Shift Schedule Tune-Ups: Why Your Operation Needs One


Did you know that over 50% of North American shiftwork operations have been using the same shift schedule for over 10-years?

Think about all the things that have changed in the last 10- years[1]:

        1. Our smartphone screen time has more than quadrupled since 2011 (32 minutes/day to 132 minutes/day).
        2. Electric vehicles have become commonplace. In 2010 there were few electric vehicles on the road, now there are over 1 million!
        3. The explosion of the gig economy (Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, etc.)

When was the last time you did a tune-up for your shift schedule? If it’s been a while, chances are your operation could benefit from an in-depth review.

Out-of-Date Work Schedules Hurt Your Bottom-Line 

Many operations stick with their current schedules out of inertia. The attitude of the day is often “We’ve always done it this way, so why should we change?”

The answer: antiquated and inappropriate work schedules can dramatically hurt your bottom-line. Schedules that that don’t align with current operational requirements and don’t reflect the needs of your current workforce will lead to:

      • Decreased productivity
      • Poor morale
      • Increased absenteeism & turnover
      • Rise in fatigue and accidents
      • Impaired health and work-life balance stress

Unfortunately, many operations aren’t fully aware of the losses in operating efficiency, safety, & employee relations (e.g., morale, absenteeism, and turnover) that can result from a mismatch between shift schedule and current operational needs.

But there’s hope! Conducting periodic shift schedule ‘tune-ups’ to assess the suitability of a work schedule along with ancillary health and wellness initiatives, such as sleep and shiftwork lifestyle training/education programs, can result in:

        1. Dramatic reductions in fatigue and human error
        2. Improvements in operating safety and efficiency.
        3. Significant engagement with your workforce boosting employee retention and morale.

Signs Your Schedule is Outdated

      • Negative Feedback from Workforce: Do they complain about the schedule? Has turnover increased? Are you having trouble retaining new hires? Are you experiencing an increase in absenteeism rates?
      • Have your Demographics Changed: For example, is your workforce aging? Or does it have an increasing proportion of younger employees with childcare and/or eldercare demands or an increasing number of single parents?
      • Have Business Conditions Changed: Changes in business conditions such as increasing or decreasing demand can cause a schedule to become outdated quickly.
      • Safety Data: Another sign of trouble is if you observe a disproportionate number of accidents occurring during the overnight shift and/or with rotating crews. 1:00 AM to 7:00 AM is the most difficult time to stay alert. Are your employees able to perform safely and effectively during these hours?

3 Problematic Shift Scheduling Practices

Three shift scheduling practices that may indicate you need a scheduling tune-up are:

  1. Not Adjusting Properly to Increases in Demand: Having three crews cover seven days of work — a common attempt to handle increases in demand — will increase fatigue risk and employee burnout. Employees are regularly asked or required to work overtime, increase the risk of human error, costly accidents, injuries, and poor-quality production.
  2. 8-Hour Counterclockwise Shift Schedules: Counterclockwise rotation — working nights, then evenings, then days —diametrically opposes the human body’s innate circadian rhythms. Such rotation runs against research confirming that without external cues (e.g., sunlight) the human body naturally drifts forward to later hours each day to reset the biological clock. On a counterclockwise rotation, adjusting to the night shift is exceedingly difficult and often results in reduced alertness and performance.
  1. Not Establishing & Tracking Work Hour Health & Safety Thresholds (e.g., long shifts, excessive OT, etc.): While an operation may have an efficient and inherently safe “paper schedule,” unplanned and planned absences (e.g., vacations, sick days, FMLA, etc.) and overtime requirements can send it into a tailspin. If health and safety thresholds are not carefully and consistently tracked, it becomes challenging to figure out which employees would be at an increased risk for an incident or accident.

For example, it is well-established that once shifts exceed 14 hours, the risk of having an incident climbs significantly. Do you know what percentage of your workforce worked a >14-hour shift last month? Can you isolate this rate by plant or department?

Note: For more information, check out CIRCADIAN’s white paper on "Increasing Production Beyond the Five-Day Operation". CIRCADIAN has conducted shift schedule work hours and fatigue risk assessments in a wide variety of large and small companies across a multitude of industries. Contact us to learn more.

Interested in Investigating a New Shift Schedule?

There are effective and ineffective ways to change shift schedules. Facilities implementing mandated schedules tend to have the highest absenteeism and turnover rates and the worst employee morale. Similarly, task team and benchmarking approaches to finding a new shift schedule often fail to achieve consensus, and frequently overlook critical issues of implementing a schedule change - creating costly oversights and negative employee reactions.

Many companies look for a perfect schedule, not realizing one doesn’t exist. The best schedule for any group of shift workers is a site-specific phenomenon, one that is derived from three critical criteria:

      1. Management/operational need;
      2. Employee preferences; and,
      3. Biomedical parameters.

Thus, the scheduling “answer” is less important than the process by which it is derived.

Win-Win Scheduling

When was the last time you scheduled a tune-up for your work schedules?

Instead of risking more arbitrary approaches, hundreds of round-the-clock companies have turned to Circadian for assistance in creative shift scheduling.

By working together with employees, unions, and management, Circadian develops schedule options that meet business needs, satisfy worker preferences, and are compatible with human physiology to promote health and safety. The result is a healthier, safer, and more productive workforce.

For more information, click here.



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