When should your shifts start?

August 4, 2019

As a Plant Manager or Human Resources Manager, in a shiftwork operation, you've certainly heard "Everyone that I know wants to start the shifts at such-and-such a time."  You hear this but the question is - What do you do about it?

Should you survey the workforce and let them choose?  Do you have your own idea that possibly is soundly based on a ceratin business nees?  Can you have multiple shift times?  Can you try one time and then a different time and see which people like best?

This can be a complicated issue.  It can also have a profound impact on how your workforce views their workplace.  If you "impose" a start time then expect to hear a lot of "What we want doesn't matter."  If you leave it up to them, then be ready fro them to choose something outside of your comfort zone as a manager.

I would like to make two simple points with this blog.  

The first point is, it is always a good idea to look for ways that the workforce can control their work environment.  Letting them choose something as small as a start time for their shift says, "We, as a company, believe that you know best what start time works for you.  You pick it and we'll support it."  This is a great message.

The second point is to make sure that you will be okay with what they choose.  This is true with start times or lunch menus or whatever you want them to pick.  

My rule of thumb on start times is that the Day shift shouldn't start any earlier than 6:00 am.  If you think this is a good idea (read below) then you would make that a condition when you let them pick a start time.

So, what's wrong with starting before 6:00 am?  Most 8-hour operations have the day shift start between 6:00 am and 7:00 am. The afternoon shift would start 8 hours later; the night shift, 8 hours earlier. For 12-hour shifts, employee preferences for start times tend to be about 30 minutes earlier than their preferences for 8-hour shifts. So, if you are on an 8-hour schedule that has a day shift that starts at 6:30 am, expect the workforce to want a 6:00 am start time for 12-hour shifts.

Our research has shown that employees starting at 6:00 am get about 20 minutes less sleep per night than those starting at 7:00 am. Before you run out and change your schedule, consider the following: (1) shiftworkers are typically locked into whatever start time you currently have. They will resist change. (2) The later the day shift starts, the later the night shift gets off. This is the trade-off. Ideally, a night shift would end early enough to allow the night shift to get home before the sun comes out. This means getting off earlier rather than later.