By Ed Jacques, LEJ Editor
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, an unusual employee-driven process took root in America as fatigued shift workers convinced management that major scheduling changes were needed. By the 1970’s and 1980’s, many businesses were favoring 12-hour “compressed” work sets of two to four days, over the older 8-hour sets of five to 10 days. It wasn’t just employees who were anxious about scheduling; supervisors and spouses had witnessed first-hand the fatigue and burn-out that were taking its toll in the workplace. Municipalities and their police departments were quick to pick up on the idea and began evaluating its possible impact on law enforcement.
In the 1990s, Americans were sold on the values of multiple careers, fitness and health, spending time with the family, along with advancing one’s career. Most employees targeted these value items at the same time but quickly discovered that 8-hour shift schedules were meant for the previous generation. They were not living in their parents’ era where employees lived close to work, had the benefit of a stay-at-home spouse, relatives and neighbors to help them with the kids and a minimum of activities available to the family.
Initial concerns about implementing 12-hour shifts from police officers and police administrations were similar. But police officers expressed valid concerns over an even wider range of topics because their work schedules have a greater impact upon their personal and job life than any other nonlife- threatening variable. Of mutual interest to officers and their supervisors was the fatigue factor and its impact on safety, decision-making and productivity. Both parties knew that eleventh hour arrests could add an extra couple of hours onto an already lengthy shift. Employers were concerned about any additional expenses and employees worried about their own spending habits with additional days off.
Before diving into the many issues that relate to productivity and expenses, the employer has to commit to permanent or slow rotating shifts. Working frequently rotating shifts requires changing one’s work cycle and time of sleep so often that it affects key mental processes such as motivation, alertness and judgment. The result will most likely be a loss of productivity and a poor foundation for implementing a test program. Overlooking this item will quickly lead to disaster and non-acceptance of any new schedule, no matter how well it works elsewhere. If officers are experiencing any problems with 12-hour shifts, supervisors should slow the scheduled rotation or switch to a straight schedule. Published evaluations of 12-hour shifts indicate that the vast majority of employees will report little or no fatigue after two to three months. Experts say that this corrective process will take place sooner if employees are more active in their time off. In the 1980s, many internal evaluations by police departments on the effectiveness of 12-hour shifts were published in an effort to educate other agencies that were considering testing the new schedule. Although there were consistent findings on most issues, any person or department researching this issue needs to remember that every individual police department has its own dynamics and not all criteria used in the analysis was exactly the same. The old adage that figures don’t lie, liars figure, will be at play if the people supervising, recording and analyzing the test are determined to get the answer they want. Having said that, let’s take a look at the impact of 12- hour shifts on key economic and personal issues.
Most 12-hour shift schedules total 84 hours worked over a two-week schedule. If those additional four hours are paid as overtime, over-time expenses increase by approximately 10%. In cases where the extra four hours were subtracted from overtime, that number showed decreases of approximately 15%. When those additional four hours are converted to payable compensatory time, compensatory time increased significantly (over 50%) in all cases. But, if the scheduled four hours were removed from consideration, compensatory time earned dropped approximately 25%. Many departments soon resolved this dilema by having each officer work one 8-hour shift each two weeks. When POAM Business Agent Thomas Funke worked with the Walled Lake administration on implementing 12-hour shifts, they hatched an idea to have the first and last shift in a working block become 10-hour shifts.
Sick leave has been reduced in many departments utilizing the 12-hour schedule. Although the number of hours reduced is usually minimal, one has to remember that when a police officer under the 12-hour shift does use a sick day, it is at a rate 50% greater than that of the 8-hour shift. Figures reflect that while sick hours tend to drop a nominal amount, the number of incidents using sick leave decreased substantially more. Surveys indicate that sick leave has increased when fast rotating shifts are scheduled. Police officers have stated that the constant “flip-flopping” keeps their bodies in a state of turmoil, causing them to utilize sick leave in order to adjust to the constant changes. A straight shift for at least several weeks would allow physiological adjustment and should result in a larger decrease in the amount of sick leave used. Decreases in annual and sick leave affords more available manpower, which can assist departments that have experienced a decrease in personnel through attrition.
Although performance is a relative term, many initial tests did show double digit increases in the number of total arrests. Twelve-hour shifts do result in 33% fewer shift changes, which in turn provides personnel with more patrol time and less wasted time in transition. With more patrol time, increased flexibility, and a greater feeling of satisfaction being reported by a vast majority of police officers, increased production seems a likely result if there are no major fatigue factors. In their technical report to the Everett, Washington, Police Department, Captain Charles Davis and James J. Tracy, Ph.D., stated that “objective measures of performance suggest no real differences in performance and response times remained essentially the same.”
Most police officers and supervisors did not list fatigue as a part of the 12-hour shift unless they were on rotating shifts. However, the officers reported that it did not adversely affect their work, attitudes to the public, or working with other employees. None of the reports indicated any significant spike in valid citizen complaints. There were also some suggestions that people working a desk job have some flexibility to rotate with other details in order to maintain alertness.
Police officers suffer extremely early burnout and struggle with scheduling problems. One reason is because many of them typically use their off time to moonlight. Twelve-hour schedules are improving this situation and making scheduling of hours at their second job more convenient. In Glen McBride’s publication, Supervising the 12-Hour Schedule, McBride states that 12-hour employees often exhibit a higher level of motivation than rotating 8-hour employees, especially when they are well supervised. Part of the reason is the better recuperation from jet lag and sleep loss, plus the stress recovery benefits of 12-hour schedules.
Studies show that incident rates tend to rise where overtime has increased significantly and the schedule is not accommodating. There have been reports published that do indicate a higher incident rate during the last four hours of a 12-hour shift. However, this is found mostly in overtime studies and in studies of new schedules. This does not translate to personnel that have successfully adapted to a steady 12-hour shift and to its larger blocks of work and recovery. It is important to remember that the last four hours of a 12-hour schedule do not feel like four hours of overtime. A transportation study revealed that unexpected call-outs and stay-overs lead to fatigue, which in turn cause more incidents. The studies showed that the greater cause of unsafe fatigue is due to variation in start times rather than long hours of scheduled work. In 1987, Patrick Dean published An Evaluation of the 12-Hour Work Schedule for the Midland Police Department and his research indicated that there was no increase in officer involved accidents after switching to 12-hour shifts. Finally, all studies do show some decrease in energy in the last hours of shift work, whether those were 12, 10 or 8- hour schedules. With 12-hour schedules, there are one-third fewer shifts containing those last few hours.
In his report to the Louisiana State Police entitled “The 12-Hour Shift: A Workable Alternative,” Trooper Michael Fournet’s research proved that 12-hour shifts improve morale and family life. Police officers who work the 12-hour shift generally spend more time with their families; have more time and energy to perform routine tasks or larger projects outside of work. Every other weekend off allows them to conduct long-range planning and more time for recreation. A vast majority of spouses also reported overall satisfaction with the 12-hour schedule (note – only 50% of officers have to work the holiday on 12-hour shifts, versus 75% under an 8-hour system). It should be noted that there have been no insurmountable problems reported in implementing a 12-hour schedule. While the majority of road personnel questioned favored the 12-hour shifts, a few simple suggestions could make it an even more attractive solution.
Institute permanent or slow rotating shifts, thereby allowing an officer to more readily adjust, eliminating any possible fatigue factor.
Insert one 8-hour shift or two 10-hour shifts per pay period to eliminate the four extra hours or convert those hours to non-payable compensatory time with civil service approval. This will serve to maintain the previous high level of production and morale while costing the department nothing in monetary obligations.
Officers who work nights and attend court on a regular work day should be accommodated by scheduling their appearances early in the morning and as close to their shift change as possible. Another method to improve court attendance and accommodate officers would be to adjust their starting or ending time in that evening’s shift.
Accommodations should be made for desk and bureau personnel, as well as more frequent breaks for communications specialists. Conducting a successful test program begins with making the program strictly voluntary and ends with a scientific questionnaire geared to measure the differences between the 8 and 12-hour shifts. To encourage candid answers, the survey should be anonymous. The final evaluation must be based on objective data that has little or no variables between the two compared time frames.
Advantages of the 12-hour shift far outweigh any disadvantages. Employers should take a detailed look at 12-hour shifts because they have a track record of improving the quality of life for the affected officers and their families. The overwhelming number of conversions to the 12-hour shifts were initiated by the officers themselves or their police union. Most municipalities agreed to a trial period on the 12-hour shifts in an attempt to reduce expenses. The majority of those experienced cost savings in the test and reported continued savings in subsequent years. Perhaps the most convincing argument for 12-hour shifts is the fact that we have no record of any units voluntarily switching back to their previous schedule.
Employers, especially ones that have a limited tax base or are suffering significant revenue sharing cuts need to be more receptive about quality of life issues for its public safety employees. Otherwise, there will be a continued exodus of its experienced and most effective officers leaving for departments in nearby municipalities that do not necessarily offer more money – but a better work environment.
This article has attempted to deal with all pertinent aspects of the 12- hour shift. Comparisons were made and test results verified from state police departments, county sheriff’s departments, and local police departments that have published reports available to the public. There are certainly dozens of other internal department reports, tests, and evaluations conducted in Michigan police departments that can be made available to anyone in law enforcement considering 12-hour shifts. The POAM stands poised to assist any of its local units in presenting its administration a proposal on 12-hour shifts. Please call me personally at our Redford Headquarters and I will be glad to forward to you copies of all pertinent research material.