Factoring In Employee Scheduling Preferences Can Improve Safety

Aug. 1, 2003
Hospitals, police departments, airlines and service industries are among the industries that rely more often on variable staffing levels and schedules, in which work demand varies by season, month, day or even hour.

A new study from Circadian Technologies Inc. finds work schedule-related fatigue can be minimized by addressing physiological constraints, such as maintaining a slower speed of schedule rotation, and by incorporating work-demand predictions by analyzing historical rates of production and service.

For many managers, the focus has remained largely on the operational requirements of scheduling. However, recent studies reveal a broad impact of schedules on key performance metrics, including on-shift performance, general health, sleep and mood behavior, absenteeism, accident data, risk of errors and effects on social life.

The Circadian study found employees will more likely accept work schedules if their preferences are factored into the design of the schedule. The study also found flexible schedules can lead to reduced overtime, absenteeism and turnover costs.

The study, "Flexible Workforce Management," written by Todd Dawson, director of Research, Grants and Special Projects, and Udo Trutschel, Ph.D., senior research consultant, presents an approach for developing and implementing flexible scheduling solutions for employees working at facilities that operate with extended hours.

In managing an extended-hours workforce, it is crucial to find solutions that balance operational requirements, employee preferences and physiological parameters, say Dawson and Trutschel. In an effort to better utilize their employees' strengths and minimize their weaknesses, the researchers suggest managers try to match employees with workload, while still taking into account employee social and physical needs and limitations.

Flexible workforce management combines four steps:

  • Manpower planning and workload determination
  • Shift type determination
  • Core manpower determination
  • Shift schedule design

Companies that implemented flexible workforce management programs have experienced significant operational improvements. In one police department, scheduling efficiency rose from 65 percent to over 80 percent without adding any additional staffing. In a container port facility, the flexible workforce schedule saved 1,600 hours of idle time and 900 hours of unnecessary overtime each week.

For more information about flexible workforce management, contact Todd Dawson at [email protected] or (781) 676-6900.

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