Crafting the perfect shift schedule : A case study


Site-specific shift schedules tailored to an organization’s operational demands and workers’ preferences are a win-win for both the company and the workers. Some of these advantages include:

  1. Improved Employee Satisfaction: Taking employee preferences into account leads to higher worker morale, job satisfaction, and lower turnover rates.
  2. Enhanced Safety: Customized schedules can help manage fatigue levels and minimize overtime, ensuring that critical safety protocols are followed, and reducing the risk of accidents or errors.
  3. Cost Savings: Optimizing shift schedules can optimize productivity and improve resource allocation by reducing unnecessary overtime costs while maintaining adequate coverage during busy periods.

STUDY: A Successful Site-Specific Shift Schedule

At the time CIRCADIAN worked with Printing Company A. Our client had more than a dozen same-aged, similarly laid-out sites across the United States. All of the employees wore the same uniforms and had essentially the same job doing the same day-to-day tasks between the sites.

In addition, all of the employees across the country worked the same shift schedule - a 12-hour schedule with some uncommon features. Most importantly, the shift schedule rotated between days and nights on an annual basis. You worked one year of day shifts and then one year of night shifts.

The schedule’s main pattern was a 4 on - 3 off, 3 on - 4 off. This pattern gives each worker three of the same days off every week. In this case, the three days off included the whole weekend. This means that two of the 2 teams get every weekend off and two teams work every weekend.

In the example below each work shift is indicated by a “W” and days off are the yellow fields.

To make things “fair”, the crews switched the front half and back half of the week every 3 months. This meant a group of workers did not get any weekends off for 3 consecutive months.

When you switch sides of the week, some interesting things happen (switching every 2 weeks shown in the example below for conciseness):


  • There is a 7-day break when you switch from the front half of the week to the back half of the week (from week 2 into week 3 of the pattern above).
  • There is a 7-day workset when you switch from the back half of the week to the front half (between weeks 4 and 5).

The weekends and the 7-day breaks became features that were prioritized differently by employees in different parts of the country. For example, in upstate New York, the employees wanted the main features of the 3-4, 4-3 pattern but wanted a more frequent front-to-back flip so that no crew spent an entire summer on the wrong side of the week. In contrast, the workers in Wisconsin preferred that one of the 7-day breaks aligned with the first week in November - the beginning of deer hunting season.

  • The advantages of having a uniform shift schedule across a corporation (e.g., HR language, payroll, etc.) need to be balanced against regional worker preferences.
  • Even when working the same job conducting similar job tasks, workers in different geographic regions will choose different schedules based on different locally important schedule features.
  • Developing a site-specific shift schedule responding to regional preferences increases worker morale, can lower absenteeism and turnover costs, and leads to easier hiring in the local area.
Have a Question? Need Shift Scheduling Help?

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