Shift Schedule Selection: 5 Myths & the Truths Behind Them

Shift Schedule Selection: 5 Myths & the Truths Behind Them

We have come across our fair share of shift work myths, especially those involving shift schedule selection, throughout CIRCADIAN’s 30 years of consulting a variety of 24/7 industries and operations.

They may seem logical, but these myths can prevent an operation from reaching its full potential in terms of operational costs, productivity, efficiency and safety.

Explaining the facts behind these myths provides managers with the accurate information necessary to develop effective solutions for schedule-related problems.

MYTH #1: If a shift schedule works well at our other plant, it will work for us here.

The Truth:

This is a common misconception in companies with multiple facility locations. A shift schedule that’s effective and well-liked at one facility can cause disagreements and tension among workers at a seemingly identical facility.

Shift schedules need to be based on the social, operational and physiological needs of the workforce & managers at each specific company site. Some factors to consider include:

  • Geographic location
  • The lifestyles of workers
  • Cultural differences
  • Worker demographics

These factors can greatly impact the popularity of different shift schedules among workers. For example, avoiding rush hour traffic is often important to workers in large cities, whereas workers in rural areas might prefer longer spans of days off.

Best shift scheduling practices suggest choosing a schedule with features that support the priorities of workers at each individual facility.

Pleasing everyone may be impossible, but having the majority of workers in favor of a new shift schedule will greatly increase the likelihood of a successful schedule change.

MYTH #2: There is a “perfect” shift schedule that will meet the needs of everybody in the plant.

The Truth:

As the old saying goes – you can’t please everyone. Even in the best situations, you can’t expect a shift schedule to meet the needs of everyone in a company.

After proper evaluations, interviews and surveys, a shift schedule can be developed and implemented to meet a majority of workers’ needs as well as the operational goals set by management.

Similarly, a schedule that will work well in one department may not work in another department. The type of work being done in each area of the plant needs to be taken into consideration when developing a new schedule. If the work load includes control room monitoring operations as well as departments with physically demanding work, more than one schedule may be necessary.

Designing more than one schedule for a plant creates its own difficulties – like coordinating multiple schedules. It’s important to integrate schedules to allow for proper communication and coordination between departments.

MYTH #3: Changing shift schedules is as easy as choosing the “best” one and implementing it at the facility.

The Truth:

Whether driven by management requirements or worker frustration, changing and implementing a new schedule is usually an emotionally-charged process.

If done improperly, or without a cooperative effort between workers and management, schedule changes can create a volatile situation with cost implications.

There are economic repercussions, operational criteria and worker relationships that must be taken into consideration. It’s critical to have buy-in from both management and workers on why a change is necessary, if one is needed at all.

Attempting the “hit or miss” method of choosing a schedule can be equally disastrous. Like anybody, shift workers desire stability and regularity. Implementing a new schedule every year can damage the trust, morale and support of workers.

MYTH #4: There isn’t a schedule that can make workers happy without compromising operational needs.

The Truth:

No schedule can meet all the needs of every single worker and every conceivable management goal; however, schedules can be developed to satisfy most corporate requirements.

For example, take the requirement that the company operate on a continuous 168 hours-per-week schedule. It’s important to address the needs of the worker as a function of that requirement before implementing a schedule to fulfill the requirements of a continuous operation.

Most workers understand the need to operate 168 hours-per-week and as a result, workers look for a schedule that maximizes the weekend days off and quality time off per year. When these needs are met as much as possible, workers become fully satisfied with the added benefit to the company.


Given the choice, workers always select the best schedule for them and the worst for the company.

The Truth:

Much conflict between management and shiftworkers is the result of misunderstanding and poor communication.

Management often feels that it is doing its part by “telling,” rather than both telling and listening to the needs of workers. Workers may feel that they’re providing valuable insight, but management only hears the complaints. As a result, management may feel that workers only care about themselves and making money.

While the occasional worker may try to game the system, most workers are truly concerned with the well-being of the company. After all, workers realize that any problems that the company faces will ultimately affect them. In light of this, most workers will choose a schedule that will satisfy the company while still fulfilling their individual needs.

The best way to ensure that workers understand the reasons for making any scheduling changes is by keeping them informed. This can be accomplished through company-wide meetings or events, as well as through regular emails or letters about the general state of the company.

The Big Truth

What do all of these myths have in common? Communication between management and workers facilitates successful schedule changes. Management needs to hear and listen to the workers’ perspective and visa-versa. By effectively communicating and working together on the challenges of implementing a new schedule, management and workers can decide upon a shift schedule that addresses both parties’ needs.

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CIRCADIAN® Shift Scheduling Solutions

CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance, shifting scheduling and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations in 24/7 workforces optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of their extended hours operations.

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