It can be hard for some employees to adapt to working non-traditional hours. Nearly every aspect of their work and family lives are affected. Therefore, HR professionals should arm their department heads with tools that can help employees.
Adapting to a new rotating work schedule is not as simple as repeating what was done with a previous schedule. Shift work schedules require employees to teach their bodies to do what is unnatural while remaining productive.
Management should provide information on how they can try to minimize these difficulties.
Rotating Shifts Have Increased in a Global Workforce
Nearly 30 million workers in the United States work a variety of shifts, including rotating schedules. For many fields, the nature of the business requires it: firefighters, hospital employees, police officers, as well as workers in agriculture, factories and other industries.
Globalization has added its share of workers with a trend toward 24/7 business operations. Teaming with colleagues halfway around the world may require being awake at odd times of the day and night.
The always-on business world makes rotating shifts a necessity to boost organizational effectiveness. However, this business demand takes a toll on the minds and bodies of employees. Eventually, their productivity is affected from having sleep-deprived bodies. They are:
- More prone to errors
- Taking more sick leave
- Becoming moody
- Suffering temporary or permanent health problems
It is crucial that a company helps employees with a rotating work schedule. Making their schedules as predictable as possible can ensure their bodies have enough time to rest so they can return to work refreshed.
Shift Work Interferes with Sleep Habits
While it is good for 24/7 operations, shift work can be challenging to the body. The human body follows the natural rhythm parallel with the sun. This means that people are biologically preset to sleep at night and awaken when it is day.
Flipping this to sleeping when night turns into day, or inconsistently getting the same hours of sleep each night throws off the built-in body clock. This disruption can lead to a variety of symptoms.
In general, some symptoms are mild grogginess during work. However, a long and dramatic disruption can lead to more serious conditions such as sleep disorder. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 10% of American shift workers are affected by this condition.
Besides obvious sleepiness and difficulty falling asleep, some workers also experience headaches an irritability. They may lack energy for minimal tasks, have trouble concentrating and get depressed. Eventually, the company will see a rise in employees using sick days.
Fatigue can degrade employees’ motor skills and judgment. This is particularly true when employees have a rotating work schedule that requires working days, evening and eventually nights.
Injuries on the job may increase along with labor costs from sick leave, doctor’s appointments and possible workers comp claims. Any profits a company hoped to achieve with rotating shifts are void if departments cannot fill slots.
Supportive Ways to Help Shift Workers Adjust
Senior management has decided that the bet strategy to stay productive is by adding rotating shifts to employee schedules. So, it is not as simple as removing those shifts and have everybody report to a regular 8-hour Monday through Friday work schedule.
What management can do, however, is to make sure employees have valuable information to be successful. Here are 10 tips on what HR and managers can do to support employees that are working odd hours for the company.
- Provide predictable work schedules as often as possible based on business needs.
- Limit consecutive night schedules.
- Whenever possible, avoid assigning double shifts and overtime to employees who work rotating shifts.
- Optimize lighting space with better work area lighting.
- Allow employees to nap at work.
- Consider giving employees frequent or longer breaks, telecommuting and flextime options.
- Provide weekend and nighttime health and wellness programs.
- Encourage employees to get physical exams regularly.
- Develop fitness screening programs to ensure employees are fit for duty. Include sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders before employees’ health suffers.
- Educate managers on what to look for if employees appear to be chronically tired so they know when to intervene.
Avoid Costly Expenditures That Diminish Profits
As mentioned previously, companies have to consider the direct expenditures related to having rotating shifts and the maladies that may follow.
In addition to rising expenses for medical care and workers’ comp, companies will have to hire temporary workers to fill spots when employees are absent. Reduced productivity follows because of the time it will take to train the temporary workers.
These expenditures can build up over a period of time because sleep deprivation does no always appear as an obvious cause of other symptoms.
Fortunately, there are things that HR and managers can do to improve employees’ productivity and sleep habits. Reviewing and adjusting scheduling practices before chronic fatigue takes over can put companies ahead of an issue before it becomes a larger problem.