee engagement process ensures maximum support from your workforce.

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.

 

“I Need a Nap!” — It’s time to sleep on shift.

Recently I was meeting with a team of union leaders and managers to discuss their shift schedules and our process for evaluating shift schedules and finding better alternatives. One of the things I often do during the introduction part of the meeting is to ask people to tell me what they want to discuss over the next couple of hours. In this meeting, one of the union leaders semi-jokingly said he wanted to know “when is the best time to sleep on shift?”

Well, that turns out to be a good question. Most of us have probably experienced the alertness boost resulting from a short duration nap. Studies have shown that both alertness levels and performance can improve when shift workers are allowed to sleep on night shifts.

Unfortunately, most organizations have no provision for sleeping on shift. The concerns raised are often around the manageability of the naps. Questions like:

  • How do we ensure people come back to work?
  • How do we keep people safe while they are napping?
  • How do we ensure the nap rooms are only used for naps?
  • What about sanitation?
  • You mean you want me to pay someone to sleep!?
  • If someone doesn’t need a nap, do we have to give them an extra break?
  • If one person takes a nap, and another doesn’t, is that fair?

I have some ideas for addressing some of these concerns, though not all of them. To the question about paying someone to nap, my answer is: If a person needs a nap, you can’t afford NOT to pay them to take a nap. A single mistake can cost much more than a 20-30 minute break for a nap. Especially if the 20-30 minute nap time is created by combining a break period and a nap period.

Let’s ignore the “mistake avoided” benefit for a moment and do some quick math:

  • Assume that a person working a 12-hour night shift is given 15 minutes of nap time that can be taken in conjunction with either a normal break or a lunch break. The extra time can only be used in the nap room.
  • If a person uses their nap break in conjunction with their 30-minute mid-shift lunch, they will come back to their workstation with 5.75 hours of work to complete before their shift is over. Since that 5.75 hours includes another paid break, assume that they actually only have 5.5 hours of actual work time remaining. 5.5 hours x 60 minutes = 330 minutes.
  • A 15-minute investment for the nap will require a 15 minutes/330 minutes or 4.5% improvement in productivity to break even.

Is a 4.5% productivity improvement feasible? That probably depends on the situation. If the work is self-paced, tedious, or intellectually challenging, the answer is almost always going to be “yes”. In many cases, the improvement will be significantly more than 4.5%, and the shift worker will be happier and safer.

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

The Weekend Warrior Trap

Human Resource Managers; how would you like a schedule that your employees will love?

Plant Managers, how about a schedule that adds 40% more potential production hours onto your weekly schedule?

Now that the hook is baited….shall we take a bite?

If that particular schedule calls for you to hire a weekend crew (aka Weekend Warrior Schedule) then you will want to give this idea a pass.

Weekend Warrior refers to a type of staff scheduling strategy for covering 24/7.

At its most basic level, a Weekend Warrior schedule is one that uses two crews to cover all of the weekend work so the rest of the company’s employees don’t have to.  There are several variations to this.  Here are a few of the more basic models:

  1. Two weekend crews are used.  One crew works 12-hour days on Saturday and Sunday while the other crew works 12-hour nights on Saturday and Sunday. In this way, the Weekend Warrior crews work 24 hours a week and only work 2 days per week.  The regular weekday shifts are covered by three other crews: an 8-hour day crew, an 8-hour afternoon crew, and an 8-hour night crew.
  2. Two weekend crews are used.  One crew works 12-hour days on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday while the other crew works 12-hour nights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In this way, the Weekend Warrior crews work 36 hours a week and only work 3 days per week.  Mondays through Thursdays are covered by two other crews: a 12-hour day crew, and a 12-hour night crew.
  3. Two weekend crews are used.  One crew works 12-hour days on Saturday and Sunday while the other crew works 12-hour nights on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the 12-hour weekend shifts, each crew will work 2 other shifts of 8 hours at some time during the week.  In this way, the Weekend Warrior crews will get a total of 40 hours a week.  The regular weekday shifts are covered by three other crews: an 8-hour day crew, an 8-hour afternoon crew, and an 8-hour night crew.  Note that the weekend crews will augment the regular weekday crews when they come in for their additional shifts during the week.

While there are several variations to this concept, these three represent the lion’s share of what we have seen out there.

Now that we’ve clarified the type of schedule, let’s look at The Bait & Trap.

The Bait or the thing that makes this type of schedule so attractive is that it appears to satisfy everyone involved.  The company needs 24/7 coverage and this provides it.  The employees don’t want to work weekends so you hire someone else to do it.  This satisfies your existing workforce.   Potential employees want a job and will often take any shift to get a foot in the door.  This schedule allows people to get that foot in there, provided they are willing to work weekends – done deal.

Here is the problem.  The weekend crew will under-perform unless the company over-pays.  The Trap is that once this becomes apparent (usually within the first 18 months after implementation) it is too late.  Changing the schedule will seem like a take-away and the workforce will fight it tooth and nail.

Let’s look at the “problem” a little more closely.  Here are the things we typically hear:

  • The weekend crew has a high turnover as the employees leave for better hours.
  • The weekend crew has high absenteeism. This job is typically their back-up job.  When they go on vacation from their “main” job, they simply call in sick for their weekend job.
  • The weekend crew is out of touch with the rest of the plant.
  • The weekend crew people move to the weekday crews as soon as there is an opening thus making sure the weekend crew is staffed with the least skilled and newest employees.
  • The weekend crew typically performs at about 60% the rate expected of weekday employees.
  • When the weekend crew comes in for their 8-hour weekday shifts, the plant becomes overstaffed.
  • The weekend crew typically gets a full benefits package.  This means a 50% burden rate on the weekday employees equates to a 60-85% burden rate on the weekend crew’s hours.
  • Some companies, in an attempt to improve retention and performance on the weekend crews, will up the ante.  For example, they may pay forty hours for 24 hours of work.  I have seen companies that do this end up paying about twice as much for each hour worked by a weekend crew as they do for a weekday crew.

It looks good so companies go to it.  It doesn’t work as planned and companies can’t get rid of it.  If that’s not a trap, I don’t know what is.

If you know of anyone that is thinking about implementing a Weekend Warrior Schedule, I recommend that you have them take a look at this posting first.

Let us help you find a customized shiftwork solution that best fits the production needs of your site. 

Use our process of employee engagement to ensure the workforce buys into your new schedule.

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.

The best way to schedule your maintenance crew in a 24/7 operation

Maintenance Managers, you know the drill – Keep the equipment running and still, somehow, get your maintenance done.

On a 5-day schedule, this typically means Maintenance “maintains” during the week and “repairs” during the weekend.

When a plant shifts to 24/7 operations, the first thought of maintenance people is “Where do we go now?”  The weekend, once reserved for maintenance, is now being taken up by production.   Is this the end of preventative maintenance?  Will maintenance now be restricted to small windows of opportunity such as line changeovers?  And the biggest question is “How will we schedule maintenance people when we no longer know when we will have access to equipment?”

To get to these answers we first need to break down maintenance into its three main components: (1) Corrective Maintenance, (2) Preventative Maintenance and (3) Project work.  We will cover all three of these here.

Corrective Maintenance

On a 24/7 operation, everything is running all of the time.  While there are plenty of exceptions to this (change-overs, sanitation, etc.) we’ll consider production to be spread uniformly across all hours for this discussion.

Since corrective maintenance is not “scheduled”, it can be nearly impossible to predict with any accuracy.  Therefore, we should consider an “event” requiring corrective maintenance to be random.  That is to say, it is equally likely to occur at any time during the week.  Under this type of condition, it is best to spread your resources around equally.  From a corrective maintenance perspective, it makes no sense to staff differently on Saturday afternoons than on Wednesday nights.

When it comes to staffing levels, maintenance managers will have to take into account things such as: (1) the likelihood of something breaking down, (2) the opportunity cost of delaying a repair (3) the cost of overstaffing when those people could be used more effectively elsewhere and (4) the availability of additional resources through callouts. Overstaffing the corrective maintenance crew is a mistake often made. Maintenance managers need to realize that there will never be enough people to always ensure there is enough coverage for every possible contingency.  It is better to have an effective plan for augmenting your crew in an emergency.

Preventative Maintenance

Surprisingly, Preventive Maintenance is actually easier to accomplish on a 24/7 schedule than on a 5-day schedule.  On a 5-day schedule, you are essentially committed to “pit stop” maintenance.  You only have a very little window to fix everything so you throw all of your resources at it during that time.  Hopefully, you get enough things fixed so the plant can run well the next week.

On a 24/7 schedule, you still have maintenance to do, but you no longer have to do it all on the weekend.  Now you can spread it out during the week.  For example: instead of trying to repair all production lines on Saturday (typically an impossible task), you now take down one line at a time; leaving the others up and running.  Maintenance personnel rather do preventative maintenance during the day shift on weekdays.  Not only is this the preferred schedule for your people, but it is also when you have the most resources available.  On Monday through Friday day shifts, you will have greater access to vendors, parts suppliers, and engineers.

This all points towards scheduling as much preventative maintenance as possible during Monday through Friday day shift.  Of course, there should always be preventative maintenance assigned to other shifts throughout the week so maintenance people will be productive if there is no corrective maintenance needing their attention.

Project Work

Project Work is like preventative maintenance in that it is best done during the weekdays when the most outside resources are available.  Unlike preventative maintenance, project work often requires several consecutive days or weeks of work to be accomplished.  It is best started, maintained and completed by the same people to minimize any loss of information during turnovers between crews.  To do this, you will want to use 8-hour workdays where the project people come to work and advance the project every day, five days a week.

In summary, maintenance scheduling for a 24/7 operation opens up new opportunities that allow for better schedules for your maintenance employees while improving overall maintenance accomplishment and equipment reliability.

Give us a call today and discuss how we can help you get the most out of your maintenance department in a shiftwork operation.

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