Shift-to-Shift Challenges

Depending on the department, off-shift employees felt either highly engaged and like a cohesive part of their team, or felt isolated and disconnected from their peers on other shifts, leadership, and the organization’s goals. There was a general feeling among employees of the off-shifts being less productive and less motivated to perform than the day shift. Off-shift employees consistently expressed difficulties around support on their departments on a number of fronts.

Assessment Insights

Lower levels of experience frequently left evening and night shifts without experts to assist in troubleshooting production issues or  – routinely wasting hours of production. Many did not feel equipped to make decisions outside of their basic duties, so the absence of leaders on off-shifts posed difficulty. The lack of regular interaction with leadership for off-shift employees fosters a more prevalent absence of emotional connection with the organization and its goals. But the company was hesitant to require management to spend time on night shift for fear that it would be unpopular and drive turnover in the management ranks. Where there were strong, knowledgeable points of contact, they were either overwhelmed with requests for assistance, or un-utilized because newer employees did not have relationships with them.

Applied Methods

The variability among different departments’ experience on this topic within the client organization led us to conclude that standardized practices, behavioral norms, and attitude of the team leader clearly play a key role in the state of engagement on the off-shift. Departmental differences in employee experience on the off-shifts were both central to the current state and key to improvement. The areas where these practices and management approach made the strongest difference were leveraged heavily in the action plan for this client.

We implemented four different initiatives which quickly eliminated the challenges the client’s off-shifts were experiencing. First, we identified best practices in shift handoffs from the areas with the most highly engaged and productive off-shift teams. These practices were amalgamated into a standardized practice which was rolled out systematically to all other departments. The second project was to develop a stronger and more transparent point of contact system – including support for PoC personnel, and processes around who was PoC for which topics. Next, we incorporated the outcomes of these first two initiatives into new hire orientation and trainings to familiarize every new hire with these support systems, and the practices they were expected to use in receiving and giving handoffs to set their peers up for success.

Finally, the simplest yet somehow most difficult piece of this effort was to identify ways in which the different shifts could bond with one another and solidify caring relationships to fend off animosity (and carelessness that often triggered the animosity) around situations like, “the previous shift didn’t clean up the equipment,” and other petty conflicts. Given their differing work schedules, personal demands outside of work hours, and disagreements around what constitutes attractive social activity outside of work, creating genuine opportunities for them to forge bonds was evasive. Even overlapping work hours wasn’t helpful as the employees would end up “stepping on one another’s toes” in operating the equipment.

So quarterly 5S days were implemented with shift overlaps for shift crews to comingle in working on cleanliness, organization, and continuous improvement projects together. These were followed by optional social gatherings, usually around a casual meal or accessible activity – which the organization found the teams were more apt to attend now that they had engaged in the 5S work to improve their areas together. Even many employees who had previously declined attendance for the social functions following the 5S ended up joining in.

Leadership noted over 50% improvement in shift starts impacting uptime on the off-shifts, and a nearly 80% decrease in complaints on shift handoff.