7 Important Factors to Consider When Moving to a 12 Hour Shift Pattern

As a manager of a business you will encounter at some point requests from the workplace to move from 8 hour to 12 hour shift working. Having spent many years observing and documenting the effects of moving staff from 8 hour shift patterns to 12 hour shift patterns and back again, this seven point checklist will help you think through the pros and cons.

  1. Carry out a staff supply demand (SSDM) analysis. This means you work out when the work demand is more or less throughout the 24 hour period. It is not as difficult as it may sound and can be carried out by manual observation if need be. In fact you may already have that information. You need to know if you have a ‘variable’ demand which changes over a 24 hour period; or a ‘flat’ demand which never changes and remains the same. If you have a variable demand then you will need overlapping 12 hour shifts – a harder problem. If you have a ‘flat’ demand you do not need overlapping 12 hour shifts – an easier problem.
  2. Fatigue in the workplace increases risk. Longer shifts mean tired staff in the workplace; and when staff are tired the risk of accidents and mistakes increase. So what is the workplace tolerance level for accidents and mistakes e.g. observation and monitoring may not have the same consequences as an invasive medical procedure.
  3. The Commute. The duty of staff care extends beyond the workplace so you need to know if commute times are reasonable especially if staff drive to and from work. Driving home after 12 hours is significantly different to driving after 8 hours – especially after a night shift. Those extra days off a week just may not be worth the risk. Public or even corporate transport poses much less of a risk.
  4. The Noise. If the workplace has higher levels of noise throughout a 12 hour shift this will accelerate fatigue levels.
  5. The Breaks. More frequent breaks are needed during longer shifts; and you need to be prepared to demonstrate you have a regime in place to ensure those breaks are taken.
  6. The Shift Pattern is key. For achieving a successful transformation from 8 hour to 12 hour shifts. There are good, bad and downright ‘ugly’ 12 hour shift patterns. As with most things in life, the easiest to work out are probably the ones to be avoided. The good ones are not simple but they do exist.
  7. Reduce Sleep Deprivation. 12 hour shift patterns technically alternate, they do not rotate. These two techniques will ameliorate the worse effects of 12 hour shifts especially where night shifts are involved:
    – Work no more than four consecutive 12 hour shifts before a day off; and
    – Follow a 12 hour day with a 12 hour night to maximize a 24 hour rest period between shifts’

This 12 hour shift pattern is a good example of an efficient and effective 12 hour shift pattern:

Other factors to consider:

  • 12 hour shift patterns are preferred by younger staff, ‘forcing’ 12 hour shift pattern can be cited as discrimination in the workplace ;
  • Longer shifts mean more days off but that does not mean quality as longer ‘recovery’ time is needed;
  • Any improvement in absenteeism is likely to be short lived, and will invariably return to previous levels;
  • A return to 8 hour shift pattern after a few months working 12 hour shifts is not uncommon; and finally, remember
  • It is not the hours you put in that count, but what you put into the hours. You do not want tired people on the payroll!

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