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Overcoming common shift work challenges in food and drink manufacturing

The ability to quickly and effectively adapt to change is now a strategic priority that will ultimately shape future success.

A productive, flexible workforce capable of responding to change will be key, but many manufacturers are still hamstrung by legacy approaches to shift planning, rostering and employee scheduling.

With 30 years’ experience helping food and drink manufacturers transform shift work, we’re well aware of the challenges you face and are constantly helping businesses find innovative solutions to optimise demand planning and shift patterns.

This article explores three areas relating to industry change which our customers regularly discuss with us:

1.     The changing nature of labour supply and demand.

2.     Difficulties forward planning.

3.     Increasing scrutiny of working practices including working time regulations.

1. The changing nature of labour supply and demand

With an aging workforce, continued uncertainty around Brexit and ongoing ‘Industry 4.0’ technological advancements, food and drink manufacturers’ demand for, and supply of, labour is changing.

Whilst the precise impact of these complex issues is not known, there’s no doubt that each will require a significant re-shaping of the workforce.

The key to responding effectively and maintaining Lean production lies in the ability to model your true demand and ensure your labour supply remains aligned over the short, medium and long term. This is where shift planning, rostering and employee scheduling are key. 

Common issues around the changing nature of labour supply and demand in food and drink manufacturing…


…and considerations when addressing them through your approach to shift work

We’re unsure as to what impact Brexit will have on our ability to recruit and retain our EU workforce…

…demand planning and maintaining a robust demand forecast will enable you to scenario plan, model potential supply issues and identify options/plans to adapt shift patterns and rostering to better manage through volatility or capacity constraints.

Brexit might mean we’re going to have to be able to compete more effectively with international manufacturers who have much lower cost bases…

…adopting an optimised model like Annualised Hours and Demand-Led Rostering will help create more predictable labour costs and deliver substantial productivity and efficiency gains. This approach to shift planning and workforce management can open up many more options to invest in maintaining competitive advantage.

As part of ‘Industry 4.0’ we’re committed to adapting aspects of our production, but we are struggling to understand how to transition effectively without losing key skills…

…shift patterns and rosters can be designed and managed to evolve employee’s role and skill sets over time. Working time can be gradually redistributed to support different ways of working, new roles and emerging requirements whilst maintaining compliance with the working time directive.

We’re concerned about the ‘skills cliff’ created by the proportion of our workforce nearing retirement age and the fact we’re struggling to attract new talent…

…open up more options for employees or candidates by creating a ‘suite’ of new shift patterns and rosters that suit different stages or lifestyles. Forward thinking shift planning and workforce management like this would enable you to better support those wishing to work reduced hours as they approach retirement as well as attracting new demographics seeking increased flexibility and diversity.


Shift work challenges in manufacturing

2. Difficulties forward planning

We speak to many food and drink manufacturers who are clear that the inability to plan effectively lies at the heart of their productivity and wellbeing challenges.

This is often compounded by inflexible, legacy approaches to shift work and workforce management that limit the options available to adapt to change.

The combination of good shift planning and responsive, well-managed rostering and employee scheduling will become increasingly important to competitive advantage, margins and ultimately manufacturers’ survival.

Common issues around forward planning…

…and considerations when addressing them through your approach to shift work

We have limited visibility over key working time information that supports effective tactical planning…

…ensure you have access to HR analytics data which incudes live roster information, so you can maintain a detailed and accurate picture of key information such as cover, overtime, skill availability, holidays, flex and reserve. This will also enable you to assess and compare shift pattens and rosters, pinpoint potential staff shortages and re-optimise workers schedules in line with your labour demand and supply.

Even if we could predict demand more accurately, I don’t think we have the ability to respond strategically to the information…

…simplifying and standardising complex legacy contracts, processes and structures is key to improving flexibility. So is ensuring you have the shift planning and workforce management software in place to ensure new ways of working are maintained and that demand planning, shift patterns, rostering and employee scheduling continuously improves and adapts to change.

There’s just too much volatility in our business. We’d spend most of our time re-planning...

…use demand trends, business requirements/constraints/assumptions and employee aspirations as the basis for modelling future organisational scenarios. You can then anticipate and undertake accurate shift planning, whilst harnessing things such as seasonal patterns and well-managed flex/bank hours systems to provide additional flexibility as you move through the long/medium/short-range planning cycle.


Transform shift work

3. Increasing scrutiny of working practices

Government, media, unions and potential employees are rightly placing greater emphasis on conditions in shift work environments.

Uncertainty over hours, excessive overtime, long-hours working during peak demand, a reliance on agency or zero hours staff and legacy shift work and workforce management practices all create reputational and financial threats.

On the flip side, progressive, well-managed shift patterns, e rostering and employee scheduling are becoming the hallmark of ‘employers of choice’ in food and drink manufacturing and a powerful differentiator in competitive labour markets.

Common issues around working practices…

…and considerations when addressing them through your approach to shift work


We have high absence rates and regularly have complaints about fatigue, particularly during periods of peak demand…

…identify opportunities to re-distribute contracted hours so that overtime is not relied on to cover peak demand (potentially through Annualised Hours) and ensure your shift patterns have been analysed using a fatigue and risk index. Also ensure your shift planning and workforce management software provides HR analytics data and can closely monitor hours worked, identify potential issues and automatically block actions that might lead to overworking.

We regularly stand-up or stand down employees at short notice, which has a significant impact on their home lives…

…adopting Annualised Hours and Demand-Led Rostering will provide much better visibility and notice over when someone might be required to work additional hours. Ensure your shift planning and workforce management software gives you the ability to effectively balance additional hours requests across the workforce, making it fairer and reducing the impact on work-life balance.

As unpopular as some of our current shift patterns are, if we try to change it’s likely there will be resistance from the workforce….

…engage meaningfully with your workforce to discuss the rationale for change and the benefits it will deliver for them. Ensure any change is managed in a consultative and collaborative way so that any new shift patterns and ways of working are shaped by all parties with a stake in the organisation’s success.


For more information please contact: 

Steven Firth, Working Time Solutions

Steve Firth | Sales Manager

T: +44 (0)161 720 0903| M: +44 (0)7792 903946 |</

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