How to Effectively Manage Shift Working Employees

In almost any industry, from healthcare to law enforcement, it's not uncommon to find employees working unconventional shift work hours outside of your typically 9 to 5. And today, while there's a growing need for it, there are many inherent dangers surrounding this type of work when not dealt with care.

While shift work isn't the most conventional type of work, by understanding the risks involved, you'll be able to better accommodate your employees' needs, ensuring their safety, and preventing employee absence.

Understanding the Dangers of Shift Work

Although unconventional, shift work is an absolute necessity in many fields especially when it comes to the food and hospitality industries, healthcare, or law enforcement. With the type of work ranging from a full time eight-hour day/night to a shorter four hour part-time shift, shift work can be scheduled throughout various times of the day.

Roughly 62% of all night-shift workers suffer from troubled, inadequate sleep. In addition, there's actually a fully recognized illness known as shift work disorder, which affects about 10% of all shift workers in the United States.

Those with a sleep disorder sometimes have trouble falling asleep or have trouble staying asleep as their bodies continuously fight against their own circadian rhythm. Other symptoms of chronic fatigue, headaches, insomnia, concentration difficulties, and extreme irritability can also follow when their sleep quality has become compromised.

Long-term shift work disorder has even been linked to anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity.

So, to better illustrate the potential dangers of shift work here are a few shocking statistics-

  • Working a 12-hour shift is associated with a 37% increased risk of injury.
  • Compared to day shifts, workplace incidents are 18% more likely to happen during evening shifts and as high as 30% more likely during night shifts.
  • The total cost of productivity loss due to sleep-related illnesses is estimated at around $136 billion per year.

The Different Types of Shift Work

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When we talk about shift work, most people think of your typical, morning, afternoon, and night shift. But the truth is that there are a total of 8 different types of shifts that your employees may be required to work.

1. First Shift
Also known as day shift, first shift employees start first thing in the morning, usually at or around 7 am and have their evenings/nights off. These employees are typically present during regular business hours.

2. Second Shift
The second shift is often known as swing shift because it'll often overlap with the first and third shift of the day. The second shift will commonly start at either 11 am or 3 pm, and is typically done before midnight.

3. Third Shift
Third shift employees have their morning and afternoons off. They'll typically start at either 11 pm or midnight and work until either 7 am or 8 am in the morning. You'll often hear third shift referred to as the graveyard, night, or midnight shift.

In many industries, it's common for employers to offer a shift premium, where third shift employees earn a higher wage for working at night.

4. Fixed Shift
Regardless of it being first, second, or third shift, fixed shifts refer to when an employee works the same set hours all throughout the week. This doesn't mean that all your employees will be working the same shift. But instead, you might have some employees working one set of fixed hours, while others work different fixed shifts.

5. Rotating Shifts
Rotating shifts or rotational shift work refers to when an employee works shifts inconsistently throughout the week. So, for example, they may be required to work first shift on Monday, second shift on Tuesday, third shift on Wednesday, and so on.

The benefit of this type of shift is that the same employees won't always be required to work the same shifts all of the time.

6. Split Shift
As the name implies, a split shift is when an employee's workday is split into two separate shifts. So essentially, that employee will be working two shorter shifts throughout the course of the same day. Split shifts are commonly seen in the food industry, where businesses might have slower times during the morning and afternoon, and a rush in the evening time.

7. On-Call Shift
An on-call shift refers to a shift that requires your employees to be ready to work if you need them. Employers don't always need to pay their employees during an on-call shift unless the employee is actually called into work. Typically, employees who work on-call shifts will also work regular shifts as well.

8. Weekday Or Weekend Shift
As you already know, not every business is going to operate and have employees working during a Monday to Friday shift schedule. So in some cases, you might be required to schedule your shift worker for weekend work, which is sometimes referred to as the weekend shift.

How to Safely Manage Your Employees

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Now that you understand a bit more about the risks associated with shift work, let's take a look at what you can be doing to help mitigate the danger.

  • It's best to avoid scheduling long shifts or overtime as much as possible.
  • Minimize consecutive night shifts as much as you can.
  • Try to give employees a minimum of 24 to 48 hours off in between working a different shift schedule, as an irregular shift pattern will consequently affect sleep patterns.
  • If possible, avoid alternating working days and days off. Instead, try to keep your employees working consistently day after day until it's time for their days off.
  • Also, try to keep your working shifts consistent so that your employees will still be able to plan ahead and have a good life outside of work.
  • Try to keep your employees' work environment well-lit and at a cool temperature, especially during the afternoon or night shift. Music can also be a lifesaver when trying to keep your employees awake and alert.
  • If you require your employees to perform monotonous or physically demanding tasks, ensure they're provided with plenty of breaks and even brief micro-breaks in between their actual breaks.
  • If possible, don't force your employees to work shift work. Instead, you might consider offering a shift premium as an incentive to get your employees to volunteer for these shifts.
If you must schedule your employees in this way, make sure you're always on the lookout for signs of sleep deprivation, which includes mood swings or irritability, a lack of personal hygiene, an increase in mistakes or lapses in judgment, or simply catching them dozing off.

In the end, if a shift worker is having trouble acclimating, it's important that you're not forcing them into shift work. Not only is this dangerous for the employee, but you'll also be putting your business at risk.

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