6 Signs of a Needed Shift Schedule Redesign

“We’ve always done it this way, so why should we change?”

24/7 operations managers are often aware that a poorly designed schedule can cause serious problems for their workers. However, many companies stick with their current shift schedules out of comfort and familiarity.

Best practices suggest periodically reviewing shift schedules to determine if they still best serve your employees, operations and most importantly – your bottom line.

Over 300 shift schedule variations have been implemented in 24/7 operations, each with varying degrees of success; however, there are thousands of mathematical scheduling possibilities – many of which are based on 8-hour, 12-hour and combined 8- and 12-hour shifts.


Two Problematic Schedules

  1. Shifts that rotate counter-clockwise

    Counter-clockwise (also known as anti-clockwise) shift rotations — working nights, then evenings, then days — fight the human body’s innate circadian rhythm (i.e. our 24-hour internal clock) which naturally drifts forward to later hours each day.

    On a counter-clockwise rotation, adjusting to the night shift is challenging and often results in reduced alertness and performance – known as “industrial jet lag”, since the sensation mimics the feeling of constantly crossing time zones from west to east.
  2. 3 crew, 8-hour shifts for 7-day operations

Having three crews cover seven days of work — a schedule common at plants that have converted from 5-day to 7-day operations — can cause fatigue-related problems. On these schedules, employees frequently work overtime and struggle to develop normal sleep habits.  

The result? Employees become increasingly fatigued and prone to human error, often leading to costly accidents, injuries and poor-quality production.

Weekend warrior crews – while less fatigued – typically cost more, have unacceptably high turnover rates and lowered productivity due to lack of skills and experience.

Signs of Trouble

How do you know if your scheduling system is a lemon? Some of the most obvious signs include:

  1. Workers show up late for work, arrive at work tired, or fall asleep on the job
  2. Increase in accident rates occurring on overnight shifts, especially with rotating crews
  3. A significant change in the proportion of younger vs. older employees
  4. High absenteeism or rising health care costs

Investigating a New Shift Schedule?

One key to a successful shift change – make sure to involve employees when making any new scheduling decisions!

CIRCADIAN data shows that facilities with mandated schedules on average have the highest absenteeism and turnover rates and the poorest employee morale across all schedule selection methods.

Similarly, task team and benchmarking approaches often fail to achieve consensus and frequently overlook critical – and potentially costly – issues that arise from implementing the schedule change.

The Perfect Schedule?

Changing schedules isn’t simply a matter of researching some alternatives and putting them to a vote. Here’s the reality – a schedule change is a complex and volatile issue that can easily become disputed and counterproductive if not developed and implemented properly.

Many companies look for a perfect schedule, but it doesn’t exist. In fact, the best schedule for any workforce is a site-specific phenomenon – derived from management, employee and biomedical criteria.

Win-Win Scheduling

Instead of risking more arbitrary approaches, hundreds of 24/7 operations have turned to CIRCADIAN for assistance.

By working together with employees, unions, and management, CIRCADIAN develops shift schedule plans that meet the business needs, satisfy worker preferences, and are compatible with human physiology to promote health and safety.

The result is a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.


CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations with traditional and/or extended operating hours optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of sleep deprivation and fatigue.

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