Where did all of the 8-hour shifts go?

In today’s work environment, compressed workweeks, telecommuting and competition for labor have conspired to make 8-hour shifts a vanishing breed.

Twenty-five years ago, 8-hour shifts were everywhere.  Today, they are an anomaly – especially in operations covering 24/7 in the United States.

I stress the “United States” because our national labor laws allow for compressed workweeks (longer shifts with more days off) that some other countries, such as Japan, are unable to offer.

There are three reasons that 8-hour shifts (in 24/7 operations) have become the exception rather than the rule: (1) Overtime laws that only require that overtime rates be paid in excess of 40 hours in a week, (2) 8-hour shifts must rotate or, if they don’t, you must contend with supervision, staffing and cross-training issues (3) people like longer shifts if they result in additional days off.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Pay after 40 hours: All 24/7 schedules take the 168 hours in a week and divide them among four crews.  This comes to an average of 42 hours per crew.  If you work 8-hour shifts, you will average 42 hours of work and 43 hours of pay regardless of whether or not overtime is paid after 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.  On a 12-hour schedule, if overtime is only paid after 40 hours in a week, you will get 44 hours of pay.  However, if you get paid overtime after 8 hours in a day on a 12-hour schedule, you will average 49 hours of weekly pay.  This means, that if a company must pay overtime after 8-hours in a day, they will have to pay 49 weekly pay-hours for a 12-hour schedule but only 43 pay hours for an 8-hour schedule.  This is why you won’t see 12-hour schedules in places like Japan (or California) where overtime must be paid after 8 hours in a day – they are just too expensive to implement.

8’s must rotate: People frequently think that rotating shifts are a “choice” as opposed to a necessity.  This is almost never the case.  Shift workers will choose fixed shifts over rotating shifts by a margin of 9 to 1.  However, if you have 8-hour shifts, you will be rotating.  Why is this?  Think about it this way – In a continuous operation, there are 4 crews but only three daily 8-hour shifts.  If one crew is assigned to days and one is assigned to afternoons and the other is assigned to nights; then where does the 4th crew go?  The answer is that this crew would rotate quickly between all of the shifts as the crews take different days off.

There is a way to make 8’s work as “fixed” shifts, however, there are some significant complications that you will have to live with. Instead of having 4 crews, use three crews each of which is overstaffed.

For example: Suppose you need three people to show up.  Instead of having four crews of three people (a total of 12 people) you will have three crews of four people (also a total of 12).  Since a crew has four people and you only need three, every day, one of the four get a day off.  To ensure that every combination of 3 gives you the skills you need, cross-training will be required.  Also, this only works if the required crew size is a multiple of 3.  If you need 17 to show up, then the 8-hour fixed will not work (however, 18 works and so does 24 as well as any other multiple of 3).  Supervisor scheduling will no longer be able to match the crews they supervise since they will need days off to which means someone will have to cover for them.

I know this sounds complicated so give us a call if you need more detail.

People like longer shifts: Actually, they don’t like longer shifts, they like the additional days off.  How many more days off?  If you work a 24/7 schedule with 8-hour shifts, you will work 273 days a year (75% of all days).  If you work the exact same number of hours per year on a 12-hour schedule, you will work 182 days per year (50% of all days).  This means you will work longer days but get an additional 91 days off per year.  While people are often wary of the longer shifts before they try them; after they have been on a 12-hour schedule for a few weeks, you would find it difficult to find someone that would want to give up their newly found bonanza of extra days off.

As you may have noticed, I tried to minimize the amount of “math” behind the various issues.  However, this does not mean the math is not available to you. 

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