Large Oil Refinery

A major oil refinery was working a very fatiguing, 1938 vintage, 8-hour schedule. Many employees were lobbying for change in an attempt to improve both quality of life.  This precipitates much discussion and the usual misinformation about the merits and disadvantages of 12 hour versus 8 hour shifts, with internal surveys illustrating that only a slight majority were willing to try 12 hour schedules.

This majority increased sharply when age was considered—with the younger employees unanimously preferring a 12 hour schedule, while the majority of older shift workers preferred to keep the 8-hour schedule. Management had issues to contend with as well. How were they to attract new employees in a tight labor market when the current shift schedule was looked upon unfavorably by its prospective candidates? And how would they avoid the relief coverage, training, and communication problems that had plagued one of their other refinery’s that utilized 12-hour shifts.

Several attempts were made to initiate changes to the current schedule; however, the company was unable to reach consensus in the union environment of the oil refinery. At this point, Circadian Technologies, Inc. (CTI) was contracted as a "subject matter expert" to help facilitate a shift schedule selection process. CTI began its win-win process for identifying the optimal shift schedule by forming a task force which then became an informational vehicle for ensuring that all issues were dealt with throughout the process.

CTI worked with the task team to analyze the current schedule and prior change initiatives, and, seeing the history of discussions about 12 hour shifts, immediately began educational sessions to dispel the myths of 8 versus 12 hour shifts. The employees of the oil refinery were then surveyed directly to determine their lifestyle and personal preferences relative to shift scheduling features. Once these employee criteria were determined, CTI then developed schedules to meet these preferences within certain boundary parameters established by management.

Throughout the process, the employees were updated frequently and asked for input. The Shift Scheduling Optimization Process (SSOP) proceeded to the point where the refinery employees self-selected a preferred schedule option from the optimal schedules identified by CTI. At this point, there was a formal union vote whereby the employees were asked to choose between this current schedule and the preferred option—the preferred option (which turned out to be a long break, 12-hour schedule) resoundingly won!

Implementation issues such as vacation pay, holiday pay and overtime coverage were then resolved with input from CTI, and a side-letter agreement with the union was written to accommodate a 12 month trial period. The results of the new schedule which was implemented in January of 1998, already suggest a substantial increase in job satisfaction and a decrease in absenteeism. Although early into the 12 month trial period, it appears that the change to 12-hour shifts will be incorporated into the collective agreement during the next contract negotiation period.

This win-win achievement is underscored by the fact that the Union Chairman and the Human Resources Manager jointly participated in a presentation on how to cooperatively undertake shift scheduling changes in a union environment at a national seminar on Maximizing Shiftwork Operations—concrete testimony to the positive change that can be achieved through a Shift Scheduling Optimization Process.

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