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Seasonal shift patterns in manufacturing

Don’t let peak production periods harm your business

Dealing with cyclical or seasonal demand is a key rostering, shift planning and workforce management challenge in manufacturing shift work environments. Many businesses have at least one period of the year where production is required to ramp-up significantly. This can be driven by classic product-related seasonality (e.g. ice cream in summer), securing large orders or marketing offers inflating demand.

Whilst these are often the most important production periods of the year…the wrong shift patterns, rotas and rosters can also make them the most unprofitable and create significant employee relations challenges.

The downside of success

As specialists in the planning, management and monitoring of optimised shift work, we often see the juxtaposition of peak production periods harming manufacturers’ bottom lines and their relationship with shift workers.
This tends to occur in businesses which operate fixed shift patterns throughout the year, regardless of demand volatility.
When the busy periods arrive, working capital is put under intense pressure as they often rely on expensive overtime or agency workers to increase labour supply.
Whilst manufacturers see this as the easy and flexible option, taking this approach to shift planning, rostering and workforce management can:
  • Impact budgets significantly – Relying on expensive, short-term labour impacts working capital, erodes margin and can make times of peak demand some of the least profitable.
  • Take up valuable time – Significant effort is required to recruit, train and manage a temporary workforce for it to deliver the performance levels required during busy production times.
  • Create performance issues – Capacity gaps, un-motivated agency staff and over-worked full time shift workers can lead to additional waste and quality problems during a manufacturer’s busiest time.
  • Increase risk – Trying to cover peak demand using overtime can affect employees’ work life balance, ultimately demoralising the workforce, harming productivity and impacting retention and employer brand. There is also the risk of significant fines and negative reputational impact for breaching Working Time Regulations or accidents and health issues related to fatigue.

It’s all in the demand data

Manufacturers with these issues often know they are operating with shift patterns that are not optimised to demand. Before looking for a solution, it’s key businesses analyse the challenge they face. Understanding the intricacies of demand variability and volatility is key to demand planning and establishing an accurate picture of requirements through the day, week, month, season and year. It’s imperative to arrive at ‘true demand’. This is often very different to existing understanding of demand, which has been shaped by out-of-date and misaligned shift patterns.
It’s also important to analyse overtime, absence and labour cost data to identify patterns and potential resolutions. Our shift work consultants deploy a demand planning methodology that models demand, cover and throughput requirements, factoring in variations ranging from seasonal peaks to hour-by-hour changes.
This creates accurate forecasts that demonstrate the trended labour supply and demand requirements that should inform shift planning, rostering and workforce management decisions.

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.

Responsive resourcing & seasonal shift patterns

A data-led demand planning model is the platform manufacturers need to create a system of responsive resourcing that increases or reduces planned hours in line with the demand profile.
Efficient and flexible shift patterns can be designed around the profile that take over-rostered hours from quieter periods and redeploy them to support peak production.
The possibilities are limitless…ranging from ‘high, mid and low’ seasonal shift patterns, right through to specific flex-up/flex-down shifts that can deal with hour-by-hour and day-by-day fluctuations and incorporate appropriate and fair rostering notice for designated shift workers.
At the heart of these solutions lies a Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours system which maximises full-time employees contract hours by taking an annualised view of their working time.

Avoiding complexity and workforce management headaches

Some manufacturers have historically struggled with Annualised Hours. Given the poor design of some systems we’ve come across, it’s not surprising that its reputation has been harmed.
Whilst the increased certainty around working hours and reduced pressure during peak production is popular with shift workers, poorly implemented and badly managed Annualised Hours systems have ultimately tainted perceptions and held-back widespread adoption.
It’s something we explore in much more detail in our guide on Annualised Hours. It’s crucial that when looking to optimise shift patterns and introduce new ways of working that shift workers are engaged in designing solutions that meet their needs, as well as the organisation’s. It’s why we put employee engagement and communications at the heart of the shift planning, rostering and workforce management projects supported by our services and consultants.
How rostering and workforce management systems remain aligned to factors affecting demand, supply and employee wellbeing is also crucial. Trying to plan schedules and manage shift workers on seasonal shift patterns can become extremely complex using multiple spreadsheets or HR, Time & Attendance and ERP systems better suited to 9-5 working. Using these inadequate systems to try and design and manage responsive shift working creates huge workforce management administrative overheads, increases the risk of errors, results in a proliferation of spreadsheets with onerous manual processes and ultimately fails to deliver the benefits of workforce optimisation.
Totalmobile’s shift planning, rostering and workforce management software Organise has been developed specifically to handle the requirements of managing seasonal shift patterns. It gives you:
  • The ability to design custom shift lengths and durations…key to building seasonal shift patterns that ensure supply is aligned to demand.
  • Scenario modelling capabilities to engage with shift workers and find optimised solutions for any given season or demand profile.
  • Calendars which provide an accurate forward view over key information (e.g. who is on shift, their hours worked, availability and skill sets) and provide employees complete visibility over their working hours across the year.
  • Streamlined workflows, intuitive tools and live dashboards to assess rosters, examine cover delivered, monitor balances/variations/Working Time Regulations compliance and automated pinpointing of potential capacity gaps, clashes and inconsistencies.
  • Rostering and scheduling tools to reschedule resources in real time…adapting schedules, shift patterns and rotas or rotas to meet fluctuating demand.
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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Edward Bell

Edward Bell, Totalmobile's Content Strategist, shapes and delivers compelling content spotlighting their unique SaaS solutions. With 6+ years in MarComs, his journey spans diverse marketing roles, driven by tech passion. Edward fuels Totalmobile's mission, educating and advocating for impactful solutions across sectors, ensuring ROI for customers.