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Operational Research

You can always be more efficient

Operational Research is all about using analysis to improve decision making. Dr Angela Moore uses mathematical modeling, statistical analysis, optimisation, sequencing and scheduling techniques to create simple heuristics you can employ to run your operation more efficiently.


 Easter is just around the corner and for many people, they will be looking forward to an extra-long weekend. For most, they will be off for four days, some may be off for 4.5 days. And some may decide to extend this with their precious holidays and have a week or two off to enjoy the sun.

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But for those on a shift pattern, Easter is just another day. That is both good and bad depending upon how you look at it. After all if you are on the right shift pattern, then you might enjoy a long weekend every other week. Some people might even have a five-day weekend, 26 times per year, before holidays. True, they have to work on the other 26 weekends, but there are other benefits to shift work, like the money, and more days off.

For those on a holidays included shift pattern, you might not be able to pick the exact week you have off, but with about 30 weeks off per year, does it really matter if you are off the first or the last week in August?

So what should you look for in a shift pattern if your time off is important to you?

First of all, consider the weekends. If you are on an 8-hour shift pattern, then you are looking at one weekend off in four, but that is normally a long weekend (Friday-Sunday). If you are on a 12-hour shift pattern, then you have far more weekends off per year. Approximately 26 per year before holidays. But there are shift patterns out there which have split weekends. The 4on-4off, arguably the most used shift pattern in the world (for 12-hour shifts), only gives you 13 whole weekends off per year. It also gives you 20 split weekends per year.

The best shift patterns for the weekends are the 232, which has alternating three day weekends, and the 554, which has 26 weekends off per year, all of them are five-day weekends. That is before holidays. With holidays, you are looking at about 31 weekends off per year depending on your holiday allowance.

The second thing to consider with a shift pattern is fatigue, what is the point of a long weekend if you are too tired to enjoy it? There are a lot of different factors that go into fatigue. But your shift pattern can make a big difference to how tired you feel. In general, there is nothing wrong with regularly working seven consecutive shifts. Provided that your work is not mentally or physically draining and you have regular breaks. What will make you feel drained is single days off (avoid like the plague), starting too early or finishing too late, inadequate rest breaks between shifts etc.

Then there are holidays. How do you maximise your time off? What you want is quality time off, not the odd day here and there.

So on the 4on-4off sift pattern, 6-days (days not 12-hour shifts) will get you 12-days off (4-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days). 12-days will get you 20-days off (4-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days).

On the 232 shift pattern, 3-days of holiday will get you 7-days off (2-rest days, 2-shifts of holiday, 3-rest days). ~10- days of holiday will get you 16-days off (2-rest days, 2-shifts of holiday, 3-rest days, 2-shifts of holiday, 2-rest days, 3-shifts of holiday, 2-rest days).

On the 554 shift pattern, ~7-days of holiday will get you 13-days off (4-rest days, 5-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days). ~13- days of holiday will get you 23-days off (5-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 5-rest days, 5-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days).

However, if you really want to have some nice long breaks regularly, you can’t beat a holidays included shift pattern. On a holidays included shift pattern you are looking at one week off each month. You can have a two-week holiday in the Summer. Sometime people want a two-week holiday at Easter too. That way they get two long breaks while the weather is good, and you can have two weeks abroad, and two weeks at home each year, as well as a few one week breaks.

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So you are look at about 10-30 weeks off per year, depending on your holiday allowance and the chosen shift pattern. On average a holidays included shift pattern will give you the best time off for your holidays because they combine your rest days and holidays to give you good quality time off.

However, the real benefit of a holidays included shift pattern is not the amount of time off, it’s the privacy and freedom. When you are on a holidays included shift pattern, your time off is your own. You don’t have to tell the company what you are doing on your time off any more than an office worker would tell their boss what they do at weekends. Your time off is your own. You also know when you will and more importantly when you won’t be working, months or even years in advance. So you can plan your life. So when it comes to commitments outside of work, you can say when and when you will not be available. You can book your holiday when it is convenient to you, and not after you have asked for permission.

So this weekend, while you are enjoying the Easter sunshine, consider how every other weekend you could be enjoying a long weekend.