Shiftwork Perspectives

Manager:
“We do a good job of communicating with our shiftworkers.”

Shiftworkers:
“Our managers do a poor job of communicating with us.”

When asked, nearly 70% of all managers will say they do a good job communicating with their shiftworkers. When the workforce is asked the same question, 70% of shiftworkers will respond that management is doing a poor job communicating with them. This is an example of how different the perspectives can be between managers and shiftworkers.

The reality is that you may not understand what these employees are going through unless you have been a shiftworker yourself. This page covers some of the shift schedule and shift work issues as they are seen by shiftworkers.

Shiftworker Opinions Vary

This is obvious, but we need to be clear that no single shiftwork solution will satisfy everyone. However, there are several areas in which the shiftwork population in general has strong opinions. Income, time off and flexibility are issues that consistently concern most shiftworkers.

Income Is Important

While there are a lot of reasons for us to choose the work we do, few of us would be happy if our income were to be seriously lowered. Over time we create a style of living that matches our income expectations. We have mortgages, car payments, etc. Any schedule that does not allow us to make the income we have become used to will immediately be rejected.

It is important to remember that all income, including overtime income, contributes to our lifestyle. A common management mistake is to assume that a schedule has such an attractive day-off pattern that the employees will gladly accept it even though their income is not guaranteed. The ideal shiftwork solution takes the income needs of the workforce into account.

Not All Time Off Is Created Equal

Shiftworkers judge a schedule by the time off it provides. Generally, there are four types of time off:

  1. Time off every day
  2. Total number of days off every year
  3. The number of days off in a row
  4. Weekends off

Different schedules provide different levels of each of these types of time off. Some features come at the expense of others. For example, if you want time off every day, you want shorter shifts (i.e. 8 hours) but then you must work more shifts in a year than schedules with longer shifts (i.e. 10 or 12 hour shifts).

Weekend time off is a top priority with shiftworkers. Weekends off allow us the opportunity to spend quality time with our families and friends. While shiftworkers know that many shift schedules require weekend work, they also know that our society is built around weekend time off. Schedules that maximize weekend time off while still satisfying the need for weekend coverage are the most successful.

Predictability Is a Must

Unexpected overtime, cancelled vacations, training, and other schedule variables can make the best schedules intolerable. Shiftworkers are used to giving what it takes to get the job done, but they want their time off to be there when they expect it. One way to look at predictability is that it “maintains” a schedule’s integrity. Predictability does not make a schedule better, but its absence can make a schedule fail.

Flexibility Can Make Even the Worst Schedule Acceptable

Shiftworkers have a life. A life that does not always match up with the time-off their shift schedule provides. This can cause frustration because of missed school plays, dentist appointments, and little league games. A shiftwork solution that includes policies for flexible time, short-notice vacations and other personal needs can help the workforce meet the needs of their family and social lives without taking away from their contribution to the company.

If You Want to Know What Shiftworkers Want, Ask Them

Our consultants have spoken to tens of thousands of shiftworkers over the years and we know what the average shiftworker likes and does not like. The only problem is that we have never met “the average shiftworker.” The best, and obvious, way to determine what shiftworkers prefer in a shift schedule is to ask them. It is not unusual for the best ideas that satisfy the shiftworkers’ needs and the company’s requirements to come from the shiftworkers themselves – all you have to do is listen.