How difficult can it be to divide your available workforce into shifts? Easy enough perhaps? But beware the pitfalls! This article takes a closer look at what makes shift planning tricky and seven common mistakes to avoid when doing so.
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So, what is shift work exactly?
Working shifts means that your staff are assigned to work at varying times but according to a set schedule. The schedule may vary from week to week or month to month. In short, it involves flexibility.
Organizations that operate 24/7 most commonly work shifts, for example, manufacturing companies where production lines are staffed and run around the clock. This is why staff work shifts and hand ongoing work over to the next group of workers at the end of their shift.
Are there different types of shift work systems?
Broadly speaking, there are four types of shift work. In practice, however, you’ll find countless variations on these four main themes:
- two-shift work – two shifts per day, generally an early and late shift but no night shift
- three-shift work – three eight-hour shifts per day for 24-hour operations, generally an early, a late, and a night shift from Monday to Friday, resulting in a 40-hour work week
- four-shift work – four six-hour shifts per day for 24-hour operations, over six weekdays, resulting in a 36-hour work week
- five-shift work – five shifts working three 8-hour stints for 24/7 operations.
What makes shift planning so tricky?
First and foremost, you have to comply with all your country’s prevailing labor regulations. For example, in the Netherlands, no one is allowed to work more than 36 night shifts in any 16-week period, more than 7 night shifts in a row, or more than 140 night shifts per year. In other countries, other rules may apply.
Naturally, you’ll also have to take into account your employees personal lives. Planning is important because staff often have to work at times when their friends and family are off work. All in all, it can be quite a puzzle putting together a schedule that works for everyone concerned.
What’s more, it’s important to create a healthy balance of morning, day, and night shifts. After all, chopping and changing someone’s sleep patterns is never going to be beneficial for their health and wellbeing, not to mention their productivity. However, too little variation means that certain shifts can become less popular and harder to fill.
Common mistakes to avoid when shift planning
Personnel getting disgruntled, perhaps? Or wondering whether there’s a more efficient way to plan your shifts? Spot and avoid these common scheduling mistakes!
1. Communicating last-minute
Sharing the schedule with your personnel at the very last minute is a sure-fire way to bring productivity to a grinding halt. That’s why some countries even have rules about when to issue work schedules. For example, you have to announce work schedules in the Netherlands at least 28 days in advance. But regardless of any specific rule, it’s always better to release your schedule as far in advance as possible. Doing so gives your staff more time to plan their personal lives without having to stall friends and family with the excuse that they don’t have their schedule yet, or cancel appointments last-minute because they’ve only just received their schedule.
Failing to give sufficient notice can be highly detrimental to staff morale, staff turnover, and company culture.
2. Failing to reward staff
Certain shifts are always going to be more popular than others while some will always be difficult to fill. For example, weekend shifts are never popular. It’s worthwhile showing extra appreciation to anyone subbing for someone else at the weekend or on an unpopular shift by giving them a popular shift next month. And assigning someone to a ‘popular shift’ often works well as a small bonus or reward for high performance.
3. Creating inefficient teams
You’ll often have to change how you put together shifts but not every team composition works effectively or efficiently. As with any team, a shift can sometimes become dysfunctional if certain skills are scarce or absent altogether. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have the right mix of people working each shift.
And skills matrices help you achieve just this. Matrices allow you to spot at a glance which skills are available, scarce, or missing, and whether you have the right mix or balance.
4. Neglecting to create a backup plan
You can never predict when someone’s going to be off work. However much you invest in their wellbeing and create a workplace in which they can discuss issues with you, staff will always need time off due to illness or personal problems.
This is when you need to have a backup plan or list of suitable replacements. If you’re using skills management software, it’s quick and easy (and objective) to find the most suitable replacement.
5. Failing to plan for peak periods
Many sectors have peak work periods at certain times of the year. Fortunately, these peak periods are usually very predictable, which is why leaving your planning to the last minute is simply asking for trouble. It results in unnecessary overtime, stress, negativity, and absenteeism. You’re far better off anticipating your additional requirements well in advance by creating a flex pool of standby personnel to handle peak workloads.
6. Ignoring changing conditions
Rigidly scheduling the same staff to the same shifts regardless of whether they had or still have the right skills is also asking for trouble. However, it’s a pitfall that’s less easily spotted.
There are many reasons why staff skills may no longer match the tasks at hand, for example, new equipment and machinery, digitalization, automation, or shifting business objectives. That’s why it’s important for companies to invest in strategic staff planning. Doing so allows them to predict future staffing requirements and skill sets, and proactively plan their upskilling & reskilling programs or recruitment & selection drives.
7. Neglecting your staff’s work-life balance
It’s difficult enough scheduling and assigning the right staff to each shift but it’s equally important not to overlook the human factor when shift planning. Working too many consecutive night or unpopular shifts is detrimental to your staff’s health and wellbeing. Poor sleep patterns lead to reduced focus, which in turn leads to reduced productivity and potentially even workplace incidents. So, keep a close eye on individual staff members and make sure they maintain a healthy balance of time on and off shift.
Use smart software!
All in all, it can be quite a puzzle putting together a schedule because there are so many factors to take into account. And all your careful planning can feel like it’s for nothing when someone calls in sick at the last moment. We understand what a challenge this can be for you.
Fortunately, there are all sorts of smart tools and software available to help you deal with these eventualities.
Take for example AG5’s software!
- find replacements and extra staff quickly and easily for peak periods
- spot at a glance which skills are available, scarce, or missing
- pass audits with flying colors with every piece of relevant documentation at your fingertips
Find out how it works!