Find Out the Hidden Benefits of Optimising Staff Hours

March 11, 20168:46 am340 views

When did you last look at your shift patterns? 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 demands, and avoid industrial unrest 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 probably they wouldn’t meet compliance regulations either, 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 wellbeing of your workforce.

Be Prepared to Negotiate

“The single biggest factor when making changes to working patterns is to understand 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,” said Robert Ayers, Group Customer Account Manager, Imperago.

If you want to change workers’ terms and conditions, you will have to be prepared to negotiate. Introducing staff friendly shifts and work patterns that allow weekends off such as to ensure that the staff receive two rest days together, and adequate breaks from work can prove to be a great bargaining proposition.

Such working patterns also keep the unions happy and help them comply with working time regulations, while meeting 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 also augmented by some hidden benefits, which should also form part of your business case,” Ayers added.

Fatigue Management

There have been countless studies that link many elements of poor performance with fatigue. Fatigue increases the likelihood of errors and adversely affects performance especially in tasks that require vigilance and monitoring, decision making, awareness, faster response time, tracking ability and memory.

Fatigued staffs often do not adequately perceive risk, and might choose to tolerate risks, that they would usually find unacceptable. This leads to lower standards of performance and safety.

See: Employees in S’pore seek more leave days over flexible working hours: Survey

While the causes of fatigue can include many lifestyle elements, over which an employer has little control, there are also work related factors. These include timing of work hours and resting periods, length and number of consecutive work duties, intensity of work demands.

Working patterns should provide workable staff shifts that will ensure staffers get sufficient breaks during the day, and have enough time off between work to recover, such as to ensure 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 will 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,” suggests Ayers.

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 you 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.

This kind of detailed examination on the number of working hours required 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. By changing working patterns from a traditional 4 on 4 off arrangement to a rotating pattern meant that business requirements were met each day with no overtime shifts and no over rostering.

“Optimising your workforce doesn’t have to be as painful as you might imagine. With the right tools you can reap rewards, a refreshed and motivated workforce, and be able to provide great customer service, with cost savings as well,” Ayers concluded.

Also read: Working hours: Get a Life

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