Seasonal shift patterns in manufacturing - Don't let peak production periods harm your business

Dealing with cyclical or seasonal demand is a key workforce planning and management challenge in manufacturing shift working environments.

Many businesses have at least one period of the year where production is required to ramp-up significantly.

This can be driven by classic product-related seasonality (e.g. ice cream in summer), securing large orders or marketing offers inflating demand.

Whilst these are often the most important production periods of the year…the wrong shift patterns can also make them the most unprofitable and create significant employee relations challenges.

The downside of success

As specialists in the planning, management and monitoring of optimised shift-based workforces, we often see the juxtaposition of peak production periods harming manufacturers’ bottom lines and their relationship with employees.

This tends to occur in businesses which operate fixed shift patterns throughout the year, regardless of demand volatility.

When the busy periods arrive, working capital is put under intense pressure as they often rely on expensive overtime or agency workers to increase labour supply.

Whilst manufacturers see this as the easy and flexible option, taking this approach can:

  • Impact budgets significantly - Relying on expensive, short-term labour impacts working capital, erodes margin and can make times of peak demand some of the least profitable.

  •  Impact budgets significantly - Relying on expensive, short-term labour impacts working capital, erodes margin and can make times of peak demand some of the least profitable.
  •  Take up valuable time - Significant effort is required to recruit, train and manage a temporary workforce for it to deliver the performance levels required during busy production times.
  • Create performance issues - Capacity gaps, un-motivated agency staff and over-worked full time employees can lead to additional waste and quality problems during a manufacturer’s busiest time.
  • Increase risk - Trying to cover peak demand using overtime can affect employees’ work life balance, ultimately demoralising the workforce, harming productivity and impacting retention and employer brand. There is also the risk of significant fines and negative reputational impact for breaching working time regulations or accidents and health issues related to fatigue.

It’s all in the data

Manufacturers with these issues often know they are operating with shift patterns that are not optimised to demand.

Before looking for a solution, it’s key businesses analyse the challenge they face.

Understanding the intricacies of demand variability and volatility is key to establishing an accurate picture of requirements through the day, week, month, season and year.

It’s imperative to arrive at ‘true demand’. This is often very different to existing understanding of demand, which has been shaped by out-of-date and misaligned shift patterns.

It’s also important to analyse overtime, absence and labour cost data to identify patterns and potential resolutions.

Our consultants deploy a methodology that uses data to model demand, cover and throughput requirements, factoring in variations ranging from seasonal peaks to hour-by-hour changes.

This creates accurate forecasts that demonstrates the trended labour supply and demand requirements that should inform shift pattern design and rota planning decisions.

Responsive resourcing & seasonal patterns

A data-led model is the platform manufacturers need to create a system of responsive resourcing that increases or reduces planned hours in line with the demand profile.

Efficient and flexible shift patterns can be designed around the profile that take over-rostered hours from quieter periods and redeploy them to support peak production.

The possibilities are limitless…ranging from ‘high, mid and low’ seasonal patterns, right through to specific flex-up/flex-down shifts that can deal with hour-by-hour and day-by-day fluctuations and incorporate appropriate and fair notice for designated employees.

At the heart of these solutions lies a demand-led rostering system which maximises full-time employees contract hours by taking an annualised view of their working time.

Avoiding complexity and management headaches

Some manufacturers have historically struggled with annualised hours. Given the poor design of some systems we’ve come across, it’s not surprising that its reputation has been harmed.

Whilst the increased certainty around working hours and reduced pressure during peak production is popular with employees, poorly implemented and badly managed annualised hours systems have ultimately tainted perceptions and held-back widespread adoption.

It’s something we explore in much more detail in our report: Making annualised hours work for the UK Exploring a 'new' way of working.

It’s crucial that when looking to optimise shift patterns and introduce new ways of working that the workforce is engaged in designing solutions that meet their needs, as well as the organisation’s.

It’s why we put employee engagement and communications at the heart of the optimisation projects supported by our services and consultants.

How systems are managed to remain aligned to factors affecting demand, supply and employee wellbeing is also crucial.

Trying to plan schedules and manage shift workers on seasonal patterns can become extremely complex using multiple spreadsheets or HR, T&A and ERP systems better suited to 9-5 working.

Using these inadequate systems to try and design and manage responsive shift working creates huge administrative overheads, increases the risk of errors, results in a proliferation of spreadsheets with onerous manual processes and ultimately fails to deliver the benefits of workforce optimisation.

Working Time Solutions’ WORKSuite® software has been developed specifically to handle the requirements of managing seasonal patterns. It gives you:

  • The ability to design custom shift lengths and durations…key to building seasonal patterns that ensure supply is aligned to demand.

  • Scenario modelling capabilities to engage with staff and find optimised solutions for any given season or demand profile.

  • Calendars which provide an accurate forward view over key information (e.g. who is on shift, their hours worked, availability and skill sets) and provide employees complete visibility over their working hours across the year.

  • Streamlined workflows, intuitive tools and live dashboards to assess rosters, examine cover delivered, monitor balances/variations/compliance and automated pinpointing of potential capacity gaps, clashes and inconsistencies. 

  • Tools to reschedule resources in real time…adapting schedules, shift patterns and rotas to meet fluctuating demand.

So, what now?

In a highly competitive sector with significant margin and recruitment pressures, efficient and popular shift patterns could make all the difference.

There is plenty of information on our website if you’d like to know more about Working Time Solutions’ services and consultancy that help deliver workforce optimisation in shift working environments.

You’ll also find much more detail on the shift pattern design, scheduling, roster management, T&A, compliance & analytics capabilities of our software.

You can arrange a free 1-2-1 consultation with one of our experts via our Shift Planning Clinics. 

Alternatively, if you’d like to learn more about workforce optimisation, check out our CPD-certified workforce planning and management events and webinars

 Free remote 1-2-1 session

Secure a free, hour-long session with our experts to discuss your shift work challenges and potential solutions

 Tell me more