Although the needs of society require diverse work schedules, most of us still have traditional morning to late-afternoon hours. However, certain industries operate in such a way that they need to run 24/7 – which will require people to work in shifts. What’s more, certain public services (such as those who work in emergency response) have to be available to assist at all hours of the day.
Shift work occurs whenever 24-hour coverage is necessary or when a 24-hour day is needed to optimise work output and productivity. There are many approaches to shift work. For example, an employee may work eight hours during a day that consists of three eight-hour shifts.
An employee may work twelve hours a day, for four days straight, taking time off the following four days. Employers have experimented with every conceivable form of shift work in an effort to maximise the potential of their operation, while also considering how to minimise any ill effects on their workers.
Remember: Shift work, in which an employee works the same shift consistently, is always better for employee health and allows the employee to create a fulfilling lifestyle and home life. Conversely, constantly changing shifts disrupts one's life patterns.
Who does shift work?
Once the purview of the manufacturing world, today shift work occurs in many industries and fields. Fields and operations that employ shift workers includes:
- Customer service centres (especially call centres)
- Death care (medical examiner or coroner)
- Emergency response systems
- Paramedic services
- Flight testing centres
- Funeral homes
- Healthcare organisations
- Public utilities
- Nuclear power
- Fossil fuel
- Solar, wind and hydro power
- Radio broadcasting
- Ship transport
The list also includes any facility that houses people 24 hours a day such as prisons, nursing homes, hotels, and college dorms.
What to do when hiring employees to work shifts
When you hire new employees it's much easier to attract talent if you have established eight-hour shifts. The employee knows what to expect and can decide to accept or turn down the job based on the impact it will have on their family, hobbies, or other lifestyle choices.
A nurse, for example, should know what to expect in his or her schedule before accepting a hospital job where night work is common. If a nurse can only work during the day, they should consider working in a doctor's office where extended patient care usually means only putting in an extra hour or two after closing.
Introducing shift work into a workplace that has traditionally worked 08h00 to 17h00 is problematic. Not only are you changing the conditions of employment, you are disrupting families. Introducing shift work after the fact is always contentious and will produce a higher turnover.
Consider modifying shift work
In businesses committed to servicing customers outside of the traditional eight-hour day, modified shift work, extended shifts, or overlapping shifts make the most sense.
People working at the beginning and the end of the shift will have crossover time with other employees but their work hours are modified to provide coverage. For example, an employee might work from 07h00 to 16h00, while another employee might work 13h00. to 22h00.
In instances of exempt employees working shifts in a white-collar environment, employers need data about how the extended shifts affect satisfaction. Requiring employees to work well into the evening and give up valuable family or social time will not encourage employee retention, especially among Millennials with the technical skills to move on to another job.