Companies that don’t have normal business hours generally find many positives with regards to allowing shift work. Healthcare facilities, call centers, and manufacturing warehouses are some of the most common industries that use this type of scheduling.
But along with the advantages that come with shift work, there are also negative aspects – especially for employees. Such a schedule can have a troublesome impact on their physical and mental health. Sleep disruption is one of the most common ill effects. Workers can also suffer with mood disorders, gastro-intestinal disorders, injuries and accidents, metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, and interference in their family and social lives.
As an Employee Benefit News article points out, shift workers also experience high levels of annual leave requests and short-term disability claims.
Here are seven ways employers can help their shift workers stay healthy:
Provide schedules that are as predictable as possible.
Allowing an employee to settle into a regular schedule will allow them to establish a routine both at work and at home. Interference with home and social life can be a key trigger for a variety of negative health habits.
Limit the number of nights worked consecutively.
Just like a traditional Monday-Friday, 9-5 worker, those working night hours need a weekend of their own, too. While this may not always be Saturday-Sunday, allowing them a couple of consecutive days off will give them time to disconnect and recharge.
Designate areas and times for employees to rest in the workplace.
Whether it be a nurse in a busy ER department or a warehouse worker stocking shelves, everyone needs a break during their workday. Work with the shift manager to map out regular breaks and a calm and quiet place for employees to relax.
Provide health and wellness programs that are accessible.
Since most HR professionals work office day jobs, they often forget about accessibility of services to employees working different hours. Assure your EAP provider is accessible 24/7 and if you have on-campus programs, be sure to offer them at different times for your shift workers. A factory employee working third shift should have the same level of access as a first-shift office worker.
Give employees more control over their schedules with shift-based hiring.
This is an approach of hiring people for individual shifts rather than hiring employees, then scheduling them into shifts. Employees come to companies with a range of responsibilities outside of the workplace, so allowing them to match with the shift that best works with their personal lives will result in greater productivity and fewer health impacts.
For those returning to work following a leave, keep the schedule as close to their normal routine as possible.
While it’s not always possible to perfectly align with their previous schedule, you’ll want to get those returning from a leave back into the routine of their previous shift work. While on leave, many will have transitioned into a different sleep routine, so getting them back to the previous patterns will help with the transition back to work.
Provide resources on good sleep health.
For shift workers, a healthy sleep routine can be challenging. However, there are simple and well-proven approaches to establishing sleep patterns regardless of the time of day. Be sure to regularly promote resources in the workplace through regular communications.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is a good place to start.