Manufacturing Shift Scheduling: A Complete Guide

Without people, there’s no manufacturing. 

That’s why paying attention to how you schedule your employees should top your list of concerns.

While your attention has to be divided across the entire manufacturing process, the most important focus must be your people.

Manufacturing shift scheduling is tricky and has traditionally been a manual process of spreadsheets and phone calls with shift schedules posted in break rooms or locker rooms. That no longer works in today’s technological age where people live on their phones and expect to access information relevant to them whenever they want. 

Understanding manufacturing shift schedules is the first step towards revamping your process to one that works, both for your employees and for you.

What is manufacturing shift scheduling?

Manufacturing shift scheduling is simply assigning work times to your employees for complete coverage that meets production demands.

To do that, you’ll:

  • Define work shift lengths
  • Choose shift schedule types
  • Determine overtime policies
  • Determine scheduling policies

It seems simple, but can become pretty complicated once you move from theoretical to actually scheduling people to meet manufacturing demands.

How to schedule employees effectively in a manufacturing setting

Improving your manufacturing management process includes understanding how to properly schedule employees. You’re not just writing names on a calendar to fill in blank spots.

Effective employee scheduling is about empowering employees and respecting their work-life balance. To make that happen, you should know what your team needs to accomplish, an understanding of how busy (or slow) production is during different times of the day, and data that allows for forecasting changes in the future.

In other words, it means you need to:

  • Understand your schedule. You can’t optimize your manufacturing shift schedule if you don’t understand it. For that, you need data that allows you to see what’s happening in real time, what’s happened historically, and what might happen in the future (labor forecasting). 
  • Practice dealing with the unexpected. It’s easy enough to throw overtime at every labor problem that suddenly crops up, but that’s expensive. Taking a scheduling approach that doesn’t involve overtime as the go-to solution is more difficult, but makes a difference in the long-run.
  • Stay in communication. Talk to your managers and employees to find out what is and isn’t working with the schedule. Effective scheduling that looks good on paper but fails in the real world is simply that: a failure.

Shift scheduling best practices 

When you understand how to schedule employees effectively, you can put into place several best practices:

  • Plan ahead: Last-minute scheduling, or constant rushed changes, are frustrating to employees. They may have made plans, or are already overworked. Schedule in advance, and build and publish upcoming schedules at regular times so employees know when to expect the schedule to come out. In a way, that’s part of empowering employees, having a time they can count on seeing the latest schedule.
  • Plan far ahead: Be ready with a plan for sudden schedule changes, and communicate that with employees so they aren’t surprised. This means constantly reviewing your schedule to see what needs fixing now, or in the next round.
  • Comply: Federal and local laws, as well as any internal HR or union agreements, have to be followed when building your schedule.
  • Communicate: Let your employees know the upcoming schedule as soon as it’s ready, and communicate any contingency plans that might affect them. Again, employees are empowered by knowledge; they can plan their lives better the sooner they know.
  • Make it accessible: It shouldn’t take heroic effort to see the schedule, so make the schedule as accessible as you can for all employees.

Commonplace approaches to shift work schedules

When it comes to choosing which manufacturing shift schedule to use, you have options. Each has its own benefits (and challenges); most can be mixed with other types on the same calendar. Since manufacturing is often 24/7, you’ll need to build a 24-hour shift schedule.

These different approaches will help you.

Fixed shift schedules 

A fixed shift schedule is one of the most common approaches, and also one of the easiest to manage when it comes to planning and being compliant with federal labor laws. 

With fixed shifts, employees have regular shifts in which they work the same days, and hours each day, every week.

Fixed shift schedules provide stability and allow employees to balance work and personal life easier because their schedule is predictable. 

Split shift schedules 

Split shifts are exactly what they sound like: regular shifts split into parts. Instead of an employee work day that is a single block of time, the day is divided into two or more parts. Typically, a shift is split by at least two hours.

Split shifts are helpful for employees who have obligations that fall during a traditional shift, such as picking up a child after school. 

Overtime shift schedules 

Overtime shifts are when employees work longer than a typical shift. Overtime shifts come with extra pay, and that means your labor costs can get out of control if you rely on them too much. They can also lead to employee burnout.

Managing overtime in manufacturing is especially tricky; it’s useful during temporary situations where labor is short or demand is high, but it’s easy for a temporary fix to become standard practice.

Overtime definitions are covered by federal (and possibly state) labor laws. Generally, overtime is determined by total hours in a week and kicks in when an employee works more than 40; in some states, working past 8 hours in a day might be considered overtime.

Some employees like overtime because of the extra pay, but they might unwittingly burn themselves out if you don’t stop them. Required overtime, due to persistent labor shortages, can have a negative impact on turnover.

Rotating shift schedules 

Rotating shifts are a set cycle of shifts that your employees switch through over a set period of time. Not all shifts are equally preferred by employees, so rotating shifts make things fair by having all employees eventually work all shifts at some point.

Not all rotating shifts are set up the same way. You might have something as basic as day shift and night shift. For businesses like manufacturing, which are often running 24/7, you might have day shift, swing shift, and night shift.

Rotating shifts can also have different frequencies when it comes to the rotation. Frequent rotation can be hard on employees’ physical and mental health, while slower rotation gives them time to adapt and adjust.

On-call shifts

On-call shifts means that an employee is available to work on demand, should the need arise. Employees who are on call may be used to fill in for absent employees or during emergencies when more help is needed.

On-call shifts can be a burden on some employees, as they aren’t at work but can’t make plans. For this reason, they are often compensated more, and are rotated through the staff so everyone has their turn.

No-schedule shifts 

Don’t let the name fool you! 

No-schedule shifts are still scheduled, just like any other shift. The difference is that they aren’t as regular as the other shifts we’ve covered. Scheduling managers put employees on the schedule wherever they’re needed, and it might differ from week to week based on need.

These shifts can be difficult for employees as they prevent a good work-life balance. Employees never know what their schedule will be from one week to the next. No-schedule basically means unpredictable, from the employee’s point of view.

Benefits of effective scheduling in manufacturing

The benefits of great shift planning are reduced labor costs, increased productivity, and increased agility as a manufacturer. 

When you effectively schedule your manufacturing shifts, you’ll end up with the right amount of shift coverage to meet production demand. But even more importantly, you’ll avoid burning out your employees and you’ll build a great work culture.

Employees who like their shifts, feel that shifts are being doled out fairly, or that they have some say in their work schedule, are much happier and safer. They’re willing to stay on the job instead of contributing to turnover.

The most important benefit of effective scheduling, in other words, is a solid employee base that sticks around.

Manufacturing employee scheduling software

The most obvious takeaway from all of this is that managing manufacturing schedules is highly complex. At this point, it’s too complicated for you to continue using manual methods; scheduling software is necessary.

When I Work is a deceptively easy manufacturing labor planning software that comes with all the features you need to create any (or a mix) of the schedule types listed above. It’s ideal for all manufacturing scheduling.

  • Mobile apps mean you can manage the schedule anywhere, and employees can check the schedule anytime.
  • Internal messaging and communication between managers and employees creates a cohesive team. 
  • Employees are empowered by allowing them to request time off or swap shifts with each other without having to get manager approval. 
  • Managers save time and still stay on top of things by setting up the schedule templates, shift rules, list open and available shifts, and watch for alerts on your schedule that indicate overtime issues

In a way, your schedule becomes self-sustaining. Employees are empowered. You have options that keep you flexible if an emergency crops up. And your production can continue, unhindered.

Sign up for a free trial today and take a look under the hood. You’ll see how every scheduling concern has an easy solution, all in one manufacturing employee scheduling software.