7 tips for keeping shift workers healthy
For companies open for more than 10 hours a day, it’s likely that you have some sort of shift work, or a pattern of work involving rotation through different fixed periods across a working week or month. Employees who work in healthcare, call centers, manufacturing and in a warehouse all regularly work round-the-clock shifts, and these are some of the most common industries utilizing this type of model.
While shift work can have numerous positives for the company and even the workers, it also can have many negative impacts on health — both physical and mental. Beyond the most common health impact — sleep disruption — there are numerous other ways shift work can negatively impact a worker’s health including: mood disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, injuries and accidents, metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, interference on family live and limited social life.
Shift workers also experience high levels of annual leave requests and short-term disability claims.
For employers in one of these industries, or any industry with non-regular shift hours, there are a few best practices that will help improve worker productivity and minimize leave.
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 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 take a break.
Provide health and wellness programs that are accessible at night and on weekends. 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. 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 schedule 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 and through regular communications. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is a good place to start.