How businesses should support the safety and wellbeing of shift workers

black metal framed glass window
black metal framed glass window
Photo by Lydia Gulinkina on Unsplash

If your company employs shift workers, it is of paramount importance that their safety and wellbeing is supported by you and your business. Thomas Amos, CEO at Sidekicker, shares five ways to support shift working staff.

More Australian businesses are employing shift workers, with an estimated 30 per cent of employees involved in work outside of regular business hours. For certain professions, such as healthcare and hospitality, it can represent a significant proportion of staff.

But people vary in how they cope with shift work. Many shift workers face increased fatigue and health risks, as well as a negative impact on their social and family lives.

Despite this, many people need to work shifts for a variety of reasons, and businesses need to hire them.

Five ways businesses can support shift workers

One of the biggest issues for shift workers is sleep, with night shift workers getting fewer hours of sleep and poorer quality sleep compared to those who work during the day.

Supporting shift workers can help improve sleep quality, which may reduce health risks for workers, while increasing alertness and productivity.

So how can companies make shift work safer and easier, and better support people working irregular hours?

​1. Provide predictable schedules

As far as business requirements permit, provide schedules well in advance. If it’s possible, try to limit the number of nights worked consecutively, and avoid scheduling double shifts and overtime (always refer to the relevant industry award for rules around shift work scheduling).

When shifts rotate, the Sleep Health Foundation recommends rotating them forward (morning to afternoon, evening to night) rather than backwards. It’s easier for people to rotate forwards than backwards. They also advise scheduling the heaviest work during day shifts, particularly work that involves the most concentration.Although it’s not always possible to offer predictable scheduling for temporary and casual workers, it still helps to provide as much notice as possible ahead of night shifts to allow them to adequately prepare.

2. Be as flexible as possible

Consider allowing long or frequent breaks, plus flexitime and telecommuting.

Do the night shift workers actually need to be on-site, or can they work from home? If they are help desk or call centre staff, they can easily be provided with suitable equipment that enables them to work remotely.

Consider scheduling additional breaks during night shifts so workers can take a fifteen-minute nap, if required.

3. Offer transportation

Providing transportation, particularly to and from remote worksites, is important for night shift workers. Public transport may not run at all hours of the night, or may be very infrequent.

Shift work is also the greatest sleep-related factor contributing to motor vehicle accidents, according to an Australian study, so businesses who offer transportation options are taking a positive step toward employee safety and wellbeing.

4. Promote sleep and wellness

With the amount of health issues caused by poor sleep, it’s important to provide training for employees on how to manage their sleep and reduce their fatigue – and make sure these programs are accessible for night shift and weekend workers.

This includes educating supervisors to identify chronically tired employees and when to intervene. SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) recommends developing programs to screen for fitness for duty as well as for sleep apnoea and other sleep-related disorders.

5. Provide mental health support

Shift workers can sometimes feel stressed and isolated, and companies should ensure that all employees – particularly those who have little contact with the business during daytime hours – have adequate access to mental health support, whether that’s through onsite counselling or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

For businesses whose support systems don’t extend to temporary and casual staff, Sidekickerprovides its own EAP for these employees, facilitated by the Mind Room.

It’s also important to create a company culture so that night shift workers can develop a sense of belonging. Ensure that communications channels are available, and that night shift workers are made to feel an important and integral part of the team. This includes managers visiting night shift workers and listening to their concerns and feedback.

Always-on support

As a business, it’s important to ensure that all employees feel valued and appreciated, which can be difficult when they sometimes go unseen. In addition to supporting shift workers’ health and wellbeing, the little things such as making the work area lighting optimal for night shift workers and that workspaces are clean and hygienic at all times, are important.

After all, shift workers keep the business running around the clock, so they shouldn’t have to wait for morning for things like cleaners to deal with bathrooms and having supplies restocked.

If a business is running around the clock, then it’s important that all workers feel supported and valued, 24/7.

By Thomas Amos, CEO, Sidekicker

This article was first published by Kochie’s Business Builders