From New Work to New Working Time

by Dr. Jörg Herbers

Personnel experts discuss how shift work can become sustainable

The shortage of skilled workers is a reality in many industries. Media reports show the extent to which operational processes are influenced by the shortage of skilled workers on an almost daily basis. This experience was also confirmed by a large number of our workshop participants during the “Zukunft Personal Süd” trade fair. In addition to providing a framework for innovations in products and services, the large annual meeting for the HR sector in Germany was also a fertile environment for a new workshop concept. Together with the trade fair, INFORM created a new exchange platform for HR managers and a framework for intensive discussions. A complete success, as we can see! An entire conference room was filled with HR professionals, in order to discuss a core topic of HR work in many companies: working time flexibility between a shortage of skilled workers and work-life balance – how employee participation increases the attractiveness of shift work.

The complexity of this topic was reflected in the presentation and the discussions. Companies with shift work are regarded as unattractive in the labor market – a disadvantage that cannot be easily avoided. Especially in times of a shortage of skilled workers, it is a disadvantage with consequences that can impair companies’ future viability. Because of the undeniable physical and social burdens that rotating shifts bring with them, applicants, especially of the younger generation, often turn their backs on these jobs. This does not only apply to a balance between work and private life – the so-called “work-life balance”. Much more serious are inevitable time constraints, for example through child care or relatives in need of nursing. If in doubt, those who cannot reconcile this with (shift) work will not work at all.

When the schedule becomes a Tetris game

Anyone who wants to mobilize undisclosed personnel reserves in the labor market will have to face the heterogeneous range of working hours offered by applicants. One company documented its feasibility through the successful introduction of a preferencing model. However, the higher the proportion of part-time employees with their own constraints, the more difficult workforce management becomes. Anyone who employs 40% of staff in individual working time models (an actual example!) is exposed to a huge Tetris game. If you want to plan this manually, you can quickly lose the plot – a circumstance that can be avoided with digitization and optimization technology.

The "mom shift", a practice in many companies that is not underpinned in law, was discussed intensively. There are options to avoid discrimination problems. Preferred shift systems can be made available to all employees. In particular, employees with time constraints can benefit, without violating the equal opportunities principle. Participants also reported tensions in their companies if shift groups or departments in a company have differently attractive shift schedules and if employees are not treated fairly in shift allocation (for example, on Saturdays or at night) or bonuses. Fairness criteria, which are often company-specific, must therefore be taken into account during planning.

Fairness in shift work

Farsighted participants in the discussion already saw the implications of making working hours more flexible in terms of working time evaluation criteria. How is fairness assessed if some employees are on holiday during the planning period? How can overtime or missing target hours shortfalls be balanced using a working time account? How are holidays and sick leave accounted if a fixed roster is abolished? There are proven measures for this, but they need to be understood and implemented specifically for the company if major steps are to be made toward making working hours more flexible.

And how do companies score in the competition for talent? The fact that remuneration can play a role was shown by statements that employees are sometimes enticed away with money from other companies, even during their apprenticeship. In general, companies must consider how they can become more attractive to employees and how they can shape recruitment so as to secure the future viability of the company. In cases of low paid shift work, pay increases can play a role, but the disadvantages of shift work are not compensated. Real improvements in terms of work-life balance can only be achieved through employee participation and flexibilization. Due to the shortage of skilled workers, shift operations have no other option than to start with the "New Working Time". Those wishing to remain flexible will need tools that can flexibly map individual requirements and that can also be adapted to changes at any time.

All in all, the workshop provided an intensive round of discussions that visibly captivated and hopefully inspired many participants. It was great to be a part of the event – many thanks to the organizers of “Zukunft Personal Süd”, who successfully implemented the new workshop concept with us – we are looking forward to further workshops of this kind!



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About the author

  • Dr. Jörg Herbers

    Jörg Herbers is Senior Vice President Workforce Management at Inform GmbH. He specializes in all topics related to staff planning and optimization.

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