Scheduling by Market Sector

As far as scheduling is concerned, there are 3 main different needs that depend on the business sector.

Scheduling for administration, military, industry and health sector

Military, industry and health service share the easiest case. Shifts to cover are usually limited in number.

Often only the classic Early, Late and Night shifts are handled, possibly in a few different “flavours” to allow for part timers.

The demand of employees is constant for each week day. Changes are slow and rare (for instance during summer time, when several employees get their vacation days).

There is no need to tell an employee where he will work, because an employee well knows his work place inside the site or the clinic.

An employee only needs to know which shift he will work on day D.

Here we print the standard roster made of employees by month days:

Roll Name 1 2 3
121 John E L N
122 Paul L N O
123 Mary N O O
124 Sam O O E

All employees work, except the ones who have a reason for absence (RFA).

All employees follow some sort of shift sequence (rota) that match company needs and circadian cycle.

Usually there is not much to chance in the rota, as the rota has been in use for years after long debates with unions.

Of course the roster will need daily adjustments because of RFAs and replacements, overtime etc

Adjustments need to be drawn on layers which are different and higher than the base (rota) layer.

In the most complex case, the supervisor needs to see that on date D employee A was meant to work shift E (base layer) but was granted a day off (planned absence layer) and eventually he called in sick (unplanned absence layer).

The supervisor needs to access whatever layer or combination of layers he needs:

  • Base = E
  • Planned = O
  • Unplanned = SIC
  • Base + Planned = O
  • Base + Planned + Unplanned = SIC

Scheduling for the service sector

Ports, airports, security, maid, cleaning, nursing, janitorial, catering services all share the same scheduling needs.

Here we have a large number of holes to be filled with a large number of bolts.

Each hole is some type of task to perform at a given address (work is done at a client’s site), using personnel of a given skill and with different start time and end time.

Usually an employee completes multiple tasks during the same shift.

A rota is usually observed by employees.

Dock workers follow a different criteria: they are called to work by turns with a frequency that depends on the number of incoming ships: today the workers will be called who worked on the most distant date.

Some schedules are tricky, like catering. Here we need cooks to prepare the meals. Usually cooks follow a specific rota because they work in house and their need is constant. Same (of course) for administrative staff.

The rest of employees drive company vans and deliver meals to client offices, clinics and schools. This staff is only needed at breakfast, lunch and dinner time, each time for a period of 2-3 hours.

Most of these employees are part-timers with a pletora of different contracts and avaiability rules: some only work on Saturday and Sunday, at lunch time. Some work only on Monday (lunch) and Friday (dinner). We find the wildest contracts here.

Manually completing a schedule for a big catering company can be a daunting task. Here the smartest workforce management applications shine and a schedule that daily requires 3-4h to be completed is often automatically prepared in a few minutes.

When dealing with hundreds of employees it is not easy to keep track of all legal obligations: periodic medical checks, car services, training courses, etc

The supervisor often finds a good help with the WMA: it will take care of blocking the use of delinquent resources.

Scheduling for the retail sector

Say we have a shop and we schedule a low number of clerks at a given time. We give a bad service to customers. They will have to wait too long to get and pay what they need.

Next time they want to shop, they may decide to resort to those competitors who offer a prompt service.

Of course we cannot fill the shop with an army of clerks because labour is expensive and we may not earn enough to pay for the extra labour.

We are between Scylla and Charybdis: the 2 monsters (index of service and index of profitability) will tore us apart if we don’t plan the schedule with the utmost care.

Identify your needs

Labour is expensive. We need to keep the number of employees to a minimum. Which is the mimimum number of employees we need for each week day and time ?

For some sectors, it is pretty easy to get the right figures. Say we have an factory where machines produce 300 parts an hour and must be served by 4 workers.

Using sales forecasts we set production to X parts/month.

Using paper and pencil we easily get to know the exact number of shifts and/or machines we need to use.

We can go for

  • 21 shifts= no. 3 8h shifts for each day of the week
  • 14 shifts= no. 2 8h shifts E+L for each day of the week, skipping the night shift
  • 17 shifts= no. 3 8h shifts MON to FRI, 2 shifts on SAT, no shift on SUN
  • etc

This is the basic result, which only depends on production targets.

However we still need to take into account costs and – in the broad sense - employee satisfaction.

When we take into account costs, we find that night and holidays hours cost considerably more than regular work hours.

We could decide to buy a larger number of machines and reduce the number of night and holidays shifts.

When we carry in employee satisfaction, we must remember that any choice re scheduling must meet the ok of unions.

Unpleasant work conditions will increase turn over, which has a cost.

Worked weekends strain family life. Shifts starting at 6:00 am will require the use of the private car. Night shifts have a few fans, but are hated by most people. Badly designed rota will affect circadian rhythm and increase the frequency of sick leaves.

And note that this is the easy case...

Say we finally we come out with Labour is expensive. We need to keep the number of employees to a minimum. Which is the mimimum number of employees we need for each week day and time ?

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