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Why Do Operations Change Shift Schedules?

5 Common Reason

Some facilities revise their schedules every two to three years to adjust to changing business and demographic conditions. Others keep the same schedule for 10 years or more. How long has it been since you changed your shift schedule?

Looking at the data from CIRCADIAN’s Shiftwork Practices 2014 Survey of 341 North American shiftwork operations (click here for report), about half of shiftwork operations (52%) have had their existing shift schedule for more than 10-years. Look at chart 1 below for a detailed breakdown.

How long have you used your current shift schedule 
5 common reasons for changing a shift schedule:

  1. Business expansion or contraction requires changes in the work hours or days in a week that a facility operates (e.g., a move from 5-day to 7-day operations, or from 24/7 to 24/5).
  2. Morale and/or persistent complaints from the workforce about the current schedule
  3. A shiftwork risk assessment revealed that the existing schedule is causing excess employee costs, risks or liabilities (e.g., absenteeism, errors, accidents and lost-time injuries, employee turnover, excessive overtime, etc.)
  4. Staffing levels or number of crews are being adjusted (e.g., to permit training time,  or to reduce excessive levels of overtime)
  5. Changing demographics of the workforce (e.g. increases in younger employees, more female workers, more imported labor) make the previous schedule no longer suited to employee needs and lifestyles

While there are some proactive companies out there that do evaluate their schedules on a regular basis – i.e. conduct shiftwork risk assessments, survey employees, benchmark key performance indicators, etc. – most companies sit back and wait for something to break before changing schedules.

When something does break, such as a spike in accidents or dramatic increase/decrease in demand, the schedule change is usually done in one of two ways.

Group #1 uses the “break” as an opportunity to implement a well-evaluated and developed schedule. They survey and involve employees and try to develop a schedule that meets both the business and employee needs.

Group #2, on the other hand, is governed by the quick-fix. Whether its external pressure from corporate or internal pressure from within the operation, management recognizes that the current schedule is not working, and looks for a quick and easy solution. Often they’ll find some shift schedules that other facilities are using, maybe ask an employee task force for input on them, and then mandate the new schedule. Not surprisingly these quick-fix, mandated schedules usually lead to just more problems down the road.

Overall, while waiting for a shift schedule to break is a strategy – albeit a strategy of complacency - it does come at a high cost. It means that a company has accepted the increased costs, risk and liabilities of their sub-optimal schedule as just part of doing business and has closed the door on improvement.

We challenge you to be proactive and review your schedules routinely. If you need assistance in setting up a system to review your schedules, we’d be happy to help. CIRCADIAN offers a Shiftwork Opportunity Assessment as well as On-Site Shift Scheduling Workshops that can help you review schedule issues, reduce risk, and find the low hanging fruit that will bring immediate returns to your operation.

Next Steps:

Have a Question? Need Help?

For over 30 years, CIRCADIAN has been helping shiftwork operations around the world.  Feel free to contact us by clicking here.


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