Managing 24/7

Two Antiquated Shift Schedule Systems:
Do they exist in your operation?

Managers of 24/7 operations should bear in mind that there are well over 300 different scheduling systems that companies have used with varying degrees of success, and there are thousands of mathematical possibilities. Some of these schedules, because of the timing of their shifts and the pattern of rotation between shifts, are particularly disruptive or inefficient.

Two common scheduling systems that most shiftwork experts now view as antiquated are shifts that rotate counterclockwise and shifts in which three crews working 8-hour shifts cover a seven-day operation by working a lot of overtime or are supplemented by a “weekend warrior” crew.

#1 - Counter-Clockwise Rotation
The problem with the counter-clockwise rotation — working nights, then evenings, then days — is that it is diametrically opposed to the human body’s innate daily (or “circadian”) rhythms. Such rotation runs against research confirming that the human body, without external cues such as sunlight to reset the biological clock, naturally drifts forward to later hours each day.

This natural proclivity means that someone on a counterclockwise rotation finds adjusting to the night shift exceedingly difficult and often experiences reduced alertness and chronic fatigue. The harmful effect of counterclockwise rotation contributes to what is known as “industrial jet lag” because it gives the employees the sensation of constantly crossing time zones from west to east.

#2 - Three Crews Covering Seven Days of Work/ Weekend Warrior Crews
Having three crews cover seven days of work — a schedule common at plants that have converted from 5-day to 7-day operations — presents a related fatigue problem. When you regularly ask or require employees to work overtime, you make it difficult for them to develop regular sleep patterns, not to mention the havoc it can play with their social lives. Moreover, they become more fatigued and prone to human error, leading to costly accidents, injuries, and poor-quality production. Weekend warrior crews, while less fatigued, typically cost more, have unacceptably high turnover rates, and are generally inefficient due to lack of skills and experience.

How do you know if your scheduling system is a lemon?

Some of the most obvious signs include workers who show up late for work, arrive at work tired, or fall asleep on the job.

Another red flag is a disproportionate number of accidents that occur during the overnight shift and with rotating crews. The period from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. is the most difficult time to stay alert, so you should pay close attention to any indications that employees are unable to perform effectively and safely during these hours.

You also should be aware of changes within your workforce that may affect how well workers adapt to working shifts. Examples include an increasing proportion of younger employees with family demands, an aging workforce, an increasing number of single parents, changes in business conditions requiring more overtime, and the increasing automation of shiftworkers’ jobs.

Other warning signs, such as unacceptably high absenteeism or rising health care costs, should also be taken seriously, although they should be scrutinized closely because the scheduling system alone may not be to blame.

Don’t Accept a Bad Schedule

Although a poorly designed schedule can cause serious problems, including low morale, absenteeism, increased accidents, family stress, and impaired health, to name just a few, many companies stick with their current schedules out of inertia. The attitude of “We’ve always done it this way, so why should we change?” often prevails, even when a scheduling change would alleviate these problems.

Investigating a New Shift Schedule?

There are good and bad ways to change shift schedules. The worst way is for management to select and mandate a new schedule with limited employee involvement. Our data shows that facilities with mandated schedules on average have the highest absenteeism and turnover rates and worst employee morale of all other selection methods.

Similarly, task team and benchmarking approaches often fail to achieve consensus and frequently overlook critical issues that arise from implementing the schedule change, which creates costly oversights and negative employee reactions.

Changing schedules isn’t simply a matter of researching some alternatives on which to vote on. The reality is that a schedule change is a highly complex and volatile issue that can easily become divisive and counterproductive if not developed properly.

CIRCADIAN® and Win-Win Scheduling

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 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.

Before risking the problems that are associated with poorly-implemented schedule changes, see how CIRCADIAN can help. Please click here for more information or call 1-800-284-5001.


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