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  • Frank Pereira

Does a "Best" Shift Length Exist?

Whether you work in the mining industry or the service industry one thing is certain, you work on a schedule. One of the defining characteristics about every schedule is shift length. Eight’s, ten’s, twelve’s, is one really better than the other? Is there a “best” shift length? The answer is it depends. The only way to achieve the most ideal shift schedule is to consider Business Needs, Employee Desires, and Health & Safety equally, as portrayed in Coleman Consulting Group’s Three Circles diagram. Only after taking these three factors into consideration can a “best” schedule be achieved.

Business drivers might include the difficulty and length of breakdowns and shutdowns, legal requirements (such as state specific overtime laws), or specific job lengths. Business needs can also be driven by a need to change such as a need to increase production volume, or a reduction in labor costs.

Employee drivers are specific to the workforce. The number one benefit people are looking for with an alternative shift is more days off. The only way to get more days off with the same paycheck is to work more hours in the day. A classic example is the “four-ten” proposition, where two hours more of work each day gets you an additional day off per week, or fifty more days off per year with the same paycheck. Twelve hour shifts are the typical extreme, where three or four days a week achieves a forty-hour paycheck. But, longer shifts are not for everyone. The additional hours of work each reduce an individual’s personal time on the actual workday. This is the trade-off: more days off or more time off on the workday. There is no right choice - it is all about preference.

Finally, one must consider the health & safety implications. Longer shifts are no better or worse than shorter shifts. The key is to consider the overall level of work. Coleman Consulting Group's normative database of over 300,000 employees strongly supports the idea that workweeks of less than fifty hours have a limited effect on productivity, safety, turnover, and lost-time accidents. However, when the long-term schedule exceeds 50 hours a week, the “wheels will start to come off the wagon”. Other issues such as start times, break/lunch strategies, type of work, and day-on day-off patterns are also contributing factors to employee health & safety.

In the end, determining the right shift length requires careful consideration and weighing of many factors. Coleman Consulting Group’s Three Circle approach will help break down the key issues and make this decision manageable.

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