Toyota is Admired for Good Reason… But About Those Rotating Job Shifts…
There's much to admire about Toyota and even regular readers of this blog might throw the “fanboy” label at me.
Toyota is admired by many and they were again named to the Fortune magazine “world's most admired companies” list, being the tops in the auto industry.
“To determine the best-regarded companies in 52 industries, Korn Ferryasked executives, directors, and analysts to rate enterprises in their own industry on nine criteria, from investment value and quality of management and products to social responsibility and ability to attract talent. A company's score must rank in the top half of its industry survey to be listed.”
Toyota is Admired (and Doing Many Things Right)
Toyota is an appealing company to work for. I recently saw this article about having 100,000 applications for 1,000 jobs in Plano at the new North American headquarters.
In the relocation, a high percentage of employees (67%) chose to move to Texas:
“Lentz said this week that he didn't know exactly how many moved from California, versus Kentucky or New York, but of about 4,200 employees nationwide who were asked, he said, 2,800 agreed.”
Texas is attractive (I love living here) but it's a lot to ask to have someone uproot themselves and their families, even with relocation benefits. So, clearly, Toyota is doing a lot of things right, from a talent attraction and retention standpoint if they were able to get that many people to move.
But that left 1,000 jobs to fill (400 came from other parts of Toyota).
Toyota looked for cultural fit:
‘Lentz said that, above all, he wanted the new hires to fit in with the company's “fairly dominant culture,” where teamwork, respect and a desire to continue learning are at the heart of a company where people build lifelong careers.
“I can teach people the car business,” he said. “What I can't teach is people to have that same philosophy at the core.“
A respectful workplace is one that's going to, all other things being equal, retain employees over time.
Many hospitals use Lean and Kaizen mindsets and methods to engage employees and reduce voluntary turnover rates. That very directly saves money (since replacing staff can be very costly) and reducing turnover leads to other improvements in quality, patient satisfaction, and patient safety.
Our Recent Toyota Tour
I guess I did so because I'm a “fanboy.”
I'll also be visiting a Toyota plant in Japan soon (you can still join our trip).
I've enjoyed previous Toyota visits and our team learned a lot and was inspired in many ways, including:
- The choreography of the support systems and material flow
- The focus on safety and the consistent exhibition of safety behaviors by employees
- The andon cord system
- The sheer complexity of a modern automotive plant
As much as I admire Toyota, I am quick to admit that they are not perfect. No company is perfect… nor is any individual). We're all human and a company is a group of humans.
I have admired Toyota's ability to reflect and improve as they face problems and focus on the long-term perspective.
Concerns About Rotating Shifts
During the San Antonio tour, we were told about the production team members being on rotating schedules. The day shift normally starts at 6 am and would run until 3:15 pm, I believe. Team members work a job for two hours, get a ten-minute break, and then switch to a different job… between the rotation and breaks, they get 45 minutes for lunch. Job rotation is a good thing, for many reasons.
The Toyota tour guide pointed out that break areas are intentionally all throughout the plant, so team members don't have to walk far to sit and rest, maximizing their break time. That's good for the team members, but the guide pointed out that being fresh is good for preventing safety problems and for quality.
These days, since demand for pickup trucks is high, there's two hours of “mandatory overtime” each weekday before the next shift comes in at 6 pm. They sometimes have to work a Saturday, which gets communicated in advance, they said.
She also added:
The team members work two weeks on the day shift and then switch to the night shift for two weeks, and then the pattern repeats.
Even as a fanboy (and not as any sort of expert on circadian rhythms), I was wondering how tough it would be to switch back and forth from days to nights, back and forth. When I worked in manufacturing companies, including GM, somebody was always day shift or always afternoons, without switching back and forth. I don't know what the norm is at other auto plants these days (please post a comment below, if you do know).
Is it difficult for Toyota to find people to always be on night shift? Working nights works for some people – due to their body clocks, child care situations, etc. (the same is true in healthcare).
The rotating shifts are fair in a way… everybody does it and Toyota says they made it clear to applicants that this is what they're signing up for. But what if somebody underestimates how hard it would be to switch back and forth?
The Toyota guide said the rotating shifts can actually benefit team members because “they can make doctors appointments or do things that need to get done during the day.” When somebody asked the guide about the rotating shifts during the Q&A period, the guide said the company gives recommendations to team members about how to best prepare for the switch in shifts.
She also said that working on first shift half of the time gives everybody equal opportunity to get the exposure that could lead to promotions. I guess managers and engineers don't have the same shift rotations. In my life, I've known some people who LOVE to work second shift because they get “left alone” by management and engineers (and I say that as an engineer with an MBA… I get it… and I hear the same things in healthcare, too).
During our debrief discussion back at the KaiNexus office, one of our colleagues brought up the rotating shifts as a real negative. He pointed to online reviews posted about working at Toyota and, while there are many positives, nearly everybody said the rotating shifts were annoying if not dangerous or a reason to quit.
In Toyota speak, there might be a “big vague concern” that we share about the rotating shifts. But, the next step would be to investigate to see if there's really a problem and what, specifically, that problem is.
The only public data points we have are some employee comments on websites like glassdoor.com (which I've filtered, in this link, to display comments only about San Antonio jobs):
Many of the positives are repeated by multiple employees. I've blogged before about their “no layoff” commitment, including here.
- Great Pay, Great Benefits, Awesome People. It's a lot of great personal & emotional reciprocation you get from the people you work with
- Great benefits, Job stability (many many comments on pay and benefits)
- A position with Toyota means work stability. Toyota keeps it's employees during hard times. There is never a lay-off
- Good company values. Great work environment.
- The l skills developed will make you better. Advancement opportunities.
- Great company!! Learned so much from the Toyota Way and Toyota Production System.
- Company cares about people and has a very methodical mindset on improving output while balancing individual lives outside of work.
The overriding trend in the comments is the shift rotation, with comments like:
- The Work Schedule Is Hard To Live With. The rotating shifts are not easy to work with especially if you're family oriented or have other responsibilities.
- Rotating shifts every two weeks is not good for your health.
- Bi-weekly rotating shifts and no flexibility
- Rotating shifts
- Work life balance [they] preach is not there. The work schedule is bad. You will either be on sleep aids or sleep disorder or depressed
- Rotating shift every two weeks with maximum production overtime. Work life balance was bad, this is only reason I resigned. They do so many things right but fail in a big way with every two week rotation.
- Rotation is difficult No work life balance
- Rotating schedule, sleep pattern, treat employees like people not machines… Get rid of rotating shifts.
- “Causing many to quit” – Rotating schedule. Cant go to college because flipping to days and nights so quickly 4 times in 3 weeks. Never feel awake while at work because of schedule. Safety concern.
- This job require a great deal of sacrifice on your part, with little to nothing in return. Their core principles can be easily ignored when it comes to making more profit.
- Can't complain about rotation due to fact that we knew about this before hand BUT it is not easy on body or mind as i tend to forget what day it is when working nights.
- When study was made of what NOT to eat when working nights so one does not feel sleepy Pasta & Turkey were 2 of the items….so why allow the cafeteria to sell those items at all when on nights.
- TMMTX adheres to an absolutely brutal shift work schedule where you work two weeks days then switch to two weeks nights. Your body and soul takes a beating because you never get used to the change.
- work schedule is the worst I have ever worked in 30 years
There are more comments, but that's pretty representative of the people on that site.
In the surveys, they are also some scattered (and surprising) comments about Group Leaders not listening, a lack of respect, management not living up to stated values, etc. But, one could chalk that up to there always being some unhappy people in any workplace. But, there I go sounding like a “fanboy.”
One employee's advice to management:
By my estimate, about two-thirds of the Glassdoor reviews had a complaint or comment about the rotating work schedule. Again, the population of people who post on Glassdoor isn't necessarily a scientific sample that's perfectly representative of the total employee population, but it makes you wonder.
Online surveys aren't necessarily a random and scientific sample. Toyota has about 3000 employees and who knows how many former employees. If you find 70 comments on a website, you don't know for sure if those people are actually employees, I guess, and you don't know if their attitudes are representative of the broader workforce. Generally, the happiest or the crankiest employees will fill out a survey like that.
If there's widespread dissatisfaction about this at the plant, I hope leaders are aware of it and listening. Or, if the complaints are from a small minority of employees, they might shrug it off as “the work schedule isn't a good fit for everybody.” But, I'd still wonder about the safety and health concerns…
I'm sure Toyota has weighed the pros and cons of this rotating schedule. If turnover rates got to be too high, would they reconsider and make a change? I wonder what the PDSA cycle looks like?
Does “respect for people” mean keeping everyone happy or does it mean being upfront about expectations (even if it's not a good fit for every individual) and then being fair and consistent?
I wonder what the safety data looks like with rotating shifts vs. consistent shifts?
This paper says the optimal shift rotation schedule for 24-hour emergency management workers is different than Toyota's:
“The unique physiological demands of rotational shift work and night shift work have the potential to negatively impact decisionmaking ability.
A responsible, evidence-based approach to scheduling applies the principles of circadian physiology, as well as unique individual physiologies and preferences.
Optimal scheduling would use a clockwise (morning-afternoon-night) rotational schedule: limiting night shifts to blocks of 3, limiting shift duration to 8 hours, and allowing 3 days of recuperation after night shifts.
In general, clockwise shift rotations should be used (day-evening-night). Ideally, a rotational schedule should include no more than 3 night shifts in a block, with 3 days of recuperation after the night shift work. In general, 8-hour shifts are preferable to 12-hour shifts. Circadian physiology suggests that morning shifts should begin no earlier than 8:00 am for the physiological best fit to circadian rhythmicity.
There are some shift rotation plans that provide 24/7 coverage using four teams to cover three daily shifts, but that's not the solution Toyota is looking for.
Do you know of other research or better research for manufacturing settings?
Have you seen shift rotation patterns that work better? What do you think?