Seven common myths about 12-hour shifts

Seven common myths about 12-hour shifts

Twelve-hour shifts are still one of the most frequently debated topics in shift work management. Managers, shiftworkers, union representatives, federal regulators, corporate policy-makers, and academic experts continue to question and debate how 12-hour shifts compare to 8-hour shifts.

MYTH #1 - Converting to a 12-hour schedule will decrease the number of workers needed to staff the company.

FACT: The operation will still operate for the same number of hours per week and workers will still be working those hours – even though the number of hours may fluctuate week to week. This is why staffing levels typically remain unchanged when converting from 8- to 12-hour shifts.

If anything, more people may be required to run a 12-hour shift system than 8-hour shifts. Why? Because of absenteeism and overtime coverage.

When utilizing 8-hour shifts, management can provide labor coverage by asking workers to come in early or using holdovers. However, these strategies aren’t feasible with 12-hour shifts due to safety concerns, compliance and labor laws.

MYTH #2 - Any 12-hour schedule is better than the best 8-hour schedule.

FACT: Shiftworkers who are enthusiastic about the increased days off that come with 12-hour schedules may assert that changing to a 12-hour schedule will comprehensively solve all of the problems facing management and the workforce. While 12-hour shifts are becoming increasingly popular among 24/7 operations, a number of disadvantages are associated with 12-hour shifts..

Occasionally, we find that a management team has implemented a 12-hour schedule with the goal of providing workers with a schedule that provides more days and weekends off. Unfortunately, forcing any type of schedule onto workers without creating the necessary buy-in can backfire on management – ultimately resulting in a host of unexpected workforce challenges.

Many 12-hour schedules that have some excellent benefits over 8-hour schedules, however, some 12-hour schedules are physiologically demanding and socially disruptive. The only way to determine if a 12-hour schedule will be accepted is by communicating and interacting with workers at each plant site.

MYTH #3 - There are more practical 8-hour schedules than 12-hour schedules.

FACT: Even though 8-hour schedules are the most common and most widely used, there are actually many more practical 12-hour schedules available than 8-hour schedules. The simple mathematical combinations of 12-hour schedules allow for about 120 types of core 12-hour schedules, while there are approximately 40 types of core 8-hour schedules.

This does not mean that 12-hour schedules are necessarily always better than 8-hour schedules, but simply that there are more ways to design 12-hour schedules due to their flexible nature.

MYTH #4 - Shiftworkers will lose money by going to a 12-hour schedule.

FACT: Economic analysis will usually show that going from an 8-hour to a 12-hour shift schedule will increase wages by about 2%. This extra 2% arises from the fact that workers will typically work half of their weeks with 52 pay hours (i.e., 40 hours straight time and 8 hours at time and a half) and the other half of their weeks with 36 hours of straight time.

However, if cost neutrality is predetermined during the schedule design process, the actual increase in pay can be eliminated.

It’s important to determine how overtime will be handled when transitioning to 12-hour shifts. In some agreements between a company and the local union(s), overtime is paid for any work over 8 hours in a given day. This is not a federal law, but an agreement between the union and management.

We have found that this can be waived if the shiftworkers’ desire for 12-hour shifts is strong enough that they are willing to agree to cost neutrality. Federal law requires that overtime must only be paid on hours greater than 40 hours in the specified work week.

Note: Some states have different requirements related to overtime and 12-hour shifts. Make sure you understand the laws that effect overtime in your state.

MYTH #5 - Performance decreases on 12-hour shifts.

FACT: Validated and widely accepted research has shown just the opposite of this with a biocompatible schedule design. Performance may actually increase on 12-hour shifts when compared to 8-hour shifts.

Performance typically parallels alertness, which is strongly affected by one’s individual circadian peaks and troughs. Alertness fluctuates based on: (1) time of day, (2) amount of quality sleep that the individual has obtained, and (3) hours of sustained wakefulness. With proper training on managing a shiftwork lifestyle, workers can recognize and mitigate performance decrements across a shift. Management can also strategically plan shift start and end times to reduce risks and performance deficits related to circadian rhythmicity.

Also, the extra days off that are an integral part of most 12-hour schedules allow for more recuperative time between shifts. This extra rest time allows workers the time needed to fully recover from any sleep deprivation and come back for the next work days feeling better rested and able to perform to the best of his or her abilities.

Another feature of 12-hour shifts that can increase performance levels is the reduced number of shift turnovers. Performance often tends to decrease and errors tend to occur around shift change times. Twelve-hour schedules, with only two shift changes per day, cut this turnover risk by one-third.

In addition, 12-hour shifts allow more time to complete lengthy tasks, especially if a significant amount of preparation time is required before the work can begin.

MYTH #6 - Any worker can get used to a 12-hour shift schedule if he or she truly makes an effort.

FACT: Most workers can easily adapt to 12-hour shift schedules. However, for some workers, the 12-hour shift can be extremely difficult. Older workers occasionally find the length noticeably fatiguing and can have a difficult time recuperating from them, especially when working several consecutive days.

Single parents working 12-hour shifts can also struggle to find quality child care – especially when working night shifts.

Another factor that can make 12-hour shifts difficult is the type of work being done. In jobs with heavy lifting or physically challenging work, 12-hour shifts can be excessively fatiguing even with the extra recuperation days. Break schedules can make the difference in how easily the adjustment to 12-hour shifts is made. Consequently, it’s sometimes necessary to provide extra time for breaks when working 12-hour shifts.

MYTH #7 - Managers prefer 12-hour schedules.

FACT: Although 12-hour shifts are growing in popularity among 24/7 operations, not all managers prefer them. There are several implementation issues that require extra effort on the part of management when transitioning from an 8- to a 12-hour schedule.

For example, pay scales and compensation must be reviewed to insure cost neutrality. In essence, it’s much easier for managers to keep the facility on an 8-hour schedule rather than delve into the multitude of issues that must be resolved when changing from an 8-hour schedule to a 12-hour schedule.

Another factor that deters managers from preferring 12-hour schedules are the barriers to communication that these schedule present.

Communication between managers and workers can become more difficult on 12-hour schedules when compared to 8-hour schedules. A greater amount of flexibility is necessary on the part of managers to insure proper communication. This can mean having to schedule meetings and other functions at hours inconvenient for managers in order to accommodate 12-hour shiftworkers.

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