When did you last look at your shift patterns? Robert Ayers, group customer account manager at Imperago, says there are hidden benefits to proactive planning.
Do your current shift patterns really meet the requirements of your business? When did you last evaluate them? For many organisations this is just too painful to contemplate. Yet in today’s complex 24/7 business environment where requirements are changing all the time you need to find a way to keep your workforce agile, to meet demand, and avoid industrial unrest that so often results when you try to change working practices.
Many software systems can tell you the most efficient shift patterns, but your staff simply wouldn’t work them, and they probably wouldn’t meet compliance regulations, take account of staff fatigue, work/life balance and the unions would never agree. Experience tells us that it takes considerable skill to balance meeting the requirements of the business efficiently without upsetting the unions or compromising the well-being of your workforce.
Be prepared to negotiate
The single biggest factor when making changes to working patterns is, understandably, how will the staff react? Helping staff to manage work life balance can make all the difference between a happy and engaged workforce, willing to go the extra mile, and serious disruptions to the business due to industrial action. The recent tube strikes in London are largely about the introduction of all night services.
If you want to change workers’ terms and conditions you have to be prepared to negotiate. Introducing staff-friendly shifts and work patterns that give weekends off as often as possible, ensuring that staff receive two rest days together and that they have adequate breaks from work are a great bargaining chip. Such working patterns also keep the unions happy, comply with working time regulations, and they meet business requirements.
Taking a more proactive approach to planning work patterns will help your organisation become more efficient, more profitable, and protect your brand’s reputation. However, the story doesn’t end there – these commercial benefits are augmented by hidden benefits, which should also form part of your business case.
There have been countless studies that link many elements of poor performance with fatigue. Fatigue increases the likelihood of errors and adversely affects performance (HSE booklet HSG256, Managing shift work – health and safety guidance) especially in tasks requiring vigilance and monitoring, decision making, awareness, fast reaction time, tracking ability and memory.
Fatigued staff often don’t adequately perceive risk, and may tolerate risks they would usually find unacceptable, leading to lower standards of performance and safety. While the causes of fatigue can include lifestyle elements, over which an employer has little control, there are also work-related factors. These include: timing of working and resting periods, length and number of consecutive work duties, and intensity of work demands.
Working patterns need to provide workable staff shifts and rotas that will ensure staff get sufficient breaks during the day, and have enough time off to recover, so they are fully refreshed when they return to work.
Start with a clean sheet
Going beyond conventional wisdom when it comes to devising work patterns for staff can also result in cost savings. Starting with a clean sheet sounds like it’ll be hugely disruptive, however, if you look at the scenarios you need to plan for, peaks and troughs in demand, and what staff levels and skills mixes you need to support that demand, the patterns will soon start to build. Take into account hourly rates, overtime, use of temporary staff, service level agreements, customer satisfaction surveys and unit outputs.
Armed with this information and a workforce design tool, and you can design work patterns that exactly meet your requirements which can then be implemented by your existing workforce management systems.
Another point that is often overlooked is the need to provide adequate coverage within working patterns for leave, such as holidays, sickness and training. For example, if you have a team of 150 staff in a warehouse operation all with 28 days holiday and an average absence of 6.9 days (based on recently published figures) that’s 5,235 days that you already need to cover. That equates to just over 20 full time equivalents. This can’t be covered by staff working extra hours or overtime, and assuming or hoping that it can simply results in stress and fatigue. Having a system to manage hours that includes coverage in the equation builds resilience and flexibility into the workforce. In my experience very few people ever consider this but it’s a big factor.
This kind of detailed examination of what hours are required when to meet demand, can save significant amounts. For example, one organisation that we worked with had a peak hour on a Friday afternoon which was previously covered by everyone on shift doing an extra hour of overtime. Changing working patterns from a traditional four on four off arrangement to a rotating pattern meant that business requirements were met each day with no overtime shifts and no over-rostering. This change saved the organisation £140,000 per year AND staff benefited from a better rest to work ratio. Which begs the question, what other similar scenarios are there lurking in less-than-efficient working practices?
Optimising your workforce needn’t be as painful as you might imagine. With the right tools you can reap all these rewards: a refreshed and motivated workforce, better able to provide great customer service, and cost savings as well.