Making Shift Assignments

It’s human nature to not like change.  There are a lot of reasons for this, among the biggest is the fear of the unknown.  People “know” what’s going on now.  They “know” how things work.  Anything different is unknown.

A schedule change is probably the biggest change your workforce will go through in a generation.  As you might expect, there will be some resistance.  About 5% of your workforce will resist simply because it’s in their nature to be negative.  The other 95% will have varying degrees of concern; almost all of which will be centered around not knowing, with complete clarity, what is going to happen.

What will the new pattern do to their lifestyle?  How much money will they make?  What opportunities, if any, will they lose when the change is made?  Will they still get all of their benefits?  What will happen to vacation?  Can they be on the same, or different, shift as their spouse?

This list goes on an on.  Your goal should be to create transparency.  The more open and informative your process is, the less stress will be put on your workforce.

The one statement that you don’t want to hear is – “That is not fair.”

This is not a statement that comes from change and not “knowing.”  This is a statement that often comes from a complete understanding.  This is not a statement about “change”.  This is a value statement; one which must be closely investigated as soon as it comes up.

Why? Because whoever said it might have a point.

No other issue is more likely to bring up the idea of “fairness” than shift assignments.

If you go from a 3-crew, 5-day schedule to a 4-crew, 24/7 schedule, you will have to redistribute your workforce.  When this happens, people will first become concerned that they will not be assigned to the shift they want.  Once they know their shift assignment, their internal “jury” will take over.  This jury is not concerned with whether or not they got the shift they wanted.  This jury is only concerned about fairness.

For example, take two employees.  Both want to be assigned to the Day shift.  Employee #1 started last week.  Employee #2 started 30 years ago and is the most senior person at the plant.

If both of these are assigned to the Night shift, they will have very different reactions.  Neither wanted to go to nights, but employee #1 understands how being new means he won’t get his first choice.  Meanwhile, employee #2 is going to march straight to the H.R. office and say the dreaded, “This is not fair.”

Without getting into the multitude of ways to assign shifts, I am going to list a few guidelines that, if followed, will greatly reduce the instances of “not fair” resulting from your schedule change project.

  1. Do not realign the entire plant.  There will be those that say, “Every job is being changed so we should all be allowed to bid for every job in the facility regardless of whether or not we are trained for the job.”  This position needs to be confronted with the practical and economic reality of shutting down the facility to potentially retrain 100% of your workforce. It’s not going to happen.
  2. Minimize change.  If someone is on a particular shift, they have the first right to stay on that shift.  A person on an 8-hour day shift should have first shot at staying on day shift, even if that shift is going to 12-hours, regardless of seniority. This is easier than you may think since going to 12’s will generally result in twice as many day shift positions.
  3. A typical policy statement will include language like “We will use seniority among those that are currently in the department followed by seniority among those that are outside the department but already trained to do the work.”
  4. Use seniority whenever possible.  This is a very defensible position (as opposed to making assignments alphabetically or by height or shoe size.)    Seniority, while important, should not override all other considerations such as the current skill set or shift assignment.  Typically, it is used as a tie-breaker.
  5. Do not allow bumping unless a job is eliminated.  Bumping means that I can take your job because I’m senior or more qualified.  In this instance, there is a clear winner and loser.  The loser will then go bump someone else who then bumps someone else.  Don’t do it.
  6. Once the dust has settled, you may find that one shift is particularly weak and needs a senior person from one of the more desirable shifts.  This may result in your taking a senior person and putting them on a shift that they normally wouldn’t be assigned to.  If this happens, take that person aside and explain that you need their help.  Also, tell them what you will be working on to rectify the situation (including how long they should expect to be on the undesirable shift).  You will be pleasantly surprised at how helpful people are willing to be if you don’t simply take their compliance for granted.

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.

How will a new schedule impact your Employee Handbook?

Measure twice, cut once.

This adage is as applicable to a schedule change as it is for those in the carpentry trade.

Make one mistake and either be prepared to live with it or face the uphill battle of yet making another major change to your workplace.

There are all types of pitfalls.  You can put in the wrong schedule (yes, not all schedules are the same).  You can alienate a section of your workforce.  You can use the wrong staffing model.  You can overlook an opportunity.  Or you can put in the wrong policies.

This last mistake, the “policy” mistake is a big one.

Let’s take a look at a going from a 5-day schedule to a 7-day schedule.

To begin with, you will need “process” policies. The workforce will want to know “how” you are going to do things.  How will you decide who goes to what shift?  How will you pick the shift times?  How will you pick the schedule?  Does seniority count more than skills?  Should temporary employees participate?  Will there be a trial period?  This is a list that can seemingly go on forever.

Once the schedule is in place, will you have policies ready to support it?

If your answer is “Yes, our 5-day policies will work on a 7-day schedule,” then the answer is “No” your policies are not ready to go.

You will need to look at the following, at a minimum:

  • Overtime pay
  • Holiday pay, Holiday premiums, Recognized Holidays
  • Shift Differentials
  • Breaks
  • Jury Duty
  • Partial vacations
  • Vacations
  • Overtime coverage
  • Training
  • Shift Swaps
  • Absentee coverage
  • Attendance policy
  • Pay week hours
  • Payroll system settings

Let’s just take a look at vacation; possibly the simplest policy to address.  If you go to a 12-hour schedule, will employees still be able to take off full weeks or will they change to blocks of days?  Will they be able to take single days off and how much will their account be charged when they do and how much will they be paid?  Will vacation count towards hours worked for overtime calculations?  Can they carry over or sell back time at the end of the year?  Suppose they have some vacation left but not enough to take a week or even a full day off, what do they do?  Can they combine vacation time with other types of PTO?  Suppose I am on vacation (12-hour shifts) and a holiday falls during my time off, will I get 8 hours or 12 hours of pay?

Be ready to address your policies ahead of time if you want to have a successful transition.  They should be ready to go before the change takes place.  Remember to get your IT people involved as well.

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

Why should you consider changing your shift schedule?

Changing shift schedules is not like changing the curtains in your kitchen.

It’s complicated.  It disrupts your workforce.  It takes a great deal of effort in an area that you likely have very little experience AND if you make a mistake, you must be prepared to live with it for a very long time.

So, if you don’t need to change your schedule don’t change it.

Having said all of that, there are many very compelling reasons to at least take a look at alternative ways of scheduling your workforce.

Here is a sampling of reasons that companies have given us in the past:

  • We are out of capacity during the weekdays
  • There is no room to expand our facility outside of our current building
  • Overtime is out of control
  • The workforce is tired and mistakes are on the rise
  • Safety
  • Costs need to be contained
  • Product flow is irregular causing shortages and stockpiles
  • Seasonality
  • High turnover
  • We need to reduce shutdown and start-up costs
  • Lean manufacturing initiative is not supported by the current schedule
  • Trouble distributing skillsets across all shifts
  • We are combining two plants into one
  • Lower costs
  • Supervisors don’t match the crew schedules
  • Vacation and absentee coverage is difficult
  • Current schedule does not support training
  • We need to get rid of a weekend warrior schedule
  • We are in a tight labor market and need a more attractive schedule

This list goes on and on.  Nearly every company has its own unique reason for wanting, at the very least, to look at alternative ways of scheduling their employees.

Every company that competes on the open market must be constantly striving to improve.  However, be careful.  Your workforce is likely to be very wary of any attempt to upgrade its schedule.  Interestingly, this is even true if they hate their current schedule.

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

Changing Schedules 101

Every now and then, I like to return to the basics.  Today I’m going to cover some of the basic DOs and DON’Ts for those of you considering a change to your schedule.

DO make sure you have clearly identified your needs.  Changing schedules can be a traumatic experience for your workforce.  You don’t want to put them through it over and over again and you seek the perfect schedule coverage through a series of Trials and Errors.

DON’T think that there is a schedule where 100% of your workforce will be happy.  There are two reasons for this.  First of all, shift workers judge a schedule by the time off it provides. Since everyone goes to different lifestyles when they leave work, it is not surprising that they will have different opinions about what schedule best serves their needs.  Secondly, about 5% of every workforce comes to work to be the contrary.  They will oppose any change.  In fact, if you try to appease them by not changing anything – they will oppose that.

DO keep the workforce informed.  As with any change, rumors are the enemy.  There has never been an instance where two shift workers are talking and one says, “I wonder what’s going on with our schedule” and the other one replies, “I have no idea but I’m sure we will like whatever it is that they come up with.”  If what you are planning to do is the right thing, then you should make whatever effort it takes to share your thoughts and actions with those that will be impacted.

DON’T assume that a small change is easy to make.  If you don’t believe this, tell the workforce that you intend to change the shift start times by 15 minutes; then stand back and watch what happens.

DO get the workforce involved.  No one likes to be told what to do.  If you need to change schedules, there must be a reason for this.  Tell the workforce and then solicit their input in creating a solution.  There are always numerous solutions to a scheduling issue; many of which will work equally well.  Since this is the case, why not use the schedule that best meets the needs of your employees.  They know better than you when it comes to knowing what they want.

DON’T assume your current pay and work policies for your current schedule will work equally well for your new schedule.  Things like a vacation, holiday pay and shift differential must be addressed to make sure they are not costing you or the workforce more on the new schedule. When companies contact Shiftwork Solutions because their 24/7 schedule does not work, the problem is rarely with the pattern and nearly always has something to do with policies.

DO your math.  It’s one thing to think you know what you need, it’s another to be able to demonstrate it on paper.  If you can’t justify your schedule change using math, then maybe you are making a change based more on assumptions rather than reality.  I personally don’t like to guess.  I like to measure twice and cut once.

DON’T take short cuts.  Being “penny wise” will result in mistakes and missed opportunities that you will not quickly recover from.

DO be thorough.  Involve everyone in your change process; even those that will not be impacted.  Telling a group “We are changing schedules over in that area and you will not be affected,” is much better than leaving an unaffected group out of the loop and allowing them to make up their own reality.

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.