Before you jump to conclusions, the title of this blog post isn’t implying that employees shouldn’t be given rest and lunch breaks. Yes, providing rest and lunch breaks costs money. It is an investment. It is an investment that is made to ensure the welfare – the health and safety – of employees is maintained. Ultimately, the health of a company is directly related to the health of its employees.
So, what am I talking about? The bottom line is that rest and lunch breaks are poorly supervised, poorly planned, poorly scheduled, and just plain poorly executed by most companies. The typical 10-minute break often turns into 15 minutes, and the 30-minute lunch turns into 35 minutes. In many environments, employees slow down in anticipation of taking the break, and it takes time for them (or their machinery) to get back up to speed once they return from their breaks. In a typical 8-hour day, there is an hour or more of idle labor being paid by the company. That’s 12.5% idle labor.
Now imagine if your total wages are $10 million. That means that breaks and lunches can be costing $1.25 million. This is not an easy problem to solve. If it were, companies around the world wouldn’t be experiencing it, and I wouldn’t be talking about it. So, how does it get fixed? There is no one right answer, but it starts with scheduling.
One of the more unique solutions I have implemented in manufacturing environments is to create half shift overlaps to bring entire groups of people in to relieve half shifts for lunch. This solution also helps solve the shift overlap created by having unpaid lunch periods. Some people who work this type of schedule call it the one shift solution because it seems that everyone is connected to everyone else around the clock.
I continue to be amazed every time I walk into a new client at the amount of idle time created. In some environments, it is easier to control because it is noticeable when someone is “missing.” In others, it isn’t as obvious. Customer contact centers (call centers) have by far the best control, but they have two things to their advantage. They use software, and everyone is required to plug into that software from the minute they arrive to work until they go home. Everything that an employee does can be monitored – it has to be because payroll is the single most significant expense in customer service centers. Advancements in scheduling software and monitoring of employees are improving dramatically. This level of control (control can have a negative connotation, but in this case, it is incredibly positive to be consistent and a good steward of business resources) can be achieved in almost any environment.
At the end of the day, doing a better job with breaks and lunches not only saves the company money, for employees it might mean getting done on time for the day, not having to make up work on the weekend, or simply feeling like everyone is treated fairly and no one or two people are taking advantage of policies. At the end of the day, it circles back to maintaining the health and welfare and morale of the most crucial asset companies have – their people.