Time & Attendance
By Akshay Sachdeva
Apr. 25, 2022
Do 12-hour shifts make sense? Or is it better to schedule a standard eight hours a day per employee? Which one is for you?
Knowing the pros and cons of 12-hour shifts can help scheduling managers determine if the model fits with the specific demands of their business and the availability of their employees. Scheduling managers can set optimal hours for their employees, whether by following a scheduling pattern or scheduling employees according to user demand, while also ensuring they meet labor compliance requirements.
There are definitely certain advantages to 12-hour shifts, including:
For businesses that need 24-hour coverage, 12-hour shifts make schedules simpler since you only need two shifts per day to have total coverage (i.e. a day shift and a night shift). Because of this, 12-hour shifts tend to be much easier to routinely schedule than a multitude of smaller 8-hour shifts. Simplified 12-hour shift patterns can also be used, meaning administrative staff will spend fewer hours constructing schedules and filling shifts while dedicating more time to accomplishing more important tasks.
Working 12-hour shifts reduces miscommunication and variability between shifts while also allocating more time for employees to work on projects on a continuous basis. Focusing on projects for longer periods of time with less variability in the staff managing them means objectives get completed on time and to a higher standard, as opposed to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation.
Most importantly, 12-hour shift patterns mean fewer shift handover problems. In a hypothetical scenario, let’s say a building needs security guards to work 24 hours a day to ensure it’s secure. If there were three guards scheduled for eight hours each, all of them would need to be filled in on important events/information occurring outside of their shifts. But if only two guards are scheduled for 12 hours each, only the two of them would need to be briefed on the security issues surrounding the building. Reducing the occurrence of shift handovers in this way helps to minimize employee skill and cost variability. It also helps minimize issues that can occur between shifts like miscommunication, equipment mistakes, and wasteful meeting times.
Employees working 12-hour shifts work fewer days, meaning they are usually more likely to turn up on the few days they’re scheduled. Employees have more to lose by skipping a 12-hour shift than an eight-hour shift since they would be sacrificing a greater number of working hours and, consequently, accrued annual leave hours. Moreover, greater responsibility tends to come with a 12-hour shift, further reducing the frequency of no call, no shows.
The greater number of days off that come with working 12-hour shifts may also reduce absenteeism. Employees can put this valuable time towards family, running errands, or dealing with other personal matters that might typically conflict with a traditional 8-hour shift schedule. Moreover, it seems as if the workforce is increasingly moving in the direction of more time off. A whopping 92% of US employees want a four-day workweek, which has been found to reduce stress, improve work-life balance, and actually increase productivity.
Working fewer days per week means employees can save on other costs, like travel costs to and from work. If they worked eight-hour shifts, five days a week, they’d have to spend money traveling to work five days a week, while if they worked three 12-hour shifts per week, they’d only have to travel to work three days a week, helping them save on travel costs.
As per Jerry, a car insurance company, each American spends over $4,500 every year commuting to work, and that doesn’t consider the opportunity cost of the travel time involved. The opportunity cost in itself averages nearly $1,700 per employee per year. Saving on these costs would be a massive benefit.
Deploying 12-hour shifts also comes with several disadvantages, some of which include:
Working longer shifts can be emotionally and physically exhausting and can lead to burnout. Most notably, longer shifts might mess up sleep cycles for employees which can negatively affect their health.
This is especially true for employees who work night shifts – they typically get two to four hours less sleep than usual. Moreover, it can be quite difficult for night shift workers to sleep during the day. Over time, this can cause health issues like insomnia.
In health care, working longer hours may reduce the empathy nurses have for their patients and diminish the standard of care they provide to their patients. In the hospitality industry, employees may not be able to provide the same level of service throughout their 12-hour shifts. For factory work that involves manual labor, working 12-hour shifts may be physically draining and impossible to sustain. This also negatively impacts employee morale since working long shifts can take its toll on their health.
Depending on overtime laws in your location, 12-hour shifts may lead to higher labor costs.
For example, in New York, any hours worked over 40 hours a week are eligible to be paid at the overtime rate (1.5 times the regular pay rate). So, if you schedule employees to work four days a week, working 12-hour shifts each day, that means they’d be working a total of 48 hours. Forty of those hours are paid at the normal rate, while the remaining eight are paid at 1.5 times the normal rate. Employers need to be mindful of these overtime costs and schedule employees accordingly.
Typically, switching from an eight-hour to a 12-hour shift schedule can increase wages by around 2%. Ensuring cost-neutrality when switching to 12-hour shift scheduling is quite difficult, especially when no plan is in place. Even the slightest rise in labor costs can be extremely detrimental to a business’s operations. However, purposefully planning and designing a new scheduling process for cost-neutrality with the right workforce management strategy may actually eliminate an increase in labor costs.
Beyond the obvious administrative issues of manually creating a 12-hour schedule, errors in labor compliance and break scheduling are additional causes for concern. You need to be mindful of minimum wage laws and overtime laws to ensure you remain legally compliant.
Breaks, especially, are very tricky to administer when dealing with 12-hour schedules. While no federal law requires you to give your employees breaks, you still need to provide them to ensure your employees remain productive. Now, if these breaks are between five minutes and 25 minutes, they’d have to be considered paid work time, but if they’re longer than 30 minutes, you can make them unpaid work breaks. You’d have to manage which breaks are paid or unpaid, adding to the difficulty of managing breaks.
Monitoring overtime laws to ensure employees get paid at the right rate for the hours they’ve worked can also be an administrative hurdle. Every location has different overtime laws, so you need to be mindful of these.
While there are pros and cons to 12-hour shifts, a good way to determine if they’re right for your business is to involve employees in their scheduling decisions. Doing this empowers your staff and helps you determine whether 12-hour shifts are right for your business. Changing to 12-hour shifts represents a major cultural change. Involving your employees from the outset might pay off in the long run.
A good place to start is with a survey or open meeting intended to identify your employees’ priorities. Management should encourage workers to rank the importance of issues such as days off, consecutive workdays, weekends, overtime, and family and social needs. Once these group criteria are determined, management can begin looking at 12-hour options that address workers’ concerns and satisfy the company’s business objectives.
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