Having read the title of this article, you may be wondering how it is possible that the eight-hour shift is no longer alive and well, considering it is the shift length your employees currently work. While it may not be gone yet, the eight-hour shift is definitely on the decline.

As North American manufacturers struggle to keep a population of shift workers instead of offshoring the work, management teams must be more aggressive in finding the most profitable work solutions. Those solutions must be balanced with palatable options for an increasingly demanding workforce. It's time to retire the eight-hour shift and consider other possibilities for work that can reduce costs and help companies hire and retain the best talent.

See Also: Manufacturing Workforce Management Best Practices

The manufacturing industry has dramatically advanced in areas of inventory control, workforce management technology and supply chain strategy. However, we're still using the same labor strategies from the early days of the Industrial Revolution, therefore limiting the success of all other advances.

Changing schedules can be disruptive, so it is understandable that many companies shy away from such a task. However, to remain competitive on the operations side and to keep employees happy with new work options that support a better work/life balance, it's time to question whether these eight-hour shifts still make sense.

As we look at alternatives to eight-hour shift schedules, there are many possible options, and there is no single right answer. Every facility has its own operational requirements, employee preferences and health/safety needs. A move to 12-hour shifts could be one way to demonstrate some of the potential advantages of defining new work options.

The right answer for your operation is likely somewhere in the middle, and all potential options should be explored to find the shift plan just right for your company and your staff.

Although the number of people required to cover a 24/7 operation is the same whether a company is working eight- or 12-hour shifts, the actual labor costs are different.

The staffing ratio is 4.2:1 in most cases, meaning that if employees work 40 hours each, it will take 4.2 people to cover each key position over the course of the 168 hours in a week (4.2 x 40 = 168). However, other costs begin to separate eight-hour shifts from others.

There are several factors that play a role in the death of eight-hour shifts. Some factors are strictly business issues related to increased labor costs. These include:
• Shift-change inefficiency and downtime
• Lack of schedule flexibility
• Poor management practices (weekend warrior)
Other factors relate more closely to employee preferences and are equally, if not more, important:
• Turnover/low employee morale
• High absenteeism
• Increased cost to the employee