The Ultimate Guide to Employee Shift Scheduling in Manufacturing

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The manufacturing industry faces significant employee scheduling challenges.

From union rules to production lines that need to run 24/7, to the mixture of skill sets you need team members to have, there’s no shortage of problems you need to face.

To manage your company workforce and production needs, you need to invest in building a manufacturing shift schedule and process that works for your whole company.

In this guide, we’ll show you everything you need to know about manufacturing shift schedules.

We’ll look at common types of shift schedules, how to choose the right one for you, best practices around scheduling, and more. 

Ready? Let’s dive straight in. 

What is a Manufacturing Shift Schedule?

Your manufacturing shift schedule dictates the schedule, hours, and team structure in your business. 

Your shift schedule outlines how many hours per week everyone works, whether they need to work day shifts or night shifts (or both), how many days off they get, and the number of teams your business is split into to ensure your business can run 24/7.

Deciding on the manufacturing shift schedule your business will follow is an important step and will dictate much of your people management process going forwards.

Manufacturing businesses can follow many types of shift work schedules. The right one will depend on your unique needs.

Next, let’s take a look at some common manufacturing shift schedules.

Common Types and Examples of Manufacturing Shift Schedules

There are a variety of types of work shifts used in the manufacturing industry.

The best will depend on your business needs, team size, and preferences.

Here are some manufacturing shift schedule examples that you can consider testing and implementing in your business.

1. Rotating shifts

Rotating shift patterns are a manufacturing shift schedule where employees consistently switch between day and night shifts.

For example, on Week A a team will work on day shifts, and on Week B they’ll rotate onto night shifts, then go back to days again.

Rotating shift schedules is common for companies that require consistency in their processes and don’t want an overly complex people management system.

2. DuPont shifts

DuPont shifts are manufacturing shift schedules that follow a four-week cycle and use a 12-hour rotating pattern.

Your workforce will be split into four teams, taking turns switching between day and night shifts, with days off in the middle.

The main benefit of a DuPont rotating shift to employees is that each team will have a 7-day consecutive break every month.

However, the pattern requires you have four teams, each with people skilled enough to run every function in your manufacturing business. This can result in employees working for multiple consecutive days without much of a break. 

3. 2-3-2 shifts

2-3-2 work schedules, also known as the Pitman schedule, is a pattern that divides your staff into four teams, and each team works on a rotating schedule over a four-week period.

The teams work two days on, two days off, three on, two off, two on, and three days off (or nights).

Because the schedule runs for four weeks, there’s consistency for your team. However, it can be tiring for staff due to the run of three consecutive 12-hour shifts.

4. 4 on 4 off shifts

4 on 4 off schedules are effective because they give your company 24/7 coverage.

An example 4 on 4 off shift pattern would be:

  • 4 days on
  • 4 days off
  • 4 nights on
  • 4 days off

The main downside is that staff will need to work on weekends.

However, in manufacturing, this happens with most other shift patterns too. The main benefit is that staff effectively get four-day workweeks and have four days off at a time to rest.

5. Graveyard shifts

Graveyard shifts (a common name for night shifts ) are hard to avoid in manufacturing work as most companies need to run around the clock.

It’s rare to need a shift pattern that relies exclusively on people working night shifts. If your company runs 24/7 and you need employees to work the graveyard shift, ensure they get time off and don’t always need to work on it, as it can lead to burnout.

There are other types of manufacturing shift schedules that you can use, but there’s no single best work schedule for manufacturing. 

Image of employee schedule view on Voilà!

The key is to find the one that works best for your business. When it’s in place, you can start to track your employee schedules using Voilà!

How to Pick the Right Manufacturing Shift Schedule for Your Team

1. Determine your business goals

Firstly, your manufacturing shift pattern needs to fit your business. 

  • Do you need to be running a factory 24/7?
  • Are there days off in your manufacturing schedule?
  • Do you need team members with certain skills available at all times?

Business considerations like this will affect the shift schedule you choose and how you manage your team on an ongoing basis. 

2. Look at your busiest and slowest days and times

Different manufacturing businesses have different demands on them. You might have demand at different times of the month or year. 

As well as that, you might work on a daily schedule where you need goods to be sent out of the door by a particular time, and will need to account for that increased demand on your team.

If your staffing demands are changeable, you can use smart scheduling software like Voilà! to make it simple for your HR team to adjust staffing needs, assign team members to shifts, and find the best employees for each shift.

3. Ensure your shift schedules work for your staff

Your business needs to run and hit its goals.

But, your staff need to have a schedule that works with their life. If you can set up a schedule that provides a healthy balance, you’ll improve employee satisfaction and retention, all while keeping your business running smoothly.

Considering 80% of salaried manufacturing workers expect their employers to introduce more flexible work models, there will be demand from your team for flexibility and a willingness to have their work shift schedule fit with their life outside of work.

Flexibility will always be required, so it’s vital that you keep an open line of communication between you and your employee. This will ensure you’re creating a shift schedule that delivers both results for your business and a fair balance for your team.

5 Employee Scheduling Best Practices for the Manufacturing Industry

1. Use software to automate the process

The first step to improving how you manage your employee scheduling is to have a tool that can help you.

Manually managing employee availability on paper or in spreadsheets is time-consuming and difficult.

These traditional tools are rarely real-time, which can cause problems affecting how efficiently a people management team can do their job.

Using a manufacturing workforce management platform like Voilà! lets you create rules around scheduling, create schedules, and easily alert employees if there are required changes to their shift pattern.

Making it easier to visualize if your production lines are adequately staffed long in advance, so you can put in requests to employees to work extra shifts, or hire new staff to fill gaps.

2. Plan in advance so there are no surprises

Planning is essential when creating your manufacturing shift schedules.

If your production line or stations don’t have staff, they can’t run – which can lead to missed targets and deadlines.

If you know that your scheduling needs are already in place one, two, or six months in advance, your job will be more predictable and you can take on new challenges as they come.

When an employee calls in sick or requests time off in advance, you’ll already know which other employees are available to replace them and step in. 

You can also prioritize employees to call on based on skills or seniority.

Image of shift invitation fallback order on Voilà!

3. Talk to your staff about their needs and availability

A major HR challenge in manufacturing is managing the availability of your team across multiple shifts.

The best way to start building your shift scheduling process is to consult with your team about their needs.

Questions to consider are:

Does anyone need a particular day off due to childcare needs?

Do any employees have skills that you need to have in the business at all times?

Do people have a preference for certain shift patterns over others?

Asking these questions is a good way to understand the needs of your team and provides a starting point for building your team for each shift. 

Even if you can’t find the perfect solution, your employees will be grateful that you’ve consulted with them when creating your work schedules and shift allocation, which will increase employee engagement in the long run.

As well as that, choosing a shift pattern that your team is happy with is key to retention – especially considering studies estimate there will be “a shortfall of 2.1 million skilled jobs by 2030” in the manufacturing industry.

4. Review how different schedules affect business goals and output

Depending on the type of manufacturing business, different schedules may affect how business goals are hit.

Build your shift schedules with your business goals in mind to ensure you always have staff ready to replace others in cases of absenteeism or have the capacity to increase staffing during peak periods.

This ensures you always have the capacity to run your production lines and won’t face unnecessary delays.

As well as that, be adaptable. If you realize that your current manufacturing shift schedule isn’t working as expected, be open to changing it in the future.

5. Stay compliant with your local regulations

Whether you’re in the US, Canada, or anywhere else, you’ll have local laws that need to be complied with.

When building your manufacturing shift schedules, always review that you aren’t breaching any of these local laws. Common ones that apply to the manufacturing industry are a cap on work hours per week, overtime pay requirements, mandatory break lengths between shifts, or similar.

If you’re compliant with local regulations and any necessary union requirements, you’ll be able to create your employee schedules without worrying about negative consequences on the company.

You can manage these scheduling rules with Voilà! For example, suppose union agreements or constraints of certain job positions mean an employee needs minimum break lengths. In that case, you can add these in your scheduling settings and they will be applied automatically.

Automatic scheduling rules are also helpful if your business needs to incorporate split shifts due to increased demands at different parts of a shift.

How Workforce Management Software Helps Improve Your Shift Scheduling

You could build a complex spreadsheet in Excel, mapping out your week, month, and even year of scheduling. However, this is going to take time to both create and maintain.

The easier and more effective option is to use workforce management software.

Here’s how it can help:

1. Automate workforce management at scale

As your company grows, your workforce management workflow can get difficult to manage.

Using workforce management software, you can create systems that let you segment your teams and departments using custom rules, easily assign shifts to individual employees, and reduce turnover by making it easy for employees to understand when they’re needed at work.

It will be a central hub for all of your employee management needs, and you won’t need to be constantly jumping between email threads, spreadsheets, and paper systems.

2. Ensures safety & controlled labor costs with predefined rules that fit your business needs

Depending on your unique industry, business, and location, you’ll have varying safety needs.

For example, you might need a supervisor with certain qualifications on shift at all times.

You can use Voilà! to set rules that apply to every shift at your business. If employees matching conditions are needed, your schedules can be automatically built to include at least one of those people in every shift.

This means your workplace is never going to be subjected to safety risks due to a lack of staff and your team always delivers the work they’re on-site to do.

As well as that, you can use software to control your costs. By tracking salaries for every employee, you’ll know how much is being spent per shift. Using that data, you can build your workforce to ensure your cost caps are never exceeded.

3. Maximizes productivity and reduces employee turnover

Manufacturing workforce management tools enable you to add self-service components to your scheduling workflow.

This means employees can take control over their manufacturing shift schedules, by being empowered to take actions such as:

  • Taking on new shifts when they have availability
  • Put in time-off requests
  • Checking in and out of shifts

They can put in these requests and actions without needing to go through a long email chain, and you can easily manage requests in a simple interface.

Even though the manufacturing industry can often have areas of a business that use legacy tools, due to the high price of upgrading an entire manufacturing plant, a Deloitte study found that 57% of employees in the manufacturing industry are open to using technology and processes to streamline their workflows.

If you can onboard your team, you’ll quickly see the benefits.

4. Reduces time theft & no shows by monitoring attendance in real-time

Time theft is a risk at every business through methods like buddy punching – sometimes used if someone is running late and asks someone to clock them in.

With manual clock-in methods, there’s also a risk that employees forget to clock in, causing potential HR headaches when those hours need to be manually updated at a later date.

A web-based punch console like Voilà! makes it simple for team members to clock in when they arrive. 

 Image of Voilà!’s mobile punch

The web-based time attendance solution can be combined with a mobile GPS time clock, which tracks employee location at the time of clock-in. This is a simple but effective way to reduce buddy punching and improve time tracking accuracy.

5. Finds a last-minute replacement for you through shift bidding

Manufacturing businesses need to be fully staffed.

You can ensure your production lines are always staffed using shift bidding, which is available in employee scheduling software like Voilà!

When a position is open, you can open it up to shift bidding.

Employees can bid on a shift, with all the details on the date and time, without you needing to pick up a phone and call anyone.

You can then determine which employee is the best fit for the shift and schedule your last-minute replacement.

Wrapping up

Employee shift scheduling in manufacturing can be difficult due to regulations, the needs of your workforce, and your unique business requirements.

As we’ve seen in this guide, there are multiple factors to consider. The shift schedule examples we looked at are some common options, and you’ll need to pick the right one for you based on what’s going to ensure your business hits the targets in place.

There is a range of best practices you can follow to ensure your employee shift scheduling workflow runs smoothly, and one of the best ways to get started is with manufacturing workforce management software like Voilà!


Schedule your free demo of Voilà! to see how it can help with your manufacturing shift scheduling needs today.