Shift work refers to work schedules that fall outside the traditional 9-to-5. The day is divided into shifts of different time frames. And depending on each company, workers may work in the early morning, late night, or rotate their schedules every two weeks.

Working irregular hours makes sure businesses can meet customer demand. However, as shift workers often suffer from the lack of sleep, it can negatively affect their health. Sleep deprivation not only causes serious disorders and illnesses, but accidents and errors are also more likely to happen.

If your business runs on irregular shifts, supporting your staff’s health should be a priority. This includes adopting better shift work practices, talking about healthy sleep habits, and paying more attention to workers’ health.

Tips for assigning rotating shifts

Rotating work schedules can take a big toll on employees’ sleep because they have to constantly adjust their sleep patterns.

Consider these things when assigning rotating shifts:

Let employees know about their shifts in advance

Distributing employee work schedules in advance is a good way to support employees’ work-life balance and avoid schedule conflicts. This allows your staff to arrange their personal and family matters, or schedule appointments and activities beforehand.

Communicate with staff properly

It’s important to talk to your staff about their preferences and needs. This way you’ll find out which types of schedules work best for both your business and your employees.

Give employees’ body time to adjust

Each person may have different amount of time in which they can adjust to the new schedule. Employees taking shift work often struggle to maintain their well-being when their sleep patterns change all the time.

It’s best to extend the rotation period into 2 weeks or 1 month so that employees have enough time to get used to their schedule.

Provide enough days off

Working night shifts and consecutive night shifts requires more time off than usual shifts. A general rule of thumb is to let employees rest 1 full day for every night shift worked.

Longer hours aren’t always beneficial

As rotating shifts often come with more days off, some employees are willing to work longer hours. For instance, some companies use the 24-48 schedules that let staff work for one full day and then have 2 days off. But working longer hours mean employees are more prone to exhaustion and fatigue, causing errors and even accidents.

Tips for assigning night shifts

Night shifts can be challenging for staff because they mess with the individual’s circadian rhythm. Employees may struggle to focus on their work or maintain a proper attitude.

Here are some tips for assigning night shifts to your workers:

Consider the starting time of shifts

Certain times of the day, such as 6 am, can be associated with a high level of worker fatigue. Starting shifts at irregular hours can also cause commuting troubles for your staff because they may not have their own vehicles to commute to work.

Provide a better work environment

A work environment with enough lighting can help your staff better adjust to irregular shifts. Studies show that exposure to bright light can advance circadian rhythms and help the body sync with the desired sleep and wake times.

Encourage short breaks

Short breaks are beneficial to staff because they can do activities that help them recharge their energy.

Quick naps from 10 to 20 minutes are enough, as longer naps may result the human body to fall into deep sleep state, which means it’s harder to wake up and causes your staff to feel groggy.

Staff can also stretch, run a few laps or do some push-ups during breaks to boost their energy.

Provide an area for napping

Having a dedicated napping area will encourage your employees to take naps and recharge their energy.

You can set up nap rooms for napping purpose. But if your workplace has limited space, you can set up a spare room or break room so that employees can feel comfortable sleeping in. Provide pillows, mats, sofas, earplugs, eye masks to support their sleep.

Offer carpooling options

Early morning shifts and night shifts are challenging because employees may not be alert enough to drive. To avoid accidents, it’s best to discuss sharing rides or offer carpooling options.

Read more about managing night shifts.

Train shift workers on sleep hygiene

Studies show that employees who do shift work often suffer from sleep disorders. You can’t intervene how your employees sleep at home, but you can help by training them on the best practices on sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene includes habits and practices that improve sleep quality. With proper sleep practices, employees can sleep longer and better, meaning they come to work more refreshed and less exhausted.

Here are some advice on good sleep hygiene you can tell your employees.

Create a better bedroom environment

An ideal bedroom environment for sleeping should be dark, cool, and quiet. You can gift your staff with sleep accessories such as eye masks or earplugs so that they can use those for better sleep quality.

If employees live with other people, you can give them a list of advice on how to deal with sleep disruption caused by their roommates.

Sleep and wake up at the same time every day

Although it can be challenging for staff who switch shifts regularly, sleeping and waking up at the same time every day can help people adjust to their shift schedules better.

Be careful with caffeine and alcohol

Employees working irregular hours often rely on caffeinated beverages to keep them alert during work. However, consuming caffeine 3 to 4 hours before bedtime can disrupt their sleep.

Alcohol may make humans feel sleepy and fall asleep easier. But alcohol actually reduces REM sleep and disrupts sleep, making people feel tired and sleep the next day.

Consult with sleep doctors before taking medication

Many supplements for sleep are available over the counter. However, you should encourage your staff to talk to a doctor before taking sleep medication.

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