February 24, 2013
Let's cut right to the chase on this one: Should supervisors be on the same schedule as the people that they supervise?
The answer is unequivocally - YES.
Supervisors have one of the most complicated tasks at any facility. This comes from having to wear two hats at the same time. They are managers and must support the goals and processes that come down from above. They are also managers in change of the productivity, safety and well-being of those underneath them.
To do this, the supervisors need consistency. The need to work for the same people so they are getting a consistent message from above. They also need to have people working for them that they know. They need to know who needs extra supervision and who can work well independently; who will perform better when verbally praised and who only works under the threat of sanction. The more often a supervisor matches the workload of his or her crew, the more they know those that work under them.
Equally important is the view from below. People need to know what is expected of them. In large part, this expectation comes directly from their supervisor. You don't want an operator saying, "Well, Bob wants me to do it this way and Sue wants me to do it that way so I guess I'd better wait and see who shows up to be my boss today."
There is also the need for accountability. A supervisor cannot be expected to be accountable to a shift that he or she is only supervising part time.
There is broad acceptance of this idea, so why spend so much time on it?
There are a couple of reasons...
First, companies often find resistance from the workforce when they try to change schedules. This can be significant. If you don't think so, change your shift start times by 15 minutes and see what happens; then imagine what would happen if you went from a 5-day to a 7-day schedule. To "soften" the blow, supervisor schedules may be changed first. They go from a 3-crew, 8-hour schedule to a 4-crew, 7-day schedule. This change immediately gives the supervisors 78 more days off per year than the 5-day schedule. The idea is for the workforce to see all of the newly happy supervisors and think "Hey, I gotta get me some of that."
The problem is, that this "demonstration" can go on for some time. There is often no objective way to see how far the workforce has swung towards wanting a change. Furthermore, if the desired effect is not achieved, you will run into supervisor complaints if you try to take their new and improved schedule away from them. I don't want to imply that this strategy cannot work. I just want to say, "be careful" when you do it.
Some companies will shy away from the trend of longer shifts for more days off. They may want to go to a 7-day schedule but using 8-hour shifts instead of 12-hour shifts. Mathematically, you have two choices here. If you go to 8-hour shifts, and you want the supervisors to match the employee crews, then the schedule will have to rotate. Or, and additionally due to math, you can have fixed shifts but the supervisor schedule will not match the crew schedule. (Give me a call if you want more details on this one).
I have done nothing but work with companies to help them evaluate, design and implement shift schedules for the last 25 years. It has been my experience that the supervisor component is one of the most important and most overlooked contributors to the success or failure of such a change.