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Managing a shift-based workforce presents some unique challenges with regard to employee health and wellbeing.

While shift work provides flexibility for both businesses and employees, there is no denying that there can arise some adverse mental and physical effects on workers.

In addition to sleep disruption, shift work can cause gastrointestinal disorders, mood disorders, accidents and injuries, cardiovascular disorders, limited social life, and personal life issues for your employees in the long term.

These issues usually result in burnout or high levels of leave requests and disability claims (short-term).

So how can my organization continue to work this way while also caring for the health and wellbeing of my people?

We’re glad you asked!

We have rounded up some of the best practices to ensure a happy, healthy, and productive shift workforce.

Related Read: 10 Best Employee Shift Scheduling Software

Ensure Consistency

Shift workers might start having eating difficulties and sleep challenges pretty early on in their jobs, and irregular schedules only exacerbate their problems. 

Unpredictable schedules can also result in interpersonal stress for your employees, as they might not see their children, friends, and partners for days. 

Therefore, as a supervisor, your job is to plan shift activities in a way that guarantees time off at regular intervals for everyone. Also, don't make sudden or frequent changes to the duty roster. This will help your staff plan personal events with family and friends, and schedule time with their loved ones. 

Once you set their work schedule and agendas, it is best to keep track of your employees' preferences through surveys. Use them to learn about their tolerance levels and find out ideal time frames for variance and ambiguity.

Shift workers memes

Set and Execute Additional Safety Measures

As an HR manager, you can also improve the work environment by augmenting security and safety to help team members stay focused and awake.

First, make sure that lighting is vibrant enough during the night shifts to resemble the natural light of day. 

Second, ensure that any noise is not repetitive or low. This is essential for isolated or humming equipment rooms where little human contact is needed. 

Allowing your workers to listen to upbeat radio or music during their shifts creates an energetic environment. However, if they need to maintain situational awareness, headphones can be a safety hazard, so proceed wisely. 

Also, make sure the room temperature is suitable because warmer temperatures stimulate sleepiness. However, cool air can help workers stay alert.

Related Read: Safety Management Software to Keep Your Staff Safe and Sound

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Allow Flexible Scheduling

An effective way to increase your workers’ productivity and safety is to empower them by arranging their workloads according to their abilities: it will help them concentrate and handle difficult situations. 

This ensures that all your workers complete tasks that require the most attention and skills at the start of their shifts or working hours, when they are most attentive and in a stress-free environment. For instance, night workers usually experience the highest drowsiness levels from 3 am - 5 am. 

For around 66% of the shift workers flexibility is an unbeatable benefit, so allow your people to align their shifts with their personal lives. 

If someone's naturally a night owl and prefers to work the graveyard shift, schedule them accordingly. This will result in greater productivity and better health stats because most of your employees work according to their natural clocks. 

Another consideration—encourage your employees who are tired after a long night shift not to drive home. If you can't arrange accommodation for the late-night workers, make sure they have someone pick them up at work. 

Maintain Employee Engagement

People who work shifts other than 9-to-5 often feel left out of essential processes, proceedings, and work events, so it's natural for them to become disgruntled if they aren't routinely updated on important staff meetings and communications. 

Therefore, it is paramount to make sure that you keep all these workers connected with the organization to make them feel involved and valued.

Host activities or free lunches (or dinners) for all shift workers. And when everyone’s present, take the opportunity to fill them in with updates from other areas of the company. Also, have management regularly stop by to check in with the workers at odd hours. 

Try to make sure that your employees are comfortable interacting with one another and have valuable conversations that help them feel good. This allows them to build your employee loyalty and morale. Another option is to help them break up monotonous tasks by providing team-oriented opportunities to collaborate and work with other people.

Further, it's always a good idea to give your people a say in how their work is planned, especially when their task is risky. This helps them keep alert, safe, and avoid injuries because they do their work when they feel the most comfortable. 

Encourage Exercise and Provide Healthy Food

You can also enhance the happiness and the health of shift workers by implementing exercise and fitness breaks.

Circadian is a consultancy firm that focuses on shift work and its impact on human health and wellbeing. They find that physical exercise can boost alertness, especially during the night hours, so it is good to allow your workers to get fit and relax on the job.

Furthermore, offer healthy snacks in the workplace, but make sure you are particular about meals for night-shifters as burgers, donuts, and other junk foods can be harder for them to digest.

Alternatively, it may be good to keep veggies and fruits handy for the staff members to snack on during their working hours. This can help them keep happy, healthy, and alert throughout their shift. And make sure to offer them drinks other than caffeinated beverages like coffee—low-sugar juice, water, and other options to keep them from crashing.

Ensure that you make all the essential services and facilities accessible to employees 24/7, so they can benefit from them regardless of their shift hours. 

If you have on-campus programs, offer those at different times to entertain and accommodate shift workers. But, again, it’s important to provide healthy options that are crucial to promoting and contributing to your employee's wellbeing and health.

Avoid Overtime and Changing Workers’ Shifts

Avoid rotating schedules for your workers’ shifts. If you absolutely must, do it in a clockwise pattern. This will make it easier for them to adapt to changes as they'll show up to work a little later every time. This approach is taken at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), where employees get succeeding overtime when necessary.

Also, consider accommodating additional shifts for passing on vacation time or overtime. While the extra hours can boost your employee's income, it might not be sufficient to compensate for the overall impact on their wellness.

Evolving shifts can be challenging for employees because they usually mandate a complete rearrangement of their routine. That is why it is vital to let your team get used to working in different shifts and rotate them gradually. For instance, alter the day shifts to afternoons, afternoons to nights, and don't make it day to night straightaway.

At Deputy, we offer you robust scheduling software that enables you to schedule your staff with just a few clicks and helps you prevent any errors in misjudging any employee’s availability.

Carry Out Frequent Employee Health Checks

Enable your workers to discuss their health-related concerns, especially if their issues impact work duties. 

Nominate a wellness champion who acts as the worker's advocate and encourages individuals to talk it out instead of bottling up their concerns.

Moreover, conduct frequent health check-ups for your employees to ensure their wellbeing. They may also find it therapeutic to speak to an impartial or an external health expert. 

In addition, shift workers can find their job stressful, which is familiar, particularly in strenuous industries like construction or healthcare. So, a quick reminder to exercise and eat healthily might nudge them towards their wellbeing. 

If you can effectively promote regular health checks in your workplace, in contrast to ad hoc initiatives, you can prevent any burgeoning health problems from escalating.

Related Read: How To Build A True Employee-First Company

Offer Incentives Based On Performance

Shift work can be overwhelming, and your workers might have to reschedule their own events according to the designated scheduled hours. By offering incentives, you can empower and motivate team members to perform better and produce higher results.

Also, you can offer them other benefits, such as travel reimbursements or food allowances. This only goes to demonstrate that you care about your employees.

By making these efforts and offering incentives, you get more effective in managing shift workers. On top of that, you can make sure that your team is performing to its potential.

Provide Tools To Reduce Stress in the Workplace

Stress can have extreme effects on the mental and physical health of an employee. Unfortunately, it can't be avoided, as it's the body's natural response to excessive workload and pressure. 

However, access to mental health experts, intermittent stress awareness seminars in the workplace, and above all—an open-door policy—will enable your employees to recognize, respond to, and deal with their stress appropriately.

Also, give your shift workers flexible and deserving breaks to enable them to re-energize. This, in turn, will help them focus on their work better, increase overall productivity and reduce stress. 

A person walking in a room gif

As an HR manager, you need to ensure that your shift-working employees don't miss out on well-being and health programs.

Wrapping Up

With 90% of shift workers feeling they significantly contribute to their firm's success, they are a valuable asset to organizations. However, they are also among the human resource department’s most difficult challenges. 

If your company relies on shift workers, it should implement practices that strive towards mitigating the adverse impacts of their schedules and execute helpful procedures and favorable policies.

Use the tips and tweaks mentioned above to makeshift work better for your employees.

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Rob Press
By Rob Press

Rob is a content marketing manager at Deputy, a robust scheduling software that can be used to manage your workforce in a wide variety of different industries. Aside from helping businesses reach operational efficiency, he keeps up to date with the latest trends in SaaS, B2B, and technology in general.