How efficient is your Roster?

Optimising your roster could be the most cost effective initiative you undertake in 2018

Many organisations are working rosters which are costing them millions of Rand per year when compared to an alternative optimised roster. And most of these organisations are blissfully unaware of their loses.

Over time, changes to your business requirements, workload, key equipment, employee commute arrangements, operating costs, overtime levels, employee bargaining agreements and other workplace conditions can make existing rosters inefficient and expensive compared to other alternatives.

If your organisation is suffering from high levels of overtime, high absenteeism, poor productivity or high accident rates, then your organisation could be working a sub-optimal roster.

Well-designed optimised working rosters will provide your organisation with many benefits including:

  • Reduced operating costs
  • Optimised overtime levels
  • Increased asset utilisation
  • Increased through-put or productivity
  • Reduced employee fatigue and absenteeism
  • Attract and retain the best employees

Most organisations only undertake a roster change once every 10 years or so. If they don’ get it right they will usually live with a sub-optimised roster for many years.

When undertaking a roster change it is important to use a process which not only consider the business needs, but also considers employees’ input and the health & safety impacts of different rosters. Below is our optimal roster design process:


Business Needs

A well designed roster initially considers the business needs of the organisation. Without a thorough understanding of the company’s business needs, no roster options should be designed. Many organisations only consider one or two business needs before jumping into roster design. This often results in rosters which will continue to be sub-optimal for the business.

When considering the organisations business needs it is important to investigate all aspects of the business. As a minimum this should including productivity, workload, staffing levels, utilisations of key equipment, costs, absenteeism, safety, overtime, employee benefits, employee rest and meal breaks and the real cost of an hour of work.

Some organisations experience different workloads at different times of the day, week, month and/or year, but employ the same number of staff at all times. For example, the logistical function of a food retailer may experience increased workload towards the end of the month after the monthly pay date. However, they roster the same number of staff on every day of the month.

Other organisations may have a constant work-load but have varying numbers of staff. Sometime this is a result of the roster which allows different numbers of staff off on weekends than during the week although the workload is constant. Other instances are caused by company policies which allow more people to take annual leave over Easter and Christmas although the workload remains constant.

Staff Benefits

Often organisations are providing staff benefits at levels which differ to what has been agreed with their employees. At one organisation we found some employees being paid overtime at levels that had been grossly miss-calculated. While at another operation of the same organisation they were interpreting the same agreement very differently resulting in gross overpayment of overtime.

Employee and Union Inclusion

Once the business needs are understood many organisations jump straight into roster design. If they do this they neglect an important lever of change, the inclusion of the employees into the roster change.

Organisations must stipulate their business requirements in terms of roster coverage, staffing levels, employee skills etc. However, there are usually tens, if not hundreds of rosters that achieve the business requirements. I encourage organisations to include their employees in making the decision and selection of the roster that is worked within the limitations of the business requirements. This position is supported by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act’s Code of Good Practice for the Arrangement of Working Time which stipulates employee involvement in the design of working time.

It is not recommend that the Union representatives provide input on behalf of the employees as 1) it is important to permit each individual with the opportunity to provide input into the roster change  2) the union does not get blamed for the selection of an unpopular roster.  I recommend working closely with Union delegates to gain their support for the process, and allow them to take ownership of the positive outcomes.

Health and Safety

There are many health, safety and fatigue risk management issues that may arise from poorly designed rosters. Issues that need to be considered when designing a healthy and safe roster include, shift duration, number of consecutive shifts in a row, number of consecutive night shifts in a row, direction of rotation, what shift do you commence on when returning from days off, how often is an employee required to rotate from day shift to night shift, employee commute times, age of the workforce, what people do on their days off, type of work, etc. All of these impact employees’ health, alertness and fatigue management.

Roster Design

It is not until you have all three pieces of information, the business needs, employee desires and health & safety boundaries that a roster can be designed. And even now there are usually dozens of rosters which satisfy all three pieces.

An important consideration in the design of the roster are the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. The Act restricts some roster options through capping the number of working hours, stipulating the number of rest hours, stipulating meal break requirements, etc.

To allow employees to have a true selection of rosters, organisations should ideally provide enough roster options which not only meet the business needs but also provide employees with a variety of options to select from. Depending on employee preferences, perhaps include 8 hour shifts rosters, 10 hour shift rosters, 12 hour shift rosters and a combination of 8 and 12 hour shift rosters. Show options with one or two longer breaks in their cycle, and others with more regular shorter breaks. Many of these roster options will be driven by the results of your employee input.

It is usually this stage when organisations need to specify how the work and pay rules will work for each roster. For instance, if you are working a roster which covers 24 hours per day by 7 days per week, but each employee only works every second Sunday, does an employee deserve double time or time and a half for Sunday work? How many work days do employees get off for annual leave when working a 12 hour shift? Etc. Employees usually need to understand this level of detail when selecting their preferred roster option.

Roster Implementation

When it comes time to make the change to a new roster it is important to plan the change in some detail to facilitate a smooth implementation.

The reach of a roster is often throughout an organisation and is often underestimated. Roster changes affect many parts of the business and employee life that most people may not initially think of. These may include the payroll system, time & attendance system, annual leave and sick leave tracking, transportation arrangements to/from work, planned holidays for employees, etc.

Identifying the changeover date when the new roster is to commence needs careful consideration. Generally this should not be near the December  holiday season as many employees may have already planned time away with their families and friends. However, after a shutdown is usually good time to commence a new roster.

A transition roster is often required to provide a seamless transition from the old to the new roster. You will need to agree, publish and communicate new work and pay rules, make adjustments to employees pay, educate employees on the health and safety impacts of the new roster. In some cases you may need to employ additional staff or lay off excess staff. This will usually need to be done in advance of the roster change.

Should there be an OH&S incident after the roster change it will often be blamed on the new roster by which every party is opposed to the roster change.  An increased focus on OH&S prior to and after the roster change is a strategy for mitigating this risk.

A further mitigation strategy is to educate the shiftworkers on the Health, Safety and Fatigue Risk of shiftwork. This would include educating shiftworkers on the workings of the biological clocks, impact of sleep debt, which foods make you feel alert, and the impact of the lifestyle choices they make each day.

Follow Up

Most people are sceptical of change, and shiftworkers are no different. A strategy to alleviate some of the apprehensiveness associated to a roster change is to set a trial period. The understanding being that after the trial period that both management and employees will have the opportunity to revisit the new roster and make changes if required.

With or without a trial period , some six months or so after implementation of the new roster, organisations should review the roster change. Have the business benefits been achieved? If not, why not? How are the employees enjoying the new roster? Understand from employees which is the toughest parts of the roster and make recommendations on how to better cope during this part of the roster.


A roster change can be a traumatic time for a business. Often the Business Needs appear to be opposed to the employee’s desires. Management may want to reduce overtime, or increase productive working hours without paying overtime. Employees see this as a means of reducing their pay or taking away their flexibility and family time. In reality, a well-designed roster can not only maintain pay, but also provide employees with more quality time with their family and friends.

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Contributed by: Andrew Harding, Director, Shiftwork Solutions