In a global marketplace that has no time zone of geographic restrictions anymore, industry must continue to churn out goods and services 24 hours of the day, seven days a week.
What was once the domain only of health care workers and emergency personnel now impacts air traffic controllers, oil refinery and power plant workers, manufacturers, restaurants and supermarkets, truckers and communications workers.
The number of people working shifts out of normal business hours in the United States is now as high as 20 million people.
That figure also adds up to millions of untold stories of sleep difficulties, family issues, child care challenges, and fatigued workers prone to making bad mistakes when doing crucial jobs.
Yet human resources officials often treat shift workers as if their lives were the same as day workers. No HR officials are there during their shifts, training is sparse, and even basic courtesies that day workers enjoy, such as full cafeteria service, food machines, and constant hot coffee, are often denied the night shift.
Companies Need to Better Manage Shift Workers
Companies that recognize things are not the same on all shifts, and that take steps to keep workers from having to rotate shifts regularly, are finding the attention paid to shift workers is paying off in fewer accidents and improved productivity.
Martin Moore-Ede, author of The 24 Hour Society: The Risks, Costs and Challenges of a World that Never Stops,” writes that the issue needs more attention because while people don’t release smoke, grind gears, or have pieces fall off, their equivalents – “fatigue, error, injury and ill health” – do result in failure and breakdown.
His contention is that most companies treat their man-made machinery better than the bodies of the people who operate it. Machines have operating manuals, maintenance schedules, warning labels, and training courses, but people are considered totally adaptable. But they are not.
Moore-Ede writes that while we hire people to watch equipment in our nuclear power plants and airplanes, we have no equipment watching the person to ensure they are awake and alert. This is the result of a society that is technology focused, not people focused, he suggests.
Human Resources Must Act
What can human resource managers do to address the issue of human beings being pushed to operate outside of their normal pre-programmed time specs?
A good start is to ensure as few workers have to work far out of the regular time zone as possible, and to eliminate shifts where people work days one week and nights the next.
Shift workers can also benefit from training on how to handle schedules and nutrition, the impact of stimulants like caffeine on their sleep patterns, how to sleep, how to deal with the impact of shift work on family life (spouses should be involved in such training), and growth of HR offices beyond the traditional business hours.
One of the best ways to acknowledge that night shift workers really do matter as much as day shift workers is to ensure that HR officers are available for the last couple hours of the night shift and the first hour of the start to ensure training and personnel issues can be handled as needed.
About the Author
Roz Bahrami is a blogger for SkyPrep, an online training software. Roz regularly contributes blogs related to corporate training, L&D, and marketing.