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  • Marco Juarez

What is the Best Schedule?

The question I am repeatedly asked as a shift schedule consultant is, “What is the best schedule?” I have an answer to that question, but most of the time I like to turn the question around and ask, “What do you think the best schedule might be?”

The conversation usually progresses like this:

Shift Worker: 8-hour shifts Monday through Friday!

Me: So, if I schedule you for 8-hour shifts all the time Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, you would be happy?

Shift Worker: No, I would rather work 6:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Shift Worker #2: Four tens is much better.

Me: So, you would work 10-hour shifts Friday through Monday?

Shift Worker #2: No, I want to work Monday through Thursday.

Me: Okay. And no overtime?

Shift Worker #1: No, I want some overtime but only if I sign up for it.

Me: What if the schedule you want requires you to work overtime half the weekends out of the year?

Shift Worker #1: I’m okay with that.

Shift Worker #2: I don’t like that at all.

So which one is the better schedule? After about 30 more minutes of conversation and illustrating several other options with shifts ranging from six to twelve hours, I can be reasonably sure that neither shift worker will be quite sure that his original answer is the right answer.

After 19 years of shift schedule consulting, I can confidently say the same thing Dr. Coleman, our founder, said, “I don’t know what the best schedule is, but I certainly know what a bad one looks like.” These are the sure signs of a bad schedule:

  1. Employee turnover is high and no matter what you do to improve turnover, it just doesn’t work.

  2. Employees call in sick so much that a large number are at risk of termination.

  3. Employee morale is low and employees openly grumble about their schedules often and loudly.

  4. The business is becoming less and less productive and measures to improve don’t seem to take hold.

What does a good schedule look like? At one major employer in Warroad, Minnesota a good schedule resulted in so many employees leaving their corporate daytime jobs to return to shift work positions that the company had to suspend job transfers out of the corporate office. At a unionized facility in California, more than 80% of the membership voted for a good non-traditional schedule that resulted in extensive changes to their long-standing collective bargaining agreement. At a paint manufacturer in Cleveland. almost all the employees got their first choice of shift when new schedules were implemented. At a brand new ceramic tile plant in Tennessee, employees were quickly hired, trained, and retained to take the plant to full 7 day operation under budget.

I love it when employees shake my hand and thank me for getting them a good schedule. I’m sure their families appreciate good schedules even more.

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