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Exploring a ‘new’ way of working with Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours


This report looks in detail at Annualised Hours – a resourcing framework that could help solve many of the challenges facing UK Plc. Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours is an established and proven way of organising shift work that, despite its clear benefits, has become somewhat maligned over the years and is yet to be adopted by many employers of shift workers.

However, faced with the urgent need to improve productivity, flexibility and employee well-being, it’s time organisations across the public and private sector re-appraised this system of shift planning, rostering and workforce management.

This report explores the past and future of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours, looking at the fundamentals of the system, the benefits it delivers and some of the misconceptions held by employers, shift workers and other stakeholders. It also looks at the importance of effective shift planning, rostering, workforce management and employee engagement to enable successful adoption.

Over the best part of three decades Totalmobile has developed Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours systems that have helped clients deliver well over £100 million in combined savings, protected thousands of shift worker jobs and ensured high services levels are maintained.

We are convinced that this approach holds the key to addressing some fundamental issues around productivity and working conditions for the UK’s 4.8 million shift workers. There are numerous variations of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours systems, but put simply, it is a means of calculating shift workers’ working time and pay over the course of a standard year, rather than by the week.

Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours can be complicated to understand and administer and consequently the success of such arrangements lies in effective shift planning, rostering and workforce management systems.

We hope this report provides some clarity on the topic and encourages more organisations to consider Annualised Hours. If you would like a PDF copy of the report please contact us.


1. Brexit, the productivity puzzle and precarious employment

2. The fundamentals of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours

3. A misunderstood approach

4. Planning to succeed

5. Bringing employees with you

1. Brexit, the productivity puzzle and precarious employment

Employers face a perfect storm of strategic workforce challenges created by economic volatility, globalisation, changing demographics, rising costs, legislation and increasing scrutiny. Having stabilised after the financial crisis and subsequent recession, many organisations are looking at how to manage through rises to the National Living Wage, Brexit and the impact of legislation such as ‘The Good Work Plan’. All of this whilst supporting job security and the well-being of their shift workers. The fluid situation created by leaving the EU will require employers to increase their productivity and flexibility if they are to thrive, or even survive, in an uncertain post-Brexit world.

You can read more about the shift planning, rostering and workforce management challenges Brexit poses in our white paper.

Ultimately, with the average worker in France and Germany producing more in four days than the average UK worker does in five, the UK needs to address its productivity gap if it is to make a success of Brexit. In addition to economic and political upheaval, societal and technological change is drastically altering the shape and nature of demand. We’ve seen exponential growth in the use of zero hours contracts and agency workers with many organisations’ operational models becoming reliant on them.

In a Guardian article Neil Carberry, Director for People and Skills at the Confederation of British Industry said:

  “One of the attractions of flexible contract options for businesses is being able to meet more volatile demand patterns in increasingly 24/7 markets”.

However, referred to as ‘Precarious Employment’ by the media, this approach to resourcing regularly creates reputational issues for employers and is increasingly under scrutiny. The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices (The Good Work Plan) has begun to influence Government policy in this area with a slew of new legislation including giving workers the right to request a more stable contract.

Under ‘The Good Work Plan’ all employees and workers with varying hours and shift patterns (including agency and zero hours workers) will be able to formally request a more fixed working pattern after 26 weeks of work for the same employer.

Over the past few years, we’ve also seen significant rulings on both holiday pay/overtime and travel to work time. The potential for further changes to working time legislation (related to Brexit or precarious employment) is a further consideration for organisations trying to find shift work solutions which will be fit for purpose now and in an uncertain future. Employers need to take a long hard look at their shift work models and ask whether they are fit for purpose and whether shift patterns can respond quickly and effectively to change.

As John F. Kennedy said:

“There is nothing more certain and unchanging than uncertainty and change.”

Arrange a session with one of our experts where you can discuss the challenges you face and talk in broad terms about potential solutions and next steps.

2. The fundamentals of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours



You can trace Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours’ roots back to experimental labour models which were pioneered in the Scandinavian paper industry during the mid-1970s. Their principal aim was to limit the use of overtime and to increase leisure opportunities for the workforce. The success with which it achieved this saw the new approach adopted across many industries and territories.

Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours first found its way to the UK in the early 1980s in response to increased holidays and reductions in basic working hours agreed within largely continuous process-based industries. It gained notoriety in the early 1990s as businesses used it to respond to challenging market conditions by reorganising and reducing working time. The move from a mutually beneficial labour model to blunt cost cutting tool has done little to help its widespread adoption over the past two decades.

However, when planned, designed and implemented properly, Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours remains one of the most efficient and effective means of organising shift work and ensuring an organisation and its employees’ interests remain aligned.

The need for Annualised Hours:

Shift patterns are often tied to legacy working practices or institutionalised habits. These can bear little resemblance to the fluid situations an organisation faces, ultimately creating harmful misalignment between demand and the supply of labour.

Inflexible shift patterns are often at the heart of resourcing issues, with shift work models meeting neither the demand the organisation is experiencing or the needs of its shift workers.

  • Over-supply creates inefficiencies which can lead to job losses and skills drain.
  • Under-supply generates reliance on expensive peripheral temporary forms of labour such as overtime and agency staff. Typically, overtime is non-contractual and therefore reliant on goodwill.
  • In many instances, imbalance of supply and demand leads to shift worker stress or sickness and breaches of working time regulations or health and safety legislation.

Furthermore, traditional forms of working can actively encourage low productivity, high waste and poor service by financially rewarding the working of additional hours. Rather than viewing overtime as a temporary measure to overcome exceptional circumstances, many managers and employees see it as a regular day-to-day element of their shift working lives.

Looking at how overtime is worked within an organisation, it is often the case that 80% of overtime hours are worked by 20% of the workforce.

At a manufacturing site owned by Unilever, prior to the introduction of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours, there were times when employees used to ‘know’ on a Tuesday that they would be required to work overtime on a Saturday; it was planned!

Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours is a proven and effective solution to this problem. Adopting this approach enables truly responsive shift planning, rostering and workforce management models to be created using shift patterns that ensure exactly the right amount of resource is available at exactly the time it is needed.

Ten signs you should consider Annualised Hours:
1. Labour demand or supply fluctuates seasonally, weekly, daily or hourly
2. Your labour costs are unpredictable
3. Overtime is necessary to meet demand levels
4. Agency staff are used to provide flexibility or cover
5. You risk breaching Working Time Regulations at busy times
6. Your machinery/equipment frequently lies idle
7. Your shift patterns have not been changed for years
8. You struggle to attract candidates for full-time shift work positions
9. Morale is low and your absence levels are high amongst shift workers
10. Workforce management tasks, including administering holidays and shift swaps, is a burden
The basics of Annualised Hours:

Put simply, Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised hours is a means of calculating employees’ working time and pay over the course of a standard year, rather than by the week.

Expressing an ‘hours per week’ contract in terms of the equivalent number of hours over a year provides much more flexibility. It is the key to ensuring the supply of labour can be aligned to the anticipated demand over any given period. For shift workers, a yearly salary is paid on a regular basis but hours worked can vary, as they are dictated by demand. The system is designed so that shift workers are rostered only when they are needed, thereby eliminating idle time.

Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours systems are based on five fundamental elements:

1. Demand forecast: Business analysis provides a baseline by quantifying the ‘target’ number of hours needed for the year to meet demand.

2. Profile: Total hours are assigned to reflect flat or fluctuating demand profiles which occur over the year (this can be targeted right down to in-day variations).

3. Supply: The ‘target’ number of hours can be divided by the optimal annual contract size to arrive at the theoretical number of shift workers and team structures that will be required to meet the forecasted demand.

4. Design: Using the forecast, profile and supply calculations, a set of operating principals can be designed which can be applied to a range of shift planning, rostering and workforce management areas such as shift patterns, contracts, reserve hour rules and holiday procedures. These will be tailored to the specific needs of the organisation, its predicted demand profile, legislative requirements and workforce demographics.

5. Engagement: Employees should be meaningfully involved in the planning, design, implementation and ongoing management of the Annualised Hours system. They are the ones who will be working the shift patterns and will be crucial to its success.

As we’ll explore in the next part of this report, regular reviews of these fundamental elements are essential to ensure Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours systems remain aligned to the needs of the whole organisation. Only then can continuous improvement be achieved and organisations avoid the pitfalls associated with poorly implemented and maintained Annualised Hours systems.

If you would like more advice about best practice shift planning, rostering and workforce management…

The benefits:

• Improve productivity and efficiency: Organisations with variable demand can gain visibility over resourcing requirements and plan shift patterns, rotas and rosters more accurately around their true demand profile. This reduces overworking (via overtime) or overstaffing and ensures the organisation can be competitive and grow…often generating more full-time shift working roles.
• Support full-time employees: Many organisations rely on agency workers or zero hours contracts to achieve the flexibility needed to meet their demand profile. This can create a range of issues around productivity, administration, service levels, health and safety risks and reputational damage. Annualised Hours systems ensure demand is met using the core workforce…supporting full-time shift workers’ job security, providing guaranteed earnings, improving predictability and strengthening employee-employer relationships.
 Promoting work-life balance: A well-administered system will give employees more predictable working hours and shift patterns which are suited to different life-stages and lifestyles. They can provide rostering certainty about which days employees may need to be flexible; adequate notice around working requirements, an equitable distribution of shift pattern types and provide arrangements to support different demographics. In many cases, Annualised Hours contracts result in higher base earnings for employees to reflect the additional flex requirements.
• Significantly reduce administration and complexity: Introducing Annualised Hours can remove legacy working arrangements that have become overwrought and out of step with operations and shift workers. Shift planning, rostering and workforce management administrative resource requirements are often reduced dramatically through eliminating the need to manage overtime, agency labour and holidays and by standardising contract types, payroll and shift pattern anomalies. Simplifying shift patterns, rotas and rosters also increases fairness and transparency, which can contribute to enhanced employee relations, better morale and increased productivity.

3. Annualised Hours…a misunderstood approach

So, if Annualised Hours has so many benefits, then why is it not held in the highest regard and seen as the standard shift planning, rostering and workforce management practice across employers of shift workers?
Part of the issue goes back to the 1990s. With a recession biting and the continuing shift towards a service-led economy, many implementations of Annualised Hours systems were accompanied by drastic headcount reductions. Naturally this has gone some way to tarnishing its reputation with employees and trade unions, which in turn has made senior management cautious around adoption. There have also been instances where poorly planned and managed Annualised Hours systems have degraded and ultimately failed.
The most common cause of problems include:
  • Adoption of off-the-shelf solutions
  • Failure to ensure shift patterns remain aligned to demand
  • Inadequate workforce management software used to manage variations; leading to errors and eroding confidence
  • Employees not being engaged with the shift pattern design process; leading to mistrust
  • Imbalance in utilisation of reserve hours leading to resentment amongst employees
  • Failure to effectively manage the call-in process for reserve hours
  • Failure to review, continually improve and embed shift planning, rostering and workforce management best practice within the organisation
A lack of understanding has also served to hinder the widespread adoption of Annualised Hours.
The legal perspective:
Well implemented and administered Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours systems can deliver clear benefits for employers and shift workers.

At Unilever, the introduction of this approach led to significant change in culture and performance. The organisation took a thorough and sensitive approach to Annualised Hours and the workforce subsequently showed a high level of trust and motivation, anticipating the introduction of future changes with a positive attitude.

Likewise, at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the organisation was able to reduce labour costs whilst employees benefitted from better visibility of their rostering and improved work-life balance thanks to shorter shift patterns and shorter working weeks during quieter periods. To achieve this success, it’s vital to ensure that any shift planning, rostering and workforce management system is implemented in a way which complies with an employer’s legal obligations.

Working in partnership with the Employment Team at Pannone Corporate LLP, we set out clear responses to some of the criticisms levelled in the BBC article referenced above:

  • Compliance with National Minimum Wage legislation: If an organisation is operating a standard Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours arrangement where employees are paid a set weekly salary for a set number of hours over the course of the year (albeit that the hours worked from week to week vary), then this counts as “salaried work” for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage legislation. Provided that the employer pays the National Minimum Wage for the average weekly hours worked, then there is nothing unlawful about this arrangement, even if workers are receiving less than the National Minimum Wage for the hours actually worked in a particular week.
  • Indirect discrimination: Many Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours arrangements incorporate an element of flexing up – prescribed periods during which employees know that they may be required to increase their hours at short notice. An employer should make sure that where this sort of practice disadvantages an employee because of a particular “protected characteristic” (such as sex), and also disadvantages other employees who share that protected characteristic in the same way, the arrangements can be justified as being a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” to avoid the risk of indirect discrimination. This will involve balancing the aims of the business with any detrimental impact on the particular group of shift workers, such as women with childcare commitments, and considering whether there are alternative ways to achieve those aims which will reduce any such detrimental impact.

Arrange a session with one of our experts where you can discuss the challenges you face and talk in broad terms about potential solutions and next steps.

4. Planning to succeed with Annualised Hours

Totalmobile’s experience over the past three decades indicates that a major barrier to adoption of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours is often a lack of commitment. Despite the clear benefits (including significant year-on-year ROI), many organisations put changing shift patterns in the ‘too challenging’ category of organisational transformation projects.

There is no denying that this is a highly complex and sensitive area, but it is also one of the most fundamentally important to productivity and employee wellbeing. Adoption of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours is not as simple as flicking a switch. Planning is essential to ensure the ground is prepared, hurdles are anticipated and that you have a roadmap that guides implementation and ongoing shift planning, rostering and workforce management best practice.

Proof of Annualised Hours concept 
Detailed and careful analysis of the specific project and its scope is essential to establish feasibility.
Some of the questions you’ll need to ask during this stage include:
  • What specific problems are faced and how best may they be resolved?
  • What are the relative costs and benefits of the Annualised Hours solution?
  • What alternatives or contingency positions can be developed?
  • How will the proposals be presented and sold to senior management, supervisors and the workforce?
  • What problems and challenges are anticipated and what measures are needed to overcome them?
  • Should there be a pilot or are there advantages to a ‘Big Bang’ roll-out?
Answering these will help you define the project scope, provide a clear definition of boundaries and ensure it remains focused on core objectives.

Project plan

Once feasibility is established, developing a project plan will help provide detail around:
  • Project management methodologies: What will be used to keep the process on track (e.g. end stage assessment, risk management, exception reporting & change management)?
  • Tasks: What needs to be done to achieve the objectives and associated timescales and in what order does it need to be carried out?
  • Communication: Who and how will key stakeholders be kept up to date with project progress?

Roles & responsibilities

A crucial step at the planning phase of Annualised Hours implementation is to clearly define who will be directing, managing and supporting the delivery of the project.
The composition and role of the project board or steering committee should include:
  • Sponsors: Who will take overall accountability for the success of the project?
  • Users: Who will represent the individuals tasked with managing the new system?
  • Employees: Who will represent the shift workers affected by the change? E.g. union involvement and working parties
  • Senior management: Who will communicate the strategic imperative and provide their full support and backing?
  • Operations: Who will talk the language of supply & demand and understand the intricacies?
  • HR: Who will support employee engagement and communications?
  • IT: Who will help implement the technology needed to manage the new system?
  • External party: Who will provide specialist insight and technology, outside authority and act as an arbiter or honest broker?

5. Bringing shift workers with you

Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours contracts often become highly popular with employees as it provides them with job security and more control over their work-life balance.
This is particularly true when shift workers are engaged throughout the process of changing shift patterns and play an important role in the co-creation and ongoing management of shift patterns, rotas and rosters.
Fear of change
In many instances uncertainty is the biggest challenge to adopting Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours. It’s essential management acknowledge that fear of change is an entirely natural human reaction and to proceed with sensitivity and transparency.
The most effective way to counter this is to build understanding of the rationale behind Annualised Hours throughout the organisation. Failure to communicate effectively can lead to guesswork and negativity as the ‘rumour mill’ rushes to fill the vacuum.
Authenticity rules
Totalmobile regularly hold workforce planning and management events and we’re honoured to have hosted a keynote speech from Nita Clarke OBE.
Nita is the Director of the Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) and she told delegates that a disengaged, untrusting workforce is more likely to have a deep-rooted resistance to change. Nita’s advice was that authentic engagement is vital for organisations that need to change shift patterns. Employees can see that inefficient and inflexible practices pose a long-term risk to job security.
In order to build trust an organisation should:
  • Articulate the strategic drivers and imperative behind the Annualised Hours project clearly and honestly.
  • Make sure concerns are aired and addressed early.
  • Ensure there is a tangible effort to be inclusive and encourage participation.
  • Deliver communications in a timely, authentic and empathetic manner.
  • Ensure senior management plays a role in tackling anxiety and scepticism.
The personal perspective
Naturally employees will want to understand the specific impact of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours on their lives. An individual’s home life is significantly influenced by shift patterns, rotas and rosters, so any changes can dramatically impact their wealth and wellbeing. It’s essential to be ready to communicate the benefits of Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours at a personal level.
For many people these benefits include:
  • Eliminating reliance on long hours and goodwill to meet peaks in demand.
  • Improved wellbeing by reducing overworking and practices that impact mental and physical health.
  • Better workforce management and therefore much more certainty around holidays, working days and stand-by days.
  • Achieving improved work-life balance through shift planning, rostering and employee scheduling that is more responsive to shift workers’ needs.
  • More fairness and transparency by providing an equitable distribution of shift pattern types.
  • More flexibility to create shift patterns that are aligned to different life-stages, lifestyles and changing personal situations.
Better by design
The data-validated model of demand used to implement Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours is a compelling tool for engaging employees. Demonstrating the need and impact in terms that employees recognise from their daily experiences can cement understanding and trust.
Demand planning data can be used to:
  • Illustrate the volatility and complexity of demand and the need for increased flexibility.
  • Reveal how demand variation relates to an individual’s day-to-day role and shift patterns.
  • Challenge assumptions and misconceptions using the truths contained within the demand data.

Engaging employees during the shift pattern design phase of a Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours project can also support implementation and strengthen outcomes when changing shift patterns.

Real-time interactive planning tools help employees visualise the impact of shift pattern changes on their lives and give them the power to experiment with variants. A collaborative process can unlock valuable insights that help create optimal solutions for the organisation and its shift workers.

This ultimately leads to a level of employee ownership over new patterns which embeds Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours and supports continuous improvement in shift planning, rostering and workforce management.

What now?

Hopefully the insight and information in this report has helped you better understand Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours.

This is a specialist area of shift planning, rostering and workforce management, so Totalmobile can provide a number of routes to continue your shift work transformation journey.

Benefits calculator:

Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours will save you time & money, whilst improving employee engagement & well-being.

We’ve developed an online ROI calculator that will outline the potential benefits you could generate by changing shift patterns and adopting shift planning, rostering, employee scheduling and workforce management best practice.

See how much money you could save by reducing overtime, agency use, absence rates and workforce management administration and use the calculator to start building a compelling business case today.

Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours Clinic

Our clinics provide the opportunity to discuss Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours in more detail with one of our highly experienced workforce planning and management consultants.

These free, confidential 1-2-1 consultations provide an opportunity to discuss your current ways of working and explore what the best course of action might be for your organisation.

Arrange a session with one of our experts where you can discuss the challenges you face and talk in broad terms about potential solutions and next steps.

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Stephen Taylor

Stephen Taylor, Head of Digital at Totalmobile, came on board in 2016 and brings over 20 years in digital marketing. Stephen is deeply versed in digital strategy and analytics. His SaaS and field service management expertise has made him a pivotal asset across Totalmobile sectors.