Feeling the pain? Overcoming common shift work challenges in manufacturing

For over 25 years we’ve helped manufacturers improve shift patterns, rota planning and employee scheduling.

We’re proud to have provided software and services to a range of businesses in food and beverage, pharmaceutical, print and packaging and a host of other manufacturing industries.

This broad experience gives us deep insight into the shift working challenges the sector faces and how specialist workforce optimisation insight and tools can be applied to overcome them.  

We’re always keen to share our best practice learnings so we can support continuous improvement in this vital area of our economy.

This is the first in a series of short online articles exploring the shift working challenges that are common across the manufacturers we talk to.

We hope you find the insight and guidance valuable.

If you’d like to hear more about how we are helping manufacturers overcome these issues, then please contact us.


Winning the battle for talent

No matter what area of manufacturing we work in, addressing skills shortages is a major strategic workforce priority.

Outdated shift patterns, inflexible rotas and legacy employee scheduling practices often compounds this broader issue.

In an increasingly tight labour market, manufacturers need to create attractive working conditions that supports the wellbeing and aspirations of shift workers.


Common recruitment & retention challenges in manufacturing…

…and considerations when addressing them through your shift working strategy

There is very little flexibility in the working hours we can offer current and prospective employees…

…consider innovative and differentiated approaches that increase the options and attractiveness of shift work. These could include rostered holidays, seasonal patterns, alternative shift durations and flex mechanisms

Long working hours are creating morale and employee churn issues…

…analyse overtime metrics across the business. Identify if certain teams or individuals are more exposed and determine potential drivers and resolutions


The business is struggling to attract new, diverse demographics…

…create a range of new shift patterns that suit those wishing to work reduced hours or seeking more flexibility (such as working families or those approaching retirement)


Last minute cover requests are harming goodwill and damaging work-life balance…

…ensure you have a good visibility over labour demand/supply information and robust forecasts. Use this insight to provide more certainty over when employees are working, when they are not working and when there is a need to be potentially flexible. This includes providing adequate notice to individuals required to flex and, where possible, ensure the burden is distributed fairly across the workforce


Employees perceive unfairness relating to different T&Cs and ‘preferential’ patterns…

…engage employees around working time. Build their understanding of the challenges and collaborate on solutions to standardise key aspects of shift working in a fair and equitable way


There isn’t time available to provide the training and skills development needed to support the workforce…


…identify potential underutilisation or periods of low demand. Build protected personal development time into rotas to improve skill sets, retention and employer brand


Avoiding ‘peak pain’

Peak periods are often cited as a major cause of quality, cost and workforce issues by our manufacturing contacts.

Large orders or seasonal demand profiles often require production to ramp-up significantly.

For many manufacturers coping with its impact on shift working is a key workforce planning and management challenge that needs to be addressed.

Common peak production challenges in manufacturing…


…and considerations when addressing them through your shift working strategy

There is a predictable capacity gap which leads to overworking and quality issues…

…create an accurate labour supply and demand model that will help you forecast precise requirements by day/week/month/year


Profitability is affected through increased use of overtime and agency labour to support the peak…


…look for opportunities to redistribute employees’ contracted hours so they better meet your demand profile. For example, Annualised Hours and Demand-Led Rostering enable the creation of ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ shift patterns that allow you to re-assign hours from ‘quieter’ periods to support peak production


Over-rostering in peak leads to significant underutilisation when demand is not as high as anticipated…

…ensure you have the necessary demand data, rota tools and lean workflows to manage through short-term volatility. This could include consistent and equitable stand-up/stand down policies, a flex up/down category of rotas and a banked hours system


Employees are regularly working excessive hours and we see spikes in sickness/accidents

… gain certainty over how many hours are being worked at any given time by any given individual. This will enable you to identify potential risks and better balance demands across the workforce


Relationships with employees become strained as the pressures of peak bite…

…work with employees to explore options to address the issue ahead of the next peak. Consider a phased approach to progressively lessen the pressure over time



Avoiding management headaches

Increasingly we’re finding manufacturers are frustrated with the systems and tools available to them for managing shift work efficiently and effectively.

Dealing with variations, extractions, cover, overtime, TOIL, flex and reserve in dynamic shift working environments can be a real headache if trying to manage them via spreadsheets or T&A/HR/ERP software.

We often find that despite considerable investment in these systems, they don’t support the specialist and nuanced nature of shift work.

Those in operations and resourcing become reliant on multiple spreadsheets to manage shift work… creating huge admin overheads, risks and duplication when inputting data into other software.    

This was the key reason why we’ve invested significantly in creating an online system WORKSuite®.

It has been designed by our subject matter experts to help optimise the planning, management and monitoring of shift work and has the ability to integrate with and complement T&A/HR/ERP solutions.


Common workforce management challenges in manufacturing…


…and considerations when addressing them through your shift working strategy

Shift work is managed through multiple spreadsheets, creating a lack of transparency and inefficient systems and processes…

…analyse the processes, people and tools used in the day-to-day planning and management of shift workers. Identify elements that increase risk, drive inefficiency and create workforce issues. Consider how the system could be optimised to address challenges and deliver return on investment

There are frequent rota gaps that create production or workforce challenges…

… identifying potential shortages requires continuous assessment of rotas using real time insights on demand, cover and exceptions


Tracking and managing holidays, shift swaps and other variations creates huge amounts of administration…

…ensure key day-to-day workflows and tasks are automated. Also consider self-service tools that reduce admin time and empower employees by enabling them to co-manage their working time


Inaccuracies lead to costly payroll/holiday errors and unhappy employees…

…create a single capture point for all shift work information. Ensure balances can be tracked in real time and accurate information automatically shared with other HR systems


There are concerns over compliance relating to working time regulations and other policies

…maintain an accurate database of hours worked and planned hours to identify and mitigate risk. Ensure you keep comprehensive records that can easily be audited to provide information to authorities, unions or customers


There are no clear indicators of performance which makes improvement or optimisation difficult

…automate the capture of as many key metrics as possible. Use analytical tools to provide business information that supports day-to-day decision making and strategic workforce planning



The second article in this series briefly exploring shift work challenges in Manufacturing can be accessed here. ‘Managing change’ looks at the changing nature of labour supply and demand, difficulties forward planning and increasing scrutiny of working practices.

Want to know more?

We’ll be creating more short online articles exploring the shift working challenges faced by manufacturers over the coming months, so contact us if you’d like to be alerted when they are released.

Our website contains much more information on Working Time Solutions’ software and services and how they deliver workforce optimisation in manufacturing shift working environments.

You can also check out our regular workforce planning and management events and webinars.

Workforce Planning Masterclass

Managing change is a key theme at our Workforce Planning Masterclass taking place on the 14th May 2020 in Manchester.

Over the past 15 years, Working Time Solutions’ Masterclass has established itself as a key event for manufacturers looking to design, implement and manage optimised shift patterns and rota schedules.

It’s an opportunity acquire valuable, actionable learnings from shift working experts and hear detailed case studies from industry leaders who are transforming their approach to shift work.

Click here for more information and to book your place.


Manufacturing Shift Work Clinic

Book a free, confidential 1-2-1 consultation with one of our sector experts who’ve delivered countless workforce planning     and management projects for manufacturers.

It’s an opportunity to discuss your challenges and what the best course of action might be for your business. </

 Free remote 1-2-1 session

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

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