Shift Work

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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Learn what shift work is, the types of shifts, and how to manage staff rotas in a way that protect staff wellbeing.

Whether you're managing essential services or offering convenience, many businesses need to be open around the clock.

That’s where shift work comes in. Shift work ensures your business can operate during work hours whilst ensuring employees maintain a good work-life balance.

However, if you neglect shift work rules, you could end up losing talented staff, facing tribunal hearings, and paying compensation fines.

In this guide, we’ll look at what shift work is, examples of different shifts, and how to manage work shifts to suit your business.

What is shift work?

Shift work is an employment practice that helps you organise rotas and schedules. They help employers assign specific hours or days to their staff, in order to fulfil business duties and responsibilities.

Many industries run on a 9-5pm day shift. But this type of traditional working week doesn’t always work with employee and business needs.

When employers have good shift work patterns in place, it provides employees with freedom and flexibility. A happier workforce means better morale, motivation, and success for the overall business.

Are there different types of shift work?

Yes, there are different types of shift work that employers may use. Most come as evening, night, or early morning shifts. Let's take a look at different types of shift work:

Permanent shifts

Permanent shifts are usually set as one, regular type of work pattern. For example, an office employee works 9am-5pm everyday, except weekends.

Rotating shifts

Rotating shift schedules usually change on a daily or regular basis. Employees work non-traditional hours; but they should ideally rotate forward (as a day to night shift). For example, security guards cover day shifts; another team will then cover night shift work.

Continuous shifts

Continuous shifts are used when work has to continue without interruption. For example, an advice team may be asked to stay on-call 24/7 through day and night shifts.

Discontinuous shifts

Discontinuous shifts run through Monday to Friday or Saturday - usually, one weekend remains free. For example, a market-stall holder works everyday except Sundays due to trading laws.

Split shifts

Split shifts are used to work two shifts in a single dayshift. For example, a retail worker completes an eight-hour shift, takes a lunch break, and then resumes work another long shift.

On-call shifts

On-call shifts are used when employees need to remain on stand-by. For example, surgeons constantly keep their pager on in case of medical emergencies.

Night shifts

Night shifts will vary between businesses; but general working hours usually last from 11pm to 6am. For example, a nurse is asked to only work night shifts at their hospital.

What are the benefits of shift work?

There are numerous benefits of shift work - for employees and the business. Employees gain flexible working hours and can work around personal commitments. Like caring for children or other family members.

Work shifts allow employees to experience direct learning from their seniors and managers. This includes things like training, work experience, and career opportunities.

Most shift workers receive compensation if faced with potential disruption during work hours or tasks. They could be given an hourly flat-rate or annual cash allowances as payment.

What are the challenges of shift work?

Shift patterns will vary from business to business - that's why it's best to use a style that suits your organisation personally. If you don't, your shift work could cause all kinds of challenges.

Employees may end up working excessive overtime and go over the legal working hour limit. This can quickly impact their physical and mental health - leading to higher work-related accidents and sickness absence.

Some shift patterns, like a rotating shift schedule, can cause excessive sleepiness or even shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). This doesn't only just affect an employee's performance and capability - it also affects people around them, like colleagues and the general public.

What is the law on shift work?

There’s no specific law on how to manage shift work. However, employers are required to follow work hours, breaks, and safe working standard laws.

Every work shift must comply with:

  • The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR).
  • The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 (HSWA).
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR).

Shift workers cannot work over 48 hour shifts on average (including overtime) per week. (This is unless they’ve opted out or if an exception applies). They're entitled to a minimum rest period of 11 consecutive hours between working days.

Night work cannot be longer than an average of eight hours in any 24-hour period. Night shift workers classify as vulnerable workers; so, employers must protect their health & safety in the best way.

What is shift work sleep disorder?

One of the most common health conditions linked to shift work is called shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). This is where a person's circadian cycle gets affected due to working non-traditional hours. For example, working different shifts per week or doing regular night shifts.

Certain shift work forces a person into unnatural sleep patterns, which go against their internal body clock and circadian rhythms. Shift work sleep disorder is also influenced by a lack of exposure to sunlight.

Many shift workers end up with poor well-being and health issues; like excessive sleepiness, mood problems, and even depression.

How to manage shift workers in the workplace

When it comes to shift work schedules, there are so many factors to consider. If you neglect any, employees may end up suffering from physical and mental health conditions.

Employers must ensure staff have the proper training, manage during work, and have enough sleep to work shifts. Let's take a look at ways to manage shift workers in your workplace:

Use suitable shift work schedules

The first step you need to take is using suitable shift work schedules for your employees and work practices.

There's no point assigning early morning shifts if you provide services overnight. Or using rotating shifts because a rival business uses them.

Think about which schedules work for your business. And utilise the ones that have the least number of risks for your shift workers, customers, and the general public.

Create a sleep schedule

Most adults need around 7-8 hours of adequate sleep (although this may decrease with age).

A great way to ensure employees get a good night's sleep is by creating a suitable sleep schedule. These schedules are designed to help shift workers sleep properly between shifts.

For example, you should avoid frequently rotating shifts as this can lead to sleep deprivation. Instead, you need to regulate working hours to help them maintain good sleep time. (This is especially important to do before every night shift).

Provide sleeping spaces

Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disorders are the most common issues raised by shift workers.

Employers can provide comfortable spaces when employees feel sleepy. These are beneficial for staff who need to remain on-call or are scheduled for successive shifts.

Remember, daytime sleep is usually shorter and of poorer quality compared to night-time sleep. So, make sure your sleeping spaces are quiet, dark, warm, and comfortable overall.

Highlight tips to fall asleep

Employers can highlight tips for falling asleep within your sleep schedules. You can help a shift worker achieve good sleeps through:

  • Activities: Go for a short walk, listen to music, or take a hot bath before bed.
  • Exercise: Avoid vigorous exercises as this can stimulate energy and raise body temperatures.
  • Caffeine consumption: Don't consume coffee, energy drinks, and other stimulants before going to bed.
  • Diet: Eat a light meal or snack before sleeping; but avoid anything fatty, spicy, or salty as this interrupts digestion.
  • Sleep medicine: Refer them to health professionals for advice on sleep medicine. Make sure your work isn't causing their shift work sleep disorder.

Maintain regular breaks and naps

Shift workers should maintain regular breaks and naps between shifts. This can re-energise them for work; for example, taking a quick power nap to avoid drowsy driving.

They should take breaks away from work areas, especially if their tasks are repetitive or mentally straining. Advise them to get fresh air, eat good food, or take a short nap if needed.

Breaks and naps not only increase alertness and concentration levels. They also help reduce the risk of errors, injuries, and accidents during work.

Get expert advice on shift work with Peninsula

Shift work has many benefits for your business. It gives employees the freedom to manage a better personal or family life outside of work.

However, if you neglect shift work rules, you could end up losing talented staff, face tribunal hearings, and even pay compensation fines.

Peninsula offers expert advice on shift work. Our HR team offers 24/7 HR employment advice which is available 365 days a year.

Want to find out more? Get advice from an employment law specialist today. For further support, call our telephone number 0800 028 2420.

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