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Scheduling Basics

Design a scheduling framework to meet the demands

Now that you’ve arrived at the number of employees needed for each time period, it’s time to design a framework for building the actual schedules. This is the step where the number of shifts, length of shifts, and rotation patterns are defined, as well as the scheme of days on/off. We call this framework a schedule plan, which serves as a blue print to build work schedules.

If your operation requires 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7) coverage, you are doing shiftwork scheduling. In this case, you must pay special attention to shiftwork fatigue and shift rotation when designing a schedule plan to provide fair and equitable work schedules to all employees. The critical component in a 24/7 schedule plan is the number of teams (teams and crews are used interchangeably herein) needed to cover the work demand. For scheduling purposes, team members are assigned to work the same shift and rotation patterns (i.e. team members have the same days on, days off, and rotation schedule). The number of teams dictates the average number of hours worked by each employee. For example, there are 8,736 hours (364 days per year x 24 hours per day) to be worked in continuous 24/7 operations. If you use four teams then each team member must work an average of 2,184 hours per year (8,736 hours / 4 teams) or 42 hours (2,184 hours / 52 weeks) per week. Plans employing 4 teams are very popular in 24/7 operations because they closely approximate the 40-hour workweek and provide an optimal balance between work, health and safety, and social demands. The fairest way to schedule employees in a 24/7 environment is to design a schedule in which employees are rotated between shifts.

Most traditional businesses use 8 x 5 schedules in which each person works 8-hour shifts for five consecutive days with weekends off. Other variations such as four 10-hour days, 12-hour days, three 13-hour days, or compressed work week schedules are offered as alternatives.

You must also take into account other constraints when selecting the shift length and the pattern of days on/off. Federal regulations, union, and company rules may restrict the number of consecutive work days and hours worked or require a minimum rest period between assignments.

While designing a scheduling framework may be time consuming, a well designed schedule plan will save you money and boost employee morale. There is no universal scheduling plan that works for every situation. Having worked with all kinds of schedules, we have found dozens of shift schedules that are commonly used by the vast majority of businesses. We have categorized and described each one in detail to help you find, evaluate, and select a schedule plan that best fits your requirements. Unless your operation is one of a kind, chances are you will find one that fits your needs. If not, it is much easier to start with the one closest to your needs and tweak it to your liking, rather than starting from scratch. Click here to view a list of pre-designed schedule plans. Refer to Scheduling Examples for articles on how to create schedule plans for special situations.

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