Today's post comes to us from board member John Frehse, Senior Managing Director at Ankura Consulting.

When my colleagues and I ask executive management teams about their labor strategies, they often tell us how it is supposed to be rather than how it actually is. In many cases we hear about 3-shift operations working Monday-through-Friday with weekends off. As we dig deeper though, we often learn that employees are working at least 20 weekends a year, morale is low, absenteeism and turnover are high, and the current schedule is broken. Reality can be harsh.

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem 
When we ask management teams how it is possible that the demand for their products and services equals exactly 120 hours of labor coverage, they usually smile and say, “Of course it's not exact, but this is the strategy we have had forever and we tweak it all the time to make it work.”

Although labor strategies with no weekend work are often simple, easily understandable, and in theory, predictable, they don't always provide adequate production capacity during the “traditional” workweek. This lack of planned capacity forces managers to constantly move people around to meet the actual demand. In principle, labor strategies with no weekend work allow managers and business to operate within their comfort zones, but in reality, last minute demand changes cause last minute schedule changes. As a result, employees are “voluntold” to work overtime on their Saturdays and Sundays, leading to reduced employee morale and motivation.

7 Warning Signs That Your Current Schedule Strategy May Be Broken 
1. Rapid company growth
2. High amounts of Saturday and Sunday overtime
3. High levels of absenteeism and turnover
4. Events driving demand (outside of management's control)
5. Inaccurate forecasting
6. Impossibly low inventory
7. Increasing reliance on temporary employees to cover off-shifts

Strategies to Address Broken Monday-through-Friday Schedules 
Awareness is the first step in addressing the realities of broken schedules. The next step is to review solutions to mitigate the problem. Possible solutions may include:
• Providing alternative shift lengths with more days off even with weekend work
• Developing alternative day-on day-off patterns to share the burden of weekend work
• Reaching out to employees to learn what they like and do not like about their current schedules
• Building in predictable overtime for employees who want more hours
• Using automated scheduling tools, analytics, and activity management to better understand and manage scheduling
• Providing longer periods of time off, allowing employees to recuperate and enjoy quality time with their families and friends

Changing employee scheduling practices is something that very few companies do well and many companies do poorly. Although challenging, getting out of your comfort zone and coming to terms with the fact that you are no longer a Monday-through-Friday operation is the key to turning your company into a more responsive, agile, and resilient operation.

Our latest workforce survey reveals that 69% of US workers polled plan to take off time between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  This obviously presents challenges for employers who seek to keep their operations running smoothly throughout these peak vacation months.

According to our board member Steve Hunt, what employers should NOT do is discourage employees from  using their vacation.  This is especially true when managing employees in high stress jobs who might readily forego vacation if they thought it could adversely affect their careers.  There is quite a bit of empirical research showing that vacation plays an important role in keeping people physically healthy in terms of managing stress.   People who do not take vacation are likely to suffer decreased work performance and satisfaction over time.  Vacations really do allow us to "recharge" and avoid burn-out - as such they can be thought of playing a similar role for ensuring a long-term, effective workforce as ensuring employees' work schedules allow them to get a reasonable amount of sleep.

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