May 3, 2008

Shift Schedules: rotation

Another important aspect of scheduling is whether to rotate or fix the shifts . . . and if you rotate, how fast you rotate. (With fixed shifts, an individual worker would always work at a given time of day--day, evening, or night. Rotating schedules have every employee work each shift some of the time.)

Fixed shifts are often popular in unionized settings, where seniority systems can be used in determining shift assignments. The advantage of a fixed shift is that it disrupts the sleeping patterns of fewer people. However, we hasten to point out that the night shift workers usually rotate to a daytime schedule on their days off, so they don't get all of the benefits of a fixed schedule.

A drawback of fixed shifts is that there are people who are never on duty at the same time as daytime managers. This can create communication problems. Also, in the absence of an established seniority system, questions of fairness arise. Depending on the labor market, you will probably also have to offer shift differential.

In our experience, managers tend to prefer rotating shifts. Many workers prefer them, too, because they seem inherently more fair.

How fast do you rotate? Two weeks is usually a good rotation. That does not mean shiftworkers should work 14 straight night shifts. There are some schedules that call for working as many as six night shifts in a row, but in general, people find it hard to work more than four night shifts in a row. When you rotate longer than two weeks, you typically increase tardiness and absenteeism on the night shifts.

Related posts about shift schedules on the
National Shiftwork Information Center:
*Management tips for improving shiftwork schedules
*Shift scheduling: length of shift and predictability
*Shiftwork schedule factors: work-rest ratios and predictability
* Shiftwork schedule factors: speed and direction of rotation
*Shiftwork schedules: fixed or rotating

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