2017 - Working Time in reviewWe often say that barely a week goes by without something related to Working Time hitting the headlines.

Shift patterns, rosters and workforce planning and management issues lie at the heart of many common challenges facing organisations in the public and private sectors. 

Looking back at 2017, many of these key themes were highlighted in news stories throughout the year:

  • January (Managing seasonality): It’s becoming an annual tradition that the first month of the year sees E-commerce organisations report record sales, much of which is driven by Black Friday and the festive trading period. This spike often creates significant challenges around labour undersupply, managing a temporary ‘peak’ workforce, overworking and Working Time Regulation breaches. We explored the issues in more detail in our article here and looked at how Demand-Led Rostering could help businesses with shift workers to optimise and support their core workforce whilst reducing reliance on expensive overtime and temporary workers.
  • February (Skills gaps): This month saw the Launch of Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership’s Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy, focusing attention on how the skills gap and ageing workforce could harm this vital sector’s prospects. It highlighted the need to explore new ways of attracting the next generation of talent, whilst also looking to retain experienced employees. In our blog (and subsequent article published in Utility Week) we looked at how Utilities companies can ensure their modernisation programmes create flexible, adaptable, and responsive shift patterns that support wider recruitment and retention efforts.
  • March (Challenging roles): Gerry Egan, chief executive of the College of Paramedics published an article this month following the National Audit Office’s report into NHS ambulance services. It highlights how the stressful nature of constant demand, lengthy and extended shifts and lack of meal breaks combine with other factors to cause Paramedics to leave the ambulance service. Addressing these issues was at the heart of our Roster Review Ambulance Forum event and the positive outcomes of our approach highlighted in the case study of our work with South Western Ambulance Service.
  • April (Controlling labour costs): The start of the new financial year also marked the first anniversary of the implementation of the National Living Wage, which saw a further 4% increase from £7.20 to £7.50 an hour. We took the opportunity to remind employers that maintaining optimised shift patterns could help offset these labour cost increases and provide protection against costly and reputationally damaging legislation breaches.
  • May (Zero hours contracts): This month saw reports that the government’s Employment Tsar Matthew Taylor was set to recommend a major change to zero-hours contracts that would see employees given the ‘right to request’ a move onto fixed-hours contracts. Our blog highlighted that Annualised Hours could provide an alternative solution for organisations that have developed a dependency on these working arrangements to manage demand volatility. It was a topic we covered in much more depth in both our report Making Annualised Hours work for the UK' and within the evidence we submitted to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry into ‘the future world of work’.
  • June (Industrial action): In June, Birmingham’s refuse collectors first went on strike after the city council said it wanted to change shift patterns from a four-day week of nine hours to a five-day week of seven hours. The industrial action and service disruption lasted for months and cost the Council’s leader his job. The situation is another high-profile illustration of how Working Time can be a highly sensitive area of employee relations. In this article published in The Manufacturer we look at how a considered approach to employee engagement throughout the planning, design and implementation phases of a Working Time change project can support industrial relations and ensure the needs of organisations and their workforce remain aligned. 
  • July (Legislative change): This month saw an important Employment Appeal Tribunal judgement on the calculation of paid annual leave due under Working Time Regulations. It held that entirely voluntary overtime falls within the scope of Article 7 of the Working Time Directive, and therefore within the concept of “normal remuneration” for the purposes of calculating holiday pay due. The ruling should concern large workforce organisations where a dependency on overtime has become engrained. They quickly need to establish more effective working patterns that reduce their reliance on overtime, which after this (and previous judgments) is becoming potentially even more costly. July also saw the long awaited Taylor review into working practices published, which triggered this response from us. We’ll be posting a white paper on legislative drivers for change early in 2018, so register now on the Insight & Events section to ensure you can access it.
  • August (Employee wellbeing): In August a study by the Police Federation found that morale is at an all-time low with many planning to leave the service within the next two years. In response, Humberside Police said they were looking to address retention issues by improving its employees’ well-being, starting by changing their shift patterns. A spokesperson for the force said officers’ current shift patterns were “… at the centre of their problems with work-life balance and health and well-being - which are two of the biggest reasons for low morale”. You can read our thoughts on how the Police will benefit from introducing optimised, flexible and appealing patterns of work here. You can also read our recent white paper on how forward looking organisations are using shift patterns to support wellbeing and enhance employer brand.
  • September (Holiday planning): September saw Ryanair hit the headlines due to a problem managing pilot holidays which led to it having to cancel 40-50 flights every day over a six-week period. The issue arose after the business changed its holiday year period from April-March to January-December, creating a significant backlog of annual leave which needed to be taken over September and October. Our blog in response explores how we often find organisations in a similar position, with many regularly facing a peak in holiday requests as employees approach the end of the holiday year. The issue is often compounded by the fact that the surge of holiday requests from staff conflicts with the high service demand levels being experienced at the time. We also published a white paper which looks at how specialist software that sits between Airport Operating Databases and HR applications (including ERP, Time & Attendance, Access Control and Payroll) can often hold the key to ensuring organisations in air services have the capability to design, implement and manage flexible workforce rosters that respond to varying airport and airline demands.
  • October (Work-life balance): National Work Life Week (2nd - 6th October 2017) is an annual campaign organised by Working Families, a charity which helps ‘working parents, carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work’. In our blog, published to coincide with the awareness week, we looked at how the task of reaching a good work-life balance becomes significantly more challenging for those working in shift environments. It highlights that due to the diversity and complexity of factors involved, we encourage a fully engaged approach where employees co-design their new shift patterns or rosters alongside us and the organisation. This way solutions can be found that deliver benefits for all stakeholders.
  • November (Brexit labour shortages): Whilst we could have picked any month of the year to highlight workforce-related news on this topic, it was our own experience at the 2017 Food and Drink IT Summit which stood out. One of the central issues being discussed at the event was how to increase workforce flexibility in light of the potential impact Brexit may have on both labour supply and demand. The event closely followed a piece in the leading trade publication The Grocer, which highlighted the potential ‘time bomb’ food and drink manufactures face around labour availability. In our blog we explored how the industry is appraising current working patterns and how we regularly speak to manufacturers with legacy approaches to organising and managing Working Time who say they feel exposed. Our presentation at the event centred on the benefits of investing in Demand-Led Rostering, so that organisations can respond quickly to any changes that may restrict the movement of EU workers or create additional inflationary pressures.
  • December (Productivity): It was in December that more detailed analysis into the Government’s Industrial Strategy white paper began to emerge. The UK’s productivity gap is a perennial topic and once again we were disappointed to see that workforce optimisation did not feature in the government’s analysis. Naturally long-term investment in skills and infrastructure is key, but failing to address the productivity drag and poor working conditions created by legacy shift working practices is vital given over 7.3% of the working population (5.3 million people) are shift workers.

2017 was also a fantastic year for the team at Working Time Solutions with our business continuing to innovate and grow in three key areas:

1.     Projects: We completed a number of successful projects with a diverse range of organisations. Our customers span a wide range sectors and range from manufacturing SMEs right up to major utility companies. You can find out more by visiting the case study area of the website where you will find information on projects with the likes of Siemens Healthineers, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, and South Western Ambulance Service.

2.     People: Our success is based on an established team of high calibre developers, consultants and managers who have a broad range of specialist knowledge and skills. We’ve further strengthened the team with a number of key hires to help spearhead the ongoing development and roll-out of our Software as a Service (SaaS) product set. 

3.     Technology: 2017 saw some key developments in our innovative Work Suite® workforce planning and management software. This year has seen the full roll-out of our self-service module MyTime to a wide range of clients, the implementation of our new demand forecasting module in a major UK airport and the development of a bespoke Working Time compliance tool for use in heavily regulated industries.

We’d like to thank all our customers and partners for their support during the year and are looking forward to 2018 when we’ll have exciting news about the release of our new cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) product.

We’re sure Working Time, workforce optimisation and supporting employee wellbeing will continue to be a high priority for many organisations over the next 12 months.

Our range of educative events will be expanded in 2018 to include sector and topic specific events and webinars throughout the year. To find out more, check out the events page of this website or register for updates.

If you, or any of your colleagues want to discuss your situation confidentially, you can book a free one-to-one consultation at one of our Shift Planning Clinics.

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