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Planning and Scheduling: The Impact of Trends in Shift Management

by Jack Rubinger


Know who has a lot of irons in the fire? Industrial production managers. They are responsible for mistakes, accidents, injuries, theft, security and asset management. This is the person who will have answers to questions like, “Where’s the pallet jack?”

The industrial production manager is in charge of day-to-day team performance, making sure it all works together as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, all while turning out a quality product.

They are also responsible for shift management. Their goals:

  • Making sure production numbers are hit.
  • Maintaining safety.
  • Handling absenteeism.

“The shift production manager is responsible for protecting employees and workplace hazards. If the manager identifies safety or health hazards at the work site and cannot eliminate or control them, then the manager has a responsibility to notify upper management and management on other shifts of the hazard,” explains Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. He headed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 2006 to 2008 and is a partner in the law firm of Fisher & Phillips.

We’re seeing a transformation in shifts and managing shifts in industrial facilities. From a worker’s perspective, there’s a desire for greater leeway. From management’s perspective, happier employees equal greater productivity and less costly retraining.

Let’s look at some examples. At a veterinary practice, the receptionists are pretty autonomous. The doctors who run the practice just want to know there is a warm body to handle the customers, check animals in and out, and close out billings at the end of the day. The self-ruling approach goes a long way in retaining office employees, often for 20 years and more.

On the industrial side, there’s Tim Agee from International Paper, who has been with his group for about seven years. His approach is to keep the mill running until the day shift maintenance crew arrives. Shifts run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

“Everyone is usually relieved about 30 minutes early to discuss jobs completed or not completed and work orders not started. If it is an emergency, it will be determined if it can wait for day shift maintenance to come in or if extra manpower needs to be called in immediately,” says Agee. “This way, we share intelligence and exchange ideas.

“Every shop and control room has whiteboards in them to pass on information. Also, we have labels and warnings on floors, doors and walls, and instructions on how to avoid problems and accidents.”

By posting weekly shift schedules in advance, workers have the time and space to accommodate corrections. “A thing as simple as changing a shift start time can feel like a catastrophic event to an unprepared workforce. How will they get their kids to school? Their carpool won’t wait for them. They can’t take that night class they’ve been thinking about. People have myriad responsibilities, activities and interests that will be affected by any change in their work schedules. Every possible conflict can be blown up into an unsolvable problem,” warns Jim Dillingham of Shiftwork Solutions. He consults with companies on employee involvement, asset utilization and managing overtime.

Types of shifts include:

  • Traditional, eight-hour shifts and a separate weekend shift.
  • Rotating shifts, where employees work days one week, evenings the next week, the midnight shift the third week and have the fourth week off.
  • Off-shifts or night shifts. These shifts are favored by workers who want to save money on childcare. At night, there are no meetings, no politics and more independence.
  • Long shifts, such as 12 hours a day for four days, with four days off.
  • Overlapping shifts. Overlapping provides double coverage during transitions so some workers can be involved in passing on information, while others continue the safe operation of the facility or equipment. Also, safety and other training can be scheduled during times when shifts overlap so two shifts can be trained at once.

“At Manitowoc Ice, we have found it easiest to retain our employees by primarily running a one-shift only operation. When we are creating fewer machines than orders, our operators will work overtime to keep up with demand. We are a union shop and this was all negotiated within our contracts,” says Kassie Freckmann, Manufacturing Engineer Technician at Manitowoc, which manufactures ice making machines.

Overlapping shifts may not always make sense, in particular a three shift operation where overlapping shifts mean the overlap is done on overtime. There’s also a possibility of overcrowding, with more people in a workspace than the workspace is designed to accommodate.

“Shift overlap is nearly always wasteful,” says Dillingham. “Suppose a company has a single, eight-hour shift that grows into three shifts. Each shift, including lunch, is 8.5 hours, which results in a 30-minute overlap between shifts. Since lunch is not paid, the overlap is actually straight time. People have the overlap because they don’t know how to get rid of it. They pretend that it adds value when it does not.”

Shift management trends are emerging. Among them:

  • People are getting away from 24/7 schedules that have rotating or eight-hour shifts. Why? Because eights have to rotate to work well and 12s offer way more days off.
  • Companies are staying away from weekend warrior crews. They are easy to put in, but about 60 percent as productive as weekday crews. They cost more and have high turnover, poorer quality and more safety issues.
  • Today, more effort is being made to get overtime to the people who want it and less forcing on the people who don’t.
  • Once upon a time, only companies “born” into 24/7 ran 24/7. Examples include refineries, chemical plants, or other companies that could not afford to easily shut down for the weekend. Today, companies go 24/7 because the cost of their equipment is going up. Automation is not cheap. As capital costs go up, companies want to get more use out of their expensive production equipment.

So what’s the future going to look like? It’s hard to say. We are living in a 24/7/365 global economy. That’s not going to change. Driven by input from production managers and shift supervisors, many companies are accommodating workers’ needs and balancing the speed necessary to fulfill customers’ demands. The communications piece of the puzzle will need to grow and improve, too.

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