Are maintenance workers really different than other shiftworkers?

Many maintenance managers will tell you their workforce is different than other shiftworkers – that their attitudes and behaviors are not the same. Recognizing, understanding and accounting for how maintenance personnel evaluate shift schedules are essential to finding a schedule that will satisfy their needs and give you the required coverage to meet your business needs.

01/15/2008


Many maintenance managers will tell you their workforce is different than other shiftworkers %%MDASSML%% that their attitudes and behaviors are not the same. Recognizing, understanding and accounting for how maintenance personnel evaluate shift schedules are essential to finding a schedule that will satisfy their needs and give you the required coverage to meet your business needs.

When it comes to shift schedules, what makes maintenance workers unique? Using our database of more than 20,000 employee surveys, we compared the responses of maintenance personnel with those of the average shiftworker surveyed. The database includes information on the following topics:

  • Demographics

  • Health and alertness

  • Working conditions

  • Shift schedule features

  • Overtime.

    • Let’s look at the maintenance worker results for each of these categories and compare it to the overall shiftworker results. If our assumption that maintenance workers are different is true, we should see some differences in the results.

      Demographics

      Almost 98% of the maintenance workers are male. This is a sharp contrast with other shiftworkers, 76% of whom are male. The maintenance field is clearly dominated by men.

      Maintenance workers have worked 43% longer in their current department than the average shiftworker (8.6 years for maintenance vs. 6.0 years for the average shiftworker).

      Unlike production workers who can quickly learn a new job in another department, such as quality control or the warehouse, maintenance workers tend to stay in their specialized trade. They usually are paid more and spend more time working weekday day-shifts, which also may influence their reluctance to transfer to other departments.

      This finding has two important implications for maintenance workers:

      Maintenance personnel expect to stay in their jobs, possibly for their entire career. If they are required to work on a schedule they don’t like, they may see little opportunity to correct the schedule. This makes the stakes %%MDASSML%% and consequently the emotions %%MDASSML%% high when alternative schedules are considered. In fact, the shift schedule is so important that a substantial percentage of maintenance workers said they will quit their jobs before changing to a new shift schedule (24.7%).

      Since maintenance skills are often transferable to other companies, maintenance workers are often able to easily change to another maintenance job in a different company. Losing people because of your schedule is expensive. Of course, this also means that an attractive schedule can be a very effective tool for recruiting and retaining the best maintenance personnel.

      Health and alertness

      The opinions and preferences of maintenance workers and other shiftworkers are aligned when it comes to health and alertness. They have similar sleep patterns and habits (e.g. alarm clock usage and their hours of sleep while working various shifts are almost identical), and their self-reported alertness is similar.

      Working conditions

      Maintenance workers also gave similar responses to those of the average shiftworker on all facets of the work environment except the need for training. More maintenance personnel feel their employer doesn’t train nearly enough (65.8% from maintenance vs. 55.3% of the average shiftworkers).

      Maintenance employees are well aware that training can make their jobs faster and easier. They also often believe that more training for employees in other parts of the organization will reduce the number of breakdowns.

      Shift schedule features

      In only a few instances concerning schedule features did maintenance workers’ preferences differ from the average shiftworker. A larger percentage of maintenance people prefer fixed shifts (88.3% from maintenance vs. 82.9% among all shiftworkers).

      Most maintenance workers are assigned to weekday day-shift since most preventive maintenance work is done during this time. Minimal staffing is needed for corrective maintenance on nights and weekends.

      The likelihood of maintenance workers getting the shift they want is fairly high, so it is understandable that more of them want fixed shifts.

      Maintenance personnel gave lower ratings to the importance of keeping their current crew members together (maintenance rated this 3.11 versus average shiftworkers, who ranked it at 3.71 on a five-point scale where five is the highest possible rating). Unlike other job functions that require extensive teamwork, maintenance work is given to individuals or small groups.

      Maintenance work often requires a high degree of independence, making the individual team member composition less important than the team skill composition is to the success of the organization.

      Overtime

      One interesting difference noted between maintenance personnel and the average shiftworker is their preference for time-off instead of overtime. When asked, “If you had to choose between more time-off or more overtime, what would you choose?” 70% of the maintenance workers said “More time-off” in contrast with 61.4% of the average shiftworkers.

      Maintenance personnel are paid more than other shiftworkers, so they are not as dependent on overtime as others. In addition, maintenance workers work most of their overtime on weekends, since many companies push maintenance work to the weekends.

      Since weekends are the most desirable time off, it is not surprising that maintenance personnel will choose to have more time-off instead of more overtime. To them, asking if you want more overtime is like asking if you want fewer weekends off.




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      Author Information
      Bruce Oliver is manager of business operations and Dan Capshaw is a partner at Shiftwork Solutions LLC in San Rafael, CA. Shiftwork Solutions LLC specializes in helping organizations with multi-shift operations. Their Website (