Shift work

13 January 2021

Different industries require differing working hours and patterns, and as a business owner - it's important you understand which type of shift pattern will work for you. Different types of shifts come with their own set of positives and negatives.

As an employer, it’s vital you create working schedules that work for your business.

In this guide, we'll discuss what shift work is, the different types, and the pros and cons it brings.

What is shift work?

This type of work is a schedule which falls outside of the typical 9 am and 5 pm and Monday to Friday in the working week. As per the Office for National Statistics, over 13 million people in the UK work shifts on a regular basis.

If you're wondering about incorporating these working patterns into your business, it's important you understand which industries this type of work is commonly found in.

What industries is it common for people to work shifts in?

In the UK, they are many industries where this kind of work shift is used on a regular basis. Such as:

  • Healthcare. 
  • Retail.
  • Hospitality.
  • Security services.
  • Social care.
  • Transport.
  • Manufacturing.

In some industries, such as healthcare and social care - employment is solely based on working shifts. This can change on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis, depending on whether they're working night shifts, evening shifts or early morning shifts.

A man using a saw at work.

Typical hours of work for night shifts

In the UK, there's no set hours when working nights - with a wide range of options available. However, if staff work at least three hours between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am they are classed as working a night worker.

Employers must not work more than eight hours in one 24-hour period, over a 17-week period. Industries that commonly use these types of shifts include emergency services, security guards and manufacturing.

Typical hours of work for early morning shifts

For employees working an early morning shift, their working time is typically between 4 am and 8 am. There are many industries where early morning shifts are required. Such as cleaners, lorry drivers, logistics and manufacturing.

Typical hours of work for day shifts

A day shift is made up of working hours a core day - between 9am and 5pm. However, there is some flexibility over start and finish times. Day shifts tend to cover a company's daily standard operating times, for example in the retail sector.

Some employees choose to work split shifts, which are two successive shifts on the same day - for example, 6am until 2pm and 2pm until 10pm. This is commonly found within hospitals during extremely busy periods. It's not uncommon for some companies to incorporate a rotating shift schedule for their workers.

What are rotating shift work schedules?

Rotating shift schedules is when employees work different shift patterns, times or workdays from week to week or month to work.

An example of a rotating shift work system is when an employee rotates between day and night shifts over a six-week period. This is commonly found in an emergency service call centre.

Do night shift workers get paid more?

If you're looking to bring in the choice of working night or late shifts in your company - it's crucial you understand how much you need to pay them. You have a legal requirement to pay them correctly, failure to do so is a breach of their employment contract.

In the UK - there's no set night shift pay rate apart from the national minimum wage. However, this doesn't mean you should avoid rewarding your staff for working unsociable shifts. You could bring in your own policy of paying staff more for working different shifts.

Benefits of working different shift times for employees

Before bringing shifts in for your company, it's important you understand the benefits it can bring for your employees:

  • It allows employees to have more control over their work/life balance. However, they may be required to work the occasional weekend, which may become more regular over busy periods.
  • It allows employees with children who work late shifts to be around during the day for the school run and childcare.
  • A shift work system can give employees a higher sense of responsibility, with more being expected of them.
  • The worst of the rush hour traffic will be avoided if working outside the usual 9 am - 5 pm routine.
  • More flexible working hours are on offer, as well as more working time being available throughout the week.

It's important you understand the benefits shift work can bring as an employer.

Benefits of shift work for employers

Shift work comes with a range of benefits for an employer. Such as:

  • Employees can perform a variety of tasks, especially throughout the night - creating a higher skilled workforce.
  • Availability for 24-hour operations, especially in factories.
  • A stronger work ethic and increased morale, especially if the same workers work together a lot.
  • An increase in productivity when there's less staff or customers around.

Negatives of shift work for employees

As well as the benefits, there are also negatives for any employees who work night shifts, late shifts, or other shifts. You must consider these negatives and take them seriously.

Shift work sleep disorder

Shift work disorder commonly affects people who tend to work under non-traditional working patterns. Sleep disorders are likely to increase following a regular spell of long shifts being worked, with most shift workers sleeping less than non-shift workers.

The following tips may help promote sleep to your employees:

  • Encourage them to invest in a sleeping mask or blackout blinds to help them fall asleep.
  • Ask them to speak to their families to avoid any noisy activities when they require rest. A quiet setting is needed whilst resting.
  • Request sleep aids from a medical professional to encourage better day and nighttime sleep.
  • Plan a sleep schedule and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
  • Advise them to avoid heavy meals, and only have light meals before sleeping as they're easier to digest.

Below are more negatives shift work can bring:

  • Potential negative effects on physical and mental health.
  • Shift work may create family issues, especially around childcare.
  • This type of work can become repetitive and boring for an employee.
  • Potential for circadian rhythm sleep disorders.
  • Excessive sleepiness can have a negative effect on concentration.
  • Night shifts can lead to employees becoming drowsy driving following work.

A man sleeping at home.

How can an employer manage shift work?

As an employer, there's things you can do to successfully manage shift work in your company.

  • Ensure your employees avoid frequently rotating shifts on a week-by-week basis.
  • Make sure all your employees take their allocated breaks, rest is crucial to this type of work being successful.
  • Encourage your employees to get to know their colleagues, especially if they're working together frequently.
  • Advise an employee if they feel drowsy to not drive home following work and to take public transport.

Get expert advice from Peninsula on shift work

Employers across the UK have to use shifts as a necessity. However, before choosing to use this for your business - you must understand its different types, as well as the pros and cons of doing so.

Make sure you fully understand if this type of working pattern will be useful for your company. You have a duty of care to your employees to provide a working schedule which works for them.

Peninsula offers you expert 24-hour advice to answer any questions on shift work you may have. Contact us on 0800 051 3687

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