What to Consider for Your Shift Work Employees

Is Shift Work Necessary?

There are many industries that require around-the-clock coverage. In some cases, this is in order to maximize productivity; in others, it is due to the nature of the work. Such organizations typically implement work shifts in order to meet these needs.

When it comes to shift work, schedules often vary in length and days worked. For example, an employee can work 12-hour shifts 4 consecutive days, followed by 3 days off in between. Then, the following week, that employee could work 10-hour shifts 3 days in a row with 1 day off in between.

Working such unconventional hours is actually pretty common. Typically, any organization or industry that requires 24-hour operational coverage applies to working shift scheduling.

This includes industries like, healthcare, military, law enforcement, hospitality, and news/media. There are also other industries and organizations that do not necessarily require 24-hour coverage but have implemented working shifts to optimize productivity on certain days, like manufacturing factories.

Hiring Employees for Shift Work

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The conventional wisdom indicates that employees prefer eight-hour shifts, because it's far easier to arrange one's lifestyle around them, versus ten or twelve-hour shifts. Interviewing policy should include apprising prospective employees as to what shifts are available and their lengths. This will avoid confusion and give prospects the option to turn down jobs if the available shifts would have a negative impact on their lifestyles and responsibilities.

Some organizations like hospitals absolutely must have 24-hour coverage. Thus, health care professionals considering hospital work should be prepared to work night shifts, or consider other health care venues for employment.

Modified Shift Work

Digital transformation of the business landscape has given rise to organizations that never sleep. This has resulted in more traditional businesses committing to serve customers outside of the traditional eight-hour day. Many of these have adopted modified shift work, extending or overlapping shifts to suit organizational objectives.

For example, some employees on an assembly line at a manufacturing plant have shifts that crossover (overlap) other shifts. Many of these are shorter shifts designed to provide additional coverage at critical times, rather than full work shifts.

Changes That Improve Working Conditions
Conscientious managers know that some shift work is more stressful than others. As such, they empathize with their employees by doing what they can do to improve working conditions. Favorable work conditions are vital to safety and efficiency, but they also play a big part in each employees health and well-being and are of benefit to both employees and employers.

1. Environment - Bright light and cooler temperatures promote alertness. Ergonomics are important, as well as the ability for workers to move around periodically. Many workplaces invest in wireless headsets so that workers with phone-intensive jobs don't have to be chained to their desks all day. Some organizations opt for full kitchens with rest areas instead of break rooms and replace junk food vending machines with healthful snacks.

2. Workload - Policiesor at least, guidelinesshould recommend that shift workers perform their most intensive work (which requires more focus and may have high safety risks) when they are most alert. This will vary depending upon the shift, and there are many studies available that detail the hours when human alertness typically falls off.

3. Shift Management - Night shifts are notorious for disrupting human biorhythms, which can impact both efficiency and safety. It is recommended that workers rotate out of night shift work as frequently as possible, even if they ultimately plan to resume those shifts. Periodically alternating to day shifts for night workers can reduce this phenomenon.

4. Safe Transportation - Some shifts can put workers at undue safety risk when they leave work late at night or in the early morning hours. This is true pretty much everywhere, but even more so in larger urban centers. Having alternate or dedicated group transportation, or having a third party pick up the worker at the end of his/her shift can increase safety.

Don't Forget About the State and Federal Laws

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Labor Laws - Extra pay for working night shifts is a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee's representative). The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require extra pay for night work, but it does require that covered, nonexempt workers are paid not less than time and one-half the employee's regular rate for time worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

Breaks and Meal Periods The Department of Labor says-
Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the workweek and considered in determining if overtime was worked.

Overtime - Under FLSA, employees are divided into two groups- Exempt and nonexempt employees. Exempt employees are salaried and do not receive any overtime pay, regardless of how many hours they work.

Non-Exempt - Non-exempt employees are employees who, because of the type of duties performed, the usual level of decision-making authority, and the method of compensation, are subject to all FLSA provisions including the payment of overtime.

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