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Steering Your Ship on a Sea of Crazy

December 7, 2011
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Once upon a time I worked in an industry where rotating 12-hour shifts were the norm;

6 AM to 6PM

6 PM to 6 AM

2 days on, 2 days off,

3 days on, 3 days off.

An employee’s two-week schedule looked like this:

  • Monday and Tuesday – 6 AM to 6 PM
  • Wednesday and Thursday – OFF
  • Friday, Saturday and Sunday – 6 PM to 6 AM
  • Monday and Tuesday – OFF
  • Wednesday and Thursday – 6 AM to 6 PM
  • Friday, Saturday and Sunday – OFF

It worked out to 48 hours one week and 36 hours for the other week.  Based on how the work weeks were set up, the employees received 8 hours OT pay one week.

And that was just the regular schedule.  A lot of the guys (and yes, mostly guys) wanted to work as much OT as possible; they would sign up for extra shifts to cover for people’s vacations or other leaves of absences.  If someone was late or a no-call-no-show for a shift, another team member would be ‘held over’ to work up to an additional 4 hours.   16 hours straight.  And then they would crawl home, sleep for a bit, and turn right around and come back in to pull another 12 hour shift.

It was not uncommon for someone to work 80 plus hours in a week – all while rotating days to nights.

Had it been me I would have very quickly been steering my personal ship on a sea of crazy.


I thought of this yesterday while having a chat with some HR colleagues as the conversation veered into “what can you do vs. what should you do?”

So what about in the case of the above scenario? The facility had managed production via this work schedule for 40 years and some of the employees had been working there for just about that long.  Many enjoyed the extra cash in their paychecks from all the overtime pay and (so they liked to say), their bodies/circadian rhythms/families were well-adjusted-thank-you-very-much to the rotating shift schedule.

And while one would think that the expense of covering all hours worked at an OT rate was astronomical, the financial impact was much less than one would have anticipated.  So the shift work continued.

Now there was, kind of, an awareness of shift work sleep disorder – a condition that can affect one’s memory and ability to focus.  SWSD can lead to health problems and can have a great impact on one’s personal relationships and social life.  Not to mention resultant concerns about safety-on-the-job.

But changing a long-standing industry and facility standard is no easy task.  So the question “can we do this?” was asked and answered, but the question “should we continue to do this?” was never fully explored.

Firefighting, law enforcement, the medical profession and manufacturing – just a few of the typical industries/jobs where we take for granted some of these entrenched operational practices.  The fine ladies and gents who sign on with the Police Department “know what they’re getting into” we assure ourselves.


Work schedules. Dress codes.  Managing requests for accommodations or leaves of absence.

We ask ourselves what we can do.  But are we making sure to ask ourselves what we should do?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2011 11:50 am

    WOW! I absolutely loved this post! well said… what should I do, my new question

  2. December 7, 2011 1:00 pm

    I was the HR manager for a plant with a similar schedule and actually the production employees loved it. The ones who did the most bitching were the supervisors who we worked closely to develop it. Apparently they thought the union would shoot down the idea and the supervisors wouldn’t look like the bad guys with management. Lesson learned, don’t say what people want to hear, say what you want heard.

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