Flexible working comes into law

The right to flexible working has been extended in law to be a fundamental and universal right for UK employees. For many this threatens to become an issue; and it need not be so. This article is not intended to go through the procedures and legislation. There are plenty of excellent articles ‘out there’ and probably all you need to know can be found on the ACAS site here including downloads about codes of guidance and best practice.

This post is intended to give an appreciation of what can be involved, and some idea where you need to be looking and to recognize the kind of facts you are likely to need.

To summarise, employees have the right to have a request for flexible working to be considered by an employer in a timely manner; and taken at ‘face value’ appears to be straight forward i.e. The employee making the request; and the employer considering the request.

The factors involved can range from the simple to the complex; and it is the ‘unknown’ which make both employees and employers start to think ‘twice’. No one wants to sign up for something that has unforeseen consequences, including the person making the request.

In the main it does remain straight forward. However a checklist to provide assurances the important factors are not overlooked does no harm; and any method that maintains cohesion in the workplace has to be a good thing.

There are three ‘players’ or stakeholders. The employee, the employer, and other staff – or team mates if you like. Even with a strong culture of shared values (esprit de corps) within the workplace the stakeholders will guarantee these three competing perspectives:

  1. The employee will have personal objectives and goals for flexible working;
  2. The employer will have management objectives to achieve business goals; and
  3. The team will have a collective workplace sentiment known as a sense of ‘fair play’.

This framework can be represented as follows:

The Players Convergence

‘Stakeholder Convergence’ will almost certainly present competing perspectives with any request for flexible working. This needs to be understood at the outset if bias in decision making is to be eliminated or at least reduced.

A method of operating with the ‘facts’ and working with them in such a way to enable full consideration to be given with reasons, both ‘for’ and ‘against’, will reduce if not eliminate conflict:

  1. The reasons for flexible working can be anything and are not being considered but the arrangements about employee working hours will be. The first thing is to define the proposed hours so there is no doubt or misunderstanding about when the hours are worked as well as how many. Here is an example.
  2. Once the proposed production hours are understood then they can be compared or analyzed against the business requirements. For example, is the employee skill set unavailable at a time it is most likely to be needed by the business, or can an acceptable alternative be found. Here is an example.
  3. Is there a commercial or cost impact on the business. Clearly this will be a sharp focus for many employers, but it is the easiest to demonstrate i.e. it will be a figure (assuming you are adding the right numbers) and not a sentiment. For example, lost opportunity costs due to unavailability can be avoided by increasing forward planning about staff availability and communicating it. Here is an example.
  4. Closely allied to (2) above the impact of the employee working arrangements can be assessed in the context of other team members working arrangements. For example, do other team members have to increase ‘unsocial hours’ working to compensate, or can it be demonstrated there is no appreciable effect. Here is an example.

Provided flexible working is seen as a three-way relationship, and focus is on the convergence of competing perspectives (rarely are these hostile), then it is unlikely you will miss anything significant. Moreover, the steps toward agreeing flexible working arrangements are likely to deliver wider improvements as you revisit long standing and routine working arrangements.

In short, flexible working should be seen as an opportunity to deliver a general health-check about the way you and your staff do business.

Further reading:




Posted in General Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Supermarket shifts ’cause anxiety and insecurity’

A recent study by Alex Wood and Brendan Burchell from the department of sociology at Cambridge delivers more evidence about what many of us have suspected. Supermarket ‘super flexible’ working arrangements are not good for staff. In fact they impair mental health and will no doubt prove to be one of the greatest ‘stress generators’ to be found in the workplace today.

These working practices arise because managers are expected to arrange and rearrange shifts to meet predicted shopping demand at different times. Most managers think they can schedule staff – its just another admin chore right? and therein lies the problem, they can’t. In fact around 70% of managers are particularly bad at it. Where the scheduling problem is trivial around 30% of managers do get it right . When you enter the territory of rotating schedules, and matching variable staff supply with demand the ‘success’ factor goes downhill fast.

In our experience there are three immutable truths when it comes to scheduling supermarket – or any – staff for that matter:

  1. A consistent well designed staff supply mapped to a core demand profile over the long term, will significantly outperform the ‘chopping and changing’ used to match a predicted demand – any control is illusory.
  2. Demand patterns are robust, which means long term schedules can be created reducing short term changes. Schedules around a week guarantee a turbulent workplace environment the manager will be unable to shake off.
  3. Without a computer aided resource management system that can deliver something like this as a matter of routine means it’s just guess work:

S24RM Supermarket

There is one more final factor. Increasing numbers of consumers care more about who they give their hard earned money more than they do for just about anything else including price.

Supermarket scheduling template is available as a download for Schedule24 Resource Manager

Posted in General, Industry Spotlight, Shift Patterns, Workforce Factors Tagged with: , , ,

Business Spreadsheets – Authorized Distributor for Schedule24 Excel Add-in


We would like to welcome Business Spreadsheets authorized distributor for Schedule24 Excel Add-in.

Business Spreadsheets specializes in advanced Excel based solutions for business with experience in a variety of analytical domains including corporate finance, business intelligence, statistics, and operation management. While their development is primarily focused on Excel solutions, expertise also encompasses database and web development technologies to accommodate integration and scalability for business growth and optimization.

Schedule24 Excel Add-in Shift Pattern Calculator is an optimization engine designed to automatically generate employee shift patterns within Excel. Combing advanced algorithmic calculations with the experience of Intellicate consultants to provide a powerful analytical and reporting tool. Enabling mangers and business analysts to generate the optimal shift pattern strategy for their organization.

Key features of the Schedule24 Excel Add-in:

  • Automatically calculates staff counts from specified and proposed shift patterns.
  • Calculated shift patterns can be quickly converted into staff schedules.
  • Generates both weekly and sequence based staff shift pattern schedules.
  • Supports any combination of continuous and split shifts.
  • An interactive control panel automatically reports key performance indicators on schedules.
  • Shift pattern efficiency is automatically calculated and reported.
  • Support for both fixed and rotating shift patterns.
  • Multiple shift patterns can be generated and analyzed in one Excel workbook

See more at: http://www.business-spreadsheets.com/solutions.asp?prod=511

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Workforce Scheduling White Papers

A collection of in-depth technical collateral on workforce and employee scheduling practices. Read more at: http://www.intellicate.com/whitepapers/whitepapers.html

Posted in General, News

How Expensive Is Your Shift Pattern?

All shift patterns have a cost. None are cheap. Some offer good value. And others are downright expensive. A shift pattern determines your staff deployment strategy, or put another way it controls your staff supply. You don’t want too many, or too few, and certainly you don’t want no staff at all when they are most needed.

You do not normally calculate the cost of a shift pattern in stark cash terms alone. There are two factors you need to take account of when it comes to working out the expense or cost of a shift pattern:

  1. The actual staff cost incurred – probably as close to cash as you will get; and
  2. The measure of fatigue the pattern induces for those working it, thereby reducing output or quality – invariably both over time; as well as increasing risk.

Lesson 1
A shift pattern that increases costs (we’re not talking about staff compensation here but a pattern of working) without increasing production hours needs a second opinion at least;

Lesson 2
A shift pattern that increases fatigue and reduces effectiveness is bordering on stupid; and

Lesson 3
A shift pattern that does both is already too expensive in more ways than one.

If you think I am talking about extremes, you can jump to here and hear about physiological ‘burn out’ within 4 years;  depressed immune system disorders, and working yourself to death in three straight ‘sets’ in a row – because that’s all it may take.

I will use a simple example of the ubiquitous 12 hour shift pattern to illustrate what I mean from a ‘hard’ cost perspective. Here we have the analytics of two 12 hour shift patterns broken down into practical outcomes:

Comparative Analysis between two 12 hour shift patterns.

Comparative Analysis between two 12 hour shift patterns.

Note production hours stay the same, the number of day and night shifts are not altered. Staff costs increase 14% £37,600 ($60,160). The proposed shift pattern added no value and was significantly more expensive.

When we take a look at the Pattern #2 Fatigue index it goes off the scale. Normal levels of fatigue around 20 is comfortable, around an index of 45 you need to keep an eye on – sustain that over any period and your exposure to risk increases fourfold. What kind of risk – well no one really knows for certain, but at these levels it will almost certainly not be pleasant.

An index over 40 is unsustainable except for short periods of time.

An index over 40 is unsustainable except for short periods of time.

£37,600 may not be  that much in a banking system but if the editorial is to be believed it would currently buy around 14 ‘ambitious’ young interns for a month in the City.

Further Reading:

Bring Back the 40 hour week. Sara Robinson is a trained social futurist and the editor of AlterNet’s Vision page.

The neuroscience of sleep. Russell Foster at TEDGlobal 2013

Posted in Shift Patterns Tagged with: ,

9 Steps to Successful Workforce Management

  1. Analyse Staff Absence
    This is more than just recording when someone goes sick, though it includes that as well. A pattern of sickness is probably a more important indicator of some systematic problem than a total number of sick days. Policies that offer staff an annual sick day allowance per year in the belief it reduces the incidence of sick leave days taken is misplaced.
  2.  Coordinate Vacation Time with Team Objectives
    If a group of key staff are away on vacation at the same time it can ‘paralyse’ productivity of those left behind, even though the number of key staff on leave is within some policy % of the overall workplace. Leave should be coordinated not just recorded.
  3. Plan and Schedule Overtime
    Properly controlled it can be an excellent means to compensate staff shortfalls or meet extra demand without recruiting additional staff. However it is probably the least understood of workplace management; and is the most expensive when it spirals out of control. Accept overtime as a strategy to solve problems, not treated as an ‘enemy’ to be avoided at all costs! Overtime should be planned and scheduled, not simply ‘thrown’ into the mix.
  4. Control Time-off
    Is the ‘mirror’ image of overtime and occurs when staff have time off in lieu of payment. This does not mean it is free and can quickly undermine daily routine especially when short notice ‘absences’ occur without warning and impacting planned work schedules which can mean ‘lost opportunity costs’.
  5. Match Your Staff Supply to Work Demand
    Also known as  Staff Supply Demand Match (SSDM) analysis. For experienced managers this may be carried out informally i.e. we need more staff when we have busy times. More in depth research can involve field observation, field interviews and statistical analysis of comprehensive data sets. Caution is required when analysing too many factors with unknown relationships. For many businesses staff deployment is a result of historical ‘accident’, “we’ve always done it this way” approach, and ‘knee-jerk reaction to whatever arises in the day. It will not be the first time a structured analysis of work trends can point to savings of around 70% in eliminating under and over staffing.
  6. Coordinate Teamwork with Business Goals is about maximising the team effort to achieve business goals quicker. Getting there eventually is no longer sustainable.
  7. Publish Compliant Staff Working Hours
    Working hour’s compliance is the fastest growing area of industrial litigation due to the ‘no win no fee’ culture; and because it is one of the easiest to prove evidentially. Where records are not maintained ‘judgement’ will favour the employee.
  8. Publish Staff Schedules at Least 12 Months
    Failing to plan is planning to fail” the saying goes – and it’s true. Short notice changes and recourse to contract staff to compensate shortfalls is one of the most expensive responses a business can make. The further ahead the scheduling horizon the more resilient the business, the fewer surprises and the less expensive it gets.
  9. Get Feedback About Staff Costs before making a decision
    Snap decisions about staff changes without knowing the impact of costs invariably means ‘jumping out of the pan into the fire’. This is often the case when dealing with complex shift patterns where the ‘knock on’ effects can ‘resonate’ for weeks downstream as staff get catch up extra hours and shift swaps that disrupt working teams.

Want to see the ‘Big Picture’ then click here.

Posted in Workforce Factors Tagged with: , ,

Free Staff Cost Benefit Analysis Report

I had a discussion recently involving a Consultant Occupational Health Physician and Occupational Psychologist about why business owners – not managers that’s something quite different – ‘ignore’ important factors having a direct impact on their business. They arrived at the consensus it was not because business owners were lazy or uninterested about what was going on, but they know from experience in many cases they just get ‘tangled  opinion’ about “why they should do this”, or “do that” – usually followed by very uncertain outcomes.

Free Staff Cost Benefit Analysis Report

Free Staff Cost Benefit Analysis Report

Well I thought I might not be so different, so I will try to help business owners help themselves in one area they definitely can do something about: Staff Costs.

The rest is easy. A few minutes inputting online will give you a breakdown of your company ‘state of health’ that no one  else in your organization is likely to have; and a free report  you can do what you want with – maybe asking someone who should be in the know to check it out. You won’t get a follow up call, not because we are lazy or uninterested, but value is measured only when it is needed; and we can wait.

Free Staff Cost Benefit Analysis Report
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Staff Nursing Levels

Nursing LevelsFor those of you that have been following my commentary about staff nursing levels highlighted in what has become a string of scandals in the NHS, it probably comes as no surprise there is now the call for hospitals in England should publicly display the number of nurses they have on
duty on each ward.

At first pass it doesn’t seem unreasonable, and makes one think why hasn’t it been done before. Well probably it may have been because there had been no link made between levels of nursing staff and poor clinical outcomes there is now; or if there was, it was kept ‘under wraps’ hence the equally vociferous call for ‘whistle blowers’ to be legally protected from hereon in.

For those who want an excellent overview of current research evidence about ‘Registered Nurse Staffing Levels and Patient Outcomes’ you can download and check out the two page document by the NNRU, King’s College London February 2013 here.

Leaving those arguments aside I want to quickly highlight the task of ‘simply’ counting the number of nurses on duty on each ward. In fact just one ward. Here we have a typical nurse duty roster, or ‘off duty roster’. Well perhaps not that typical if you are still pushing nurse duty schedules around on spread sheets or word documents – or on the ubiquitous ‘Lo-Tec’ whiteboard. Even so the problem of ‘counting’ is the same…

Schedule24 Resource Manager

Schedule24 Resource Manager

…do you count the numbers of nurses on each shift; or all the nurses working that day; if so do you know how many nurses you have on duty say at 11:30 am when three shifts are overlapping, two nurses have taken time-off in lieu and one has called in sick. It’s not easy, and can easily add a significant administrative burden if attempting to do this count manually. I did it once on a ‘time and motion’ study (I guess that dates me) over a three day period – my team mates and I never got the figures to add up once throughout the whole manual exercise!

You can easily generate an accurate and comprehensive nurse staffing levels in a couple of seconds, over as many days as you want – although too far ahead and changes mean you have to spend a few more seconds printing it off again. You get the picture, in less time than it takes to say ‘subcutaneous’ you can pin it on the notice board alongside all the other helpful advice hospital visitors read and you’ve discharged your obligations and are able to get on with what your good at.

You can download a copy of the staffing level report I am talking about here and check it out – if you want any other type of format just let us know. And yes you can export the data to Excel and publish graphs and bar charts to your ‘heart’s content’.


Posted in Industry Spotlight Tagged with: , , ,

Are 12 hour shifts cheaper than 8 hour shifts?

Well it depends!

Given the same staff headcount and the same number of production hours there is no difference in operating costs between staff schedules based on 12 hour shifts and 8 hour shifts. That is, when compensation is paid on hourly or salaried rates. However, if compensation is paid on daily rates the staff schedule based on a 12 hour shift pattern is 33% cheaper.

Well that’s obvious. Is it?

Many get caught out when the headcount and production hours remain constant, and the ‘rate’ is the same for everyone. The assumption when ‘everything’ looks the same it ‘works’ out can be an expensive one. Here are the outcomes for 4 staff deployed over a 7 day period:

Costs Compare

Comparision between 8 Hour & 12 Hour Shifts

The interaction between staff headcount, staff costs, and production hours can be a complex one to those not used to dealing with them on a regular basis. When it ‘all’ looks the same it does not follow they are all the same.  For the employee you end up with less in your pocket; and for the employer you end up paying more for the same production hours.

Posted in Shift Patterns Tagged with: , ,

Finding out all there is to know about 12 hour shifts.

The average ‘project’ costs associated with working out the change to a 12 hour system comes in at around £17.9k per month. Of course I’m not talking about an individual ‘doodling’ around with various 12 hour shifts in spreadsheets. I am talking about a reasonably sized organization of around 250 staff, analysing the increased effects of fatigue and risk, the impact on operations, and the well being of the workforce. Probably it will be ‘project managed’, and involve staff representation working alongside a business analyst. The downside of course is when the project team also ‘doodle around’ with 12 hour shifts in spreadsheets – orders of magnitude more expensive with the same end result.

One advantage of having your own software is that you can use it to solve these kinds of problem. Recently we had the opportunity to do just that. Having discussed the ’12 hour shift’ problem we became aware they were always talking about two 12 hour shifts – seems reasonable enough after all there are only 24 hours in a day.

A major  working drawback with 12 hour shifts for many managers is they think it can only produce a ‘flat’ staff supply i.e. given the same number of staff on each 12 hour shift.

Using the Schedule24 Excel Add-in we started generating multiple 12 hour shifts and identified 4×12 hour shifts that delivered the variable staff supply required: 06:00-18:00; 08:00-20:00; 10:00-22:00; and 19:00-07:00. This included optimising rest periods and chronobio factors to tune out the worse impact on the ‘internal clock’ or circadian rhythms. Management had estimated an increase of around 30% in staff costs for a variable shift pattern when in fact their’ fears’ were unfounded with a 0.3% increase.

So what’s the point of all this. Well it’s about avoiding a £17.9k overspend with the benefit of an Excel Add-in enabling 30 minutes of insight.

An example of the Schedule24 Excel Add-in at work:

A perspective of the 12 hour shift can be found here: The Death of the 8 hour Shift.

John Frehse is Chief Strategic Officer for consulting firm Core Practice, New York; and a frequent speaker and author on labor management topics.

Posted in Shift Patterns Tagged with: , , , ,