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Public Safety Scheduling: Mixing Shift Lengths

On May 12, 2022

In our previous articles, we've discussed the various advantages and disadvantages of implementing either an 8-, 10-, or 12-hour shift coverage plan. Unfortunately, public safety scheduling is often complicated and every agency has unique scheduling policies – so sometimes a coverage plan of mixed shift lengths will be the best fit for an agency. The best way to mix shift lengths will certainly depend on the agency, their scheduling needs, and any concerns they may have. 


Shared concerns among agencies 

When it comes to mixing shift lengths, one of the most common fears among agencies is that there will not be someone who will want to work specific shifts, and management will be forced to mandate – which can adversely impact morale. While this is certainly a possibility, it's actually rarer than most think. Typically, no matter how undesirable the shift may seem, there will be someone who will want to work it. Unfortunately, you can’t make everyone happy all the time, and so a variety of shifts can often mean more selection and a feeling of option and freedom for employees – whereas all 8-hour shifts may appeal to some and be loathed by others.


A concern some agencies could have when it comes to mixing with 12-hour shifts is that they could be considered dangerous for the employees, with fatigue being the primary concern. There are too many factors to definitively and objectively state whether 12-hour shifts are truly more or less dangerous. This will be unique from job to job, agency to agency, and person to person. If your agency has concerns about 12-hour shifts, avoiding unnecessary liability is always the safest choice. This can be determined by listening to employee feedback and understanding what your ability to fill shortages is typically like. If employees will regularly be working 16s for overtime, the fatigue and burnout may be more of a concern. But if 12-hour shifts are used to avoid the need to fill shortages, then it may not be a negative factor.


Shared desires among agencies

 The primary need for any agency is adequate coverage. By mixing the shift lengths, you can significantly improve your ability to fill busy times and maintain different minimums as needed. In order to achieve this, you'll want to identify what you have and what you need in coverage, as well as any crucial shifts. With that, be sure to experiment with shift combinations that can efficiently leverage personnel resources while meeting essential needs. 


With mixing shift lengths, sometimes there will be overlap – but you can use this overlap for other needs like required training or communication opportunities. Overlap can be used to effectively improve communication and remain agile with operational needs outside of minimum coverage.  It can even be used as a buffer to minimize overtime necessary to cover unscheduled absences.


Effective shift combinations

When mixing shift lengths, often a base is used of one shift type to create the majority of the schedule, and then the remaining gaps are filled in with what makes sense for your agency. When considering which shift length to use as a base, we recommend the considerations to be based on being fully staffed. You can then evaluate which shifts to not fill, or to switch to another shift type based on your current staffing levels.


The 8-hour shift works well with both of the other shift lengths, so it can be a popular choice as the base. By using 8s as the base, you can then use the 10-hour shift to overfill and backfill peak periods or you could use 12s as they work nicely together in general. The mix of 8- and 12-hour shifts is an attractive option because the 4-hours on the 12 can overlap into another 8 for increasing all shifts by one person using two people to cover the responsibilities of three. You could also do a fairly even mix of the two, such as 8s and 12s, as that can help balance shift minimums with employee preferences.


Other considerations

To effectively handle unexpected absences, it would be beneficial to already have plans and procedures in place. For example, if someone resigns, you can strategically pick which shift is unavailable until you have additional staffing. When it comes to your coverage, that shift will be a lower priority to maintain minimums. Based on shifts that are least needed, if a high priority shift is unfulfilled, the least priority shift would be moved to fill the high priority shift. This would help avoid excessive overtime or not meeting minimum coverage.


There’s no wrong way to schedule, but there are wrong ways to schedule for your specific needs – you want your schedule to meet your needs, which are going to be different from other agencies’. Whether you are currently working with the SafeCities™ team or not, we’re happy to help you perform a self-evaluation to identify the optimal scheduling practices for your operations. 



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