Making shift assignments
April 29, 2013
It's human nature to not like change. There are a lot of reasons for this, among the biggest is the fear of the unknown. People "know" what's going on now. They "know" how things work. Anything different is an unknown.
A schedule change is probably the biggest change your workforce will go through in a generation. As you might expect, there will be some resistance. About 5% of your workforce will resist simply because its in their nature to be negative. The other 95% will have varying degrees of concern; almost all of which will be centered around not knowing, with complete clarity, what is going to happen.
What will the new pattern do to their lifestyle? How much money will they make? What opportunities, if any, will they lose when the change is made? Will they still get all of their benefits? What will happen to vacation? Can they be on the same, or different, shift as their spouse?
This list goes on an on. Your goal should be to create transparency. The more open and informative your process is, the less stress will be put on your workforce.
The one statement that you don't want to hear is - "That is not fair."
This is not a statement that comes from change and not "knowing." This is a statement that often comes from complete understanding. This is not a statement about "change". This is a value statement; one which must be closely investigated as soon as it comes up.
Why? Because whoever said it might have a point.
No other issue is more likely to bring up the idea of "fairness" than shift assignments.
If you go from a 3-crew, 5-day schedule to a 4-crew, 24/7 schedule, you will have to redistribute your workforce. When this happens, people will first become concerned that they will not be assigned to the shift they want. Once they know their shift assignment, their internal "jury" will take over. This jury is not concerned with whether or not they got the shift they wanted. This jury is only concerned about fairness.
For example, take two employees. Both want to be assigned to the Day shift. Employee #1 started last week. Employee #2 started 30 years ago and is the most senior person at the plant.
If both of these are assigned to the Night shift, they will have very different reactions. Neither wanted to go to nights, but employee #1 understands how being new means he won't get his first choice. Meanwhile, employee #2 is going to march straight to the H.R. office and say the dreaded, "This is not fair."
Without getting into the multitude of ways to assign shifts, I am going to list a few guidelines that, if followed, will greatly reduce the instances of "not fair" resulting from your schedule change project.
- Do not realign the entire plant. There will be those that say, "Every job is being changed so we should all be allowed to bid for every job in the facility regardless of whether or not we are trained for the job." This position needs to be confronted with the practical and economic reality of shutting down the facility to potentially retrain 100% of your workforce. It's not going to happen.
- Minimize change. If someone is on a particular shift, they have the first right to stay on that shift. A person on an 8-hour day shift should have first shot at staying on day shift, even if that shift is going to 12-hours, regardless of seniority. This is easier than you may think since going to 12's will generally result in twice as many day shift positions.
- A typical policy statement will include language like "We will use seniority among those that are currently in the department followed by seniority among those that are outside the department but already trained to do the work."
- Use seniority whenever possible. This is a very defensible position (as opposed to making assignments alphabetically or by height or shoe size.) Seniority, while important, should not override all other considerations such as current skill set or shift assignment. Typically, it is used as the tie-breaker.
- Do not allow bumping unless a job is eliminated. Bumping means that I can take your job because I'm senior or more qualified. In this instance, there is a clear winner and loser. The loser will then go bump someone else who then bumps someone else. Don't do it.
- Once the dust has settled, you may find that one shift is particularly weak and needs a senior person from one of the more desirable shifts. This may result in your taking a senior person and putting them on a shift that they normally wouldn't be assigned to. If this happens, take that person aside and explain that you need their help. Also, tell them what you will be working on to rectify the situation (including how long they should expect to be on the undesirable shift). You will be pleasantly surprised at how helpful people are willing to be if you don't simply take their compliance for granted.
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