Monday, 28 December 2015

Prepare for a more efficient New Year

As one year ends, another begins, and it’s a good opportunity to assess what has happened over the last year and consider what we can do to improve next year. Personally we tend to do new year’s resolutions, things like “I will not eat chocolate” or “I will go to the gym every week”. But a company can also have New Year’s resolutions too.

The first thing is to assess the problems and consider which one will have the biggest impact. In our experience the biggest impact on an operation is holidays. You might not think 28 or 33 days has much of an impact. But consider if the company has 10 employees all with 33 days of holiday in an office hours’ environment, that means that there are 330 days of holiday to accommodate and there are only 260 days when you are working. Clearly everyday at least one person has to be on holiday. So even with 10 people on average you are always operating one person down.
When you have shift workers the problem becomes even bigger because you need to think not only about the effect an absence has on the shift itself but also the impact to the adjacent shifts. Companies can quickly find that they are continually missing targets while their overtime bill is sky rocketing and they don’t know why! Yet when we analyse the operation, we always start with the holidays. A quick assessment of how holidays have been taken and are covered reveals that managers forget to consider the effect holidays make to the operation, so they haven’t got adequate cover in place or they have the cover but it is in the wrong place.
The Saving can be Substantial 
Let’s go through a typical problem. You have 10 people on shift and you need 10 on shift to operate effectively. 10 people with 30 days of holiday is 300 days of holiday per shift. You have four shifts so that’s 1,200 days of holiday.
So here is some simple maths; if 40 people are on a 40-hour week with 30 days of holiday each, how many shifts is that if they are working 8-hour shifts?
Each day of holiday is one fifth of a working week, or 8 hours (40/5=8). If each shift is 8-hours then they each get 30 shifts off per year. Nice and simple.
If they are working 12-hour shifts, then they are each entitled to 20 shifts of holiday (each day is 8-hours so it’s 1.5 days of holiday for each shift).
So how many people do you need on each shift to fit in everyone’s holiday?
Sounds like a simple question, and most people would give the answer to be two. That’s because on average you have 1.15 of a person off each shift. So you would round up to two. That means that now you have 12 people on shift. So how many will be on holiday on the average shift? With 10 people the answer was 1.15, however when you increased the number of people you also increased the amount of holiday. So now you have 1.38 off each shift on average.

So is two the correct number?

Let’s look at what would happen over the year. So you have two extra people coming in each shift. So that’s 4,160 hours of holiday resource (2x40x52=4,160). That’s per shift, so in total, you have 16,640 hours of holiday resource. That’s a lot of hours.
You are covering 2,880 hours of holidays per shift or 11,520 hours for the operation. So that gives you a spare capacity of 5,120 hours or about 45% of the holidays.
So in theory yes two extra on shift would give you the correct number to cover for holidays.
However, in practice you run into problems. When do people like to take holidays?
  • Summer
  • Christmas
  • Good weather
  • Weekends
  • School Holidays

People don’t take holidays like robots, they take holidays when it’s convenient to them. So during the summer and Christmas companies say, we recognize that people want to take more holiday so we will allow two people off every shift and then cover for a third with overtime.
Sounds like a good policy, however you have now given mangers carte blanc to use overtime to cover for absences and holidays.
From the manager’s point of view, they have a quota to meet so if they need to bring someone in on overtime, that is a small cost compared to missing their quota. So they bring someone in on overtime. Then have you ever tried to refuse someone’s holiday request. It’s not an easy thing, and now they have the resources to bring someone in on overtime. So what happens is during the summer it is not uncommon to only have half of the original shift in and half covered by overtime.
Hence while you started out with the correct number, you now find that you have a high overtime bill which is completely unnecessary.

So what’s the solution?

Well there are two, you can go down the route of a holiday management plan. This sets out the rules, to minimize the disruption that holidays cause. It’s very effective and when used correctly will ensure that you have the correct number on shift at all times.
However, it does require someone to manage it, at least one full time equivalent per fifty people. And really you should spread the job between three people, so that they can have holidays too.
The alternative is to introduce holidays included. Holidays included shift patterns are where everyone’s holiday is pre rostered into the shift pattern at the start of the year. This time is not randomly allocated, it is given in good quality chunks of time off in a way that the shift workers would like. So they have a week off regularly, and a two-week holiday in the summer. They always get whole weekends off or a minimum of three days between shifts. We’ve set up hundreds of holidays included shift patterns for companies around the world. So once a year you need to spend a week or so setting up next year’s shift pattern, and then that’s it. The shift pattern runs itself. So now you have no holiday problem.
Or contact us directly at or by phone on (+44) 01636 816466 and find out how we can help you have a more efficient Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Christmas Quiz Answers

Here are the answers to the Christmas Quiz; click here for the questions!

  1. St Christopher; he is is the patron saint of travellers
  2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Make the Yule-tide gay, From now on,our troubles will be miles away
  3. Wade, they makes sofas
  4. 1962, from the movie Girls, girls, girls
  5. Apple, but also found on lime, hawthorn, popular, willow, crab apple and false apple
  6. Comet, there is also Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen,
  7. Rudolph
  8. 184; a Partridge in a Pear Tree (12 times), Two Turtle Doves (11 times), Three French Hens (10 times),Four Calling Birds (9 times), Six Geese a-Laying (7 times) and Seven Swans a-Swimming (6 times).
  9. 1952; George V. delivered his first Christmas message in 1932. After the death of George VI in February 1952, The Queen broadcast her first Christmas message. The first televised message was broadcast live in 1957.
  10. Osborne House; After the death of her husband Prince Albert on 14th December 1861, the Queen decided to spend her first Christmas as a widow at Osborne House, and from then continued to spend the festive period on the Isle of Wight until the end of her reign.
  11. 2004; The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on 26 December with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.
  12. Sir Isaac Newton; he was an English physicist and mathematician born in 1642
  13. Holiday Inn; Irving Berlin musical, staring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire who run a country hotel.
  14. 1; Oh what fun it is to ride on a one horse open sleigh
  15. 1935; Issued to British troupes stationed in Egypt for their mail home, however the first British stamp for the public was 1966
  16. Henry VIII; he like to eat all sorts of meats and foul so why not turkey!
  17. 6; All snowflakes are six pointed ice crystals
  18. Mrs Cratchit; The 'copper' used to boil the pudding was used the rest of the year for the Cratchit family laundry
  19. Pig; He is largely based on Leon Trotsky and he was most likely a Landrace pig
  20. Post men; this is supposed to be why the Victorian's had lots of robins on their Christmas cards to symbolise the post men delivering good wishes.
  21. Dick Wittington; he married his former master's daughter
  22. 155 miles as the crow files; Bethlehem is a tiny farming village in the county of Carmarthenshire, Wales

Merry Christmas

Christmas Quiz Questions

Merry Christmas

This year I was asked to write the quiz questions for the Village Old Fokes Christmas Lunch. So here are the questions:

1) Which of these Saints are NOT associated with Christmas?

a.      St. Christopher
b.     St. Lucy
c.      St. Nicholas
d.     St. Stephen

2)  Which Christmas Carol contains the line “Make the Yule-tide gay”?

a.      Away in a Manger
b.     Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
c.      Do You Hear What I Hear?
d.     Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

3) Which of these people is not a Wise Man?

a.      Balthasar
b.     Caspar
c.      Melchior
d.     Wade

4) What year was “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley the UK Christmas Number 1?

a.      1960
b.     1962
c.      1966
d.     1968

5) On which trees will you get mistletoe?

a.      Apple
b.     Elm
c.      Mistletoe
d.     Strawberry tree

6) Which of these is one of Santa’s reindeer?

a.      Comet
b.     Moon
c.      Pluto
d.     Sun

7)  How many birds did my true love send to me?

a.      6
b.     12
c.      78
d.     184

8) What year was the Queen’s Christmas Speech first broadcast?

a.      1948
b.     1950
c.      1952
d.     1954

9) Where did Queen Victoria like to spend Christmas?

a. Hampton Court
b. Osborne House
c.      Sandringham
d. Winsor Castle

10) What year was the Boxing Day tsunami?

a.      2000
b.     2001
c.      2002
d.     2004

11) Which Scientist was born on Christmas Day?

a.      Charles Darwin
b.     Galileo Galilei
c. Isaac Newton
d.     Leonardo da Vinci

12)  Which was the 1942 Christmas movie?

a.      Holiday Inn
b.     It’s a Wonderful Life
c.      Miracle on 34th Street
d.     The Nightmare Before Christmas

13)   In the song “Jingle Bells” how many horses pull the sleigh?

a.      1
b.     2
c.      4
d.     8

14) In what year were the first British Christmas stamp issued?

a.      1846
b.     1920
c.      1935
d.     1962

15)  Who was the first person to eat Turkey on Christmas Day?

a.      Queen Elizabeth 1st
b.     St George
c.      Henry VIII
d.     Queen Victoria

16) How many points does a snowflake have?

a.      0
b.     5
c.      6
d.     Any number

17)  Who served up Figgie pudding in Christmas Carol?

a.      Fezziwig
b.     Mrs Cratchit
c.      Scrooge
d.     Tiny Tim

18) What is snowball in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”?

a.      Horse
b.     Pig
c.      Goat
d.     Cow

19)  In Victorian England who were nicknamed Robins because of their red uniforms?

a.      Fire men
b.     Police men
c.      Post men
d.     Yeomen Warders

20) Which pantomime character marries Alice Fitzwarren?

a.      Buttons
b.     Columbine
c.      Dick Wittington
d.     Jack the Giant Killer

21) Tie breaker: as the crow flies how many miles is it to the closest Bethlehem from Rolleston?

If you would like the answers click here

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Problem Solving

The first question you should ask is: “What is your problem?” This is very often so hard to define that we look at the symptoms and not the root cause.
Take lifts. People used to complain that lifts (or elevators to Americans) were too slow. Everyone was always stuck waiting. So engineers tried to speed up the lifts. They got faster and faster, yet people were still complaining. So they started doing all these fancy models so that the elevators would travel to the most used floor or wait in the best location to minimize waiting time.
Yet people were still complaining. In the end somebody came at the problem from a different approach. They put up mirrors. Now people had something to do while waiting for the lift.
The problem was not that the lift was too slow, the problem was that people were bored.
So the next time you hit a problem don’t just try to fix a system, try to find the root cause and fix that. Sometimes it’s easier and cheaper.
When companies come to us saying that their current operation is no longer working, we always start with the most obvious problems. People are very good at seeing problems. We were designed to use our brains when we hit an obstacle; overcome it or go round.
When we are operating a business the same rules apply, we try to fix the current issue or if that’s too hard and expensive we remove the problem by cutting our losses.
Strangely enough most companies have the same root causes for all their staffing failures:
  • Not enough staff
  • Wrong skills mix
  • Poor Holiday management
  • Poor absence planning
  • Change to the workload

The problem is that something has changed. When you start a business it takes time and a lot of trial and error to get everything running smoothly, but once it is you tend to forget about it. Then something happens. It may be small like somebody leaves or big like a change in the workload. So you go back and put in little fixes. Something happens again, and again and each time you don’t overhaul the whole operation, you just put in little fixes because it is easier and cheaper.
Until one day you look back and can’t remember why you did something on one occasion and something else on another. Then something happens and you don’t know what to do. That’s where we come in. We can look at your current system and assess it for staffing failures. Sometimes it just requires a few minor adjustments. Maybe a change to your procedures or implementing a new shift pattern.
On other occasions we may find that all your little fixes are making you inflexible for the future and you have a good opportunity to futureproof yourself. Put in a new way of working, with new shift patterns and flexible working arrangements. Think about contingency planning so that you know what to do when the next little problem comes up, don’t reinvent the system just look it up and then each time a common problem occurs you can solve it quickly, simply and cheaply.
Let us save you time and solve your problems contact us on or call (+44) 01636 816466 and find out how to solve your problems.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Pottering Around

Pottering around, what a wonderful phase. It means to do a gentle activity in a seemingly aimless manner. I love to potter around the house, doing this and that without any real obligation to get anything done. So while pottering you could read, play a game, and watch some TV, clean, go for a walk. Or really anything that you find relaxing.
What you can’t do when you are pottering is anything where you guarantee to be some place at a set time, other than that, you can do anything you want.

So for people who like to potter there is a wonderful way of working. When I’m creating shift patterns for companies, I like to use Banked Hours with cover shifts. They are perfect for people who like to potter. On a regular shift pattern, everyone is scheduled to work the same number of hours they are contracted to work. However on a shift pattern with Banked Hours and Cover shifts, they are only scheduled for a portion of their contracted hours. Then the remaining hours are put into a Bank. E.g. you are contracted to work 37.5 hours per week, but you are only scheduled for 35 hours per week. Then 2.5 hours every week is put into the Bank, so for the year your Banked Hours would be 130.
Banked Hours are used to cover for absences, ad-hoc work and training. So if you needed to do some training then they would bring you in using your Banked Hours. To reduce the number of days when you can be called in to work your Banked Hours, you have cover shifts. Cover shifts are scheduled onto days where you are rostered off but could be asked to come into work on Banked Hours.
The number of Cover shifts you would be down for would depend on how many people were on Banked Hours and how many are needed etc. But for most people with about 130 hours in their Bank, they would be looking at around the 30-50 cover shifts mark.
When you are down for cover you need to be available for work, so being a potterer is ideal. As long as you have everything ready and are contactable, then you can do whatever you want.
While you have to be ready to come into work on days when on cover the chances are that you would not be sitting by the phone for the day. You would be contacted as soon as a person reported in that they would be absent. So if everyone is responsible and contacts work as soon as they know they will be absent, then when you are on cover you can be informed long before the shift starts. Short of an accident or food poisoning most absences are known or suspected a long time in advance. It is in everyone best interest that as soon as they suspect they will not be able to come in they contact work.

So what’s in it for you? Banked Hours and cover shifts means that you are giving the company the ability to call you in when you could be having the whole day off with no ties to the company, so there has to be something in it for you!

  • Firstly, Banked Hours can only be used for pre-determined reasons, your boss can’t just drag you into work because they feel like it. These hours are there to cover absences, changes in the workload and training.
  • Secondly, if your Banked Hours are not needed, then they are zeroed at the end of the year. Ideally I always recommend that for the system to work there should be an average of at least one week’s worth of hours that are not required. So in an average year you would get at least one week’s worth of additional time off. This is a bonus for providing the company with the flexible resource it requires.
  • Thirdly, Banked Hours do not need to be all derived from your basic hours, the company can buy Banked Hours, so that you work more hours than your contracted hours. E.g. the example above showed that the person has 130 hours in their Bank, but what if you only had 30 hours in your Bank. The company can purchase extra hours and then store them in your Bank to be used as needed, or zeroed at the end of the year if not.
  • Fourthly, Banked Hours help with swapping shifts. If you want a day off under normal circumstances you would need to take it as holiday. Well in a Banked Hours scheme you have other options, you can swap a shift. You can swap shifts and set up your own shift pattern to suit your own personal life style.
Shift Swaps: The person who wants a day off asks the other people on the shift pattern if they will be willing to swap that shift. Once they have found someone, they agree between them a like for like swap, which they are both happy with. They then fill in the form and take it to their Manager to sign. Now with Banked Hours, you can agree swaps for shifts with different hours, the hours are just added or taken from the Bank. So you can swap an 8-hour shift for a 12-hour shift or even a day off.
  • Fifthly, it reduces your stress at work. Have you noticed how stressful it is to go in to work when people are absent? Everyone needs to do more work in order to cover for the missing person. However because a Banked Hours scheme means that whenever there is an absence it is automatically replaced, you no longer have to worry about absences. You don’t have to worry that you will be letting work down because you are too ill to come in. You don’t have to worry about meeting your quotas because of absence. You can go to work safe in the knowledge that you will have the correct number of people in to help you.
  • Sixthly, it reduces absence and fatigue. Absence causes fatigue and fatigue causes absence. Once a group of people are locked in the spiral, it is very hard to climb out. When people are absent the other people on shift will have to cover that workload. So they become over worked. When you are overworked you get fatigued quicker. When you are fatigued you are more prone to make errors or have accidents. Accidents lead to absence. Fatigue and stress will also affect your health. When we are tired and stressed, we don’t eat properly or sleep well, all of which can lead to serious illnesses. Whereas if you have someone to cover for an absence, then you avoid all of that stress, anxiety, and illness.
  • Seventhly, Banked Hours ensures that you have the ability to be trained. Most companies need to train their staff in the latest technology and ensure they are up to date with equipment etc. But when you are trained you have to be taken off shift, or on one of your rest days. Not so with Banked Hours, there is a readymade schedule, so when you are down for cover but not needed, you could have a training day. Plus the Banked Hours have already been prepaid for so if there was a course you have been desperate to go on, you now have the hours available to go on it, and by swapping shifts you can ensure that you can attend.
  • Eighthly, there is the benefit to the company. Now I know this is not a direct benefit, but if the company is able to respond quickly to changing workload, meets all of its deadlines and becomes more successful, then your job is more secure. Not to mention if the company is making more profit then they can afford things like pay rises and promotions.
So if better health, more time off, better prospects, better training and a personalised work/life balance doesn’t sell Banked Hours to you, then just think about all those days where you can potter, around the home, garden, shops and golf course.

If you would like to know more about Banked Hours then our eBook is available from Amazon or contact us at or (+44) 01636 816466