Survey Spotlights Shiftwork Practices

A survey of more than 500 companies from a wide range of industries found that slightly less than half of those surveyed use 12-hour shift schedules.

The 23 million people in the United States who work the majority of their time outside the traditional Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 hours face challenges in maintaining their alertness and safety that daytime workers do not.

Maintaining employee health and job performance takes on particular importance to employers who operate around the clock.

Each year, Managing 24x7, the Cambridge, Mass.-based newsletter for managers in 24-hour operations, conducts a survey of companies that operate 24-hours a day.

This year''s survey drew 522 responses from a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, utilities, hospitals, hotels and transportation companies.

The survey found that slightly less than half of the companies responding (43 percent) use 12-hour shift schedules for the majority of their employees.

Fifty eight percent of respondents use rotating schedules in which employees switch between various shifts, compared to 66 percent last year. Among those on 12-hour shifts, 86 percent use rotating schedules.

The issue of whether shiftworkers should be allowed to nap during their breaks has received increasing attention in recent years.

One-third of the companies surveyed said they permit workers to nap on their breaks if it is done discreetly, while 15 percent openly permit and encourage breaktime napping.

Thirty-one percent of respondents forbid naps and discipline workers discovered napping at work.

Most companies pay employees some form of differential pay for working non-daytime shifts, with the average shift differential being 50 cents per hour. Of those companies, the largest group (28 percent) pay between 41 cents and 60 cents.

"Overall the shiftwork practices are getting more favorable," said Ed Coburn, publisher of Managing 24x7. "The typical shiftworker in North America works overtime on a regular basis but less than 200 hours per year, earns 50 cents extra an hour, and is more likely to be able to nap during breaks. There remains some progress to be made however in such areas as overtime management and breaktime napping."

Each year, the survey includes a question about the most significant change a company has made in the last two years to improve shiftworker health, safety, performance and morale.

Based on different companies'' responses to the question, here are some tips you can use to make a difference in your operation.

  • When possible, conduct mandated training on the night shift rather than requiring officers to upset their routine and train on the day shift.
  • Install a weight room.
  • Rotate employees and processes.
  • Send health tip inserts in pay envelopes.
  • Provide safer parking for evening shifts.
  • Modify company nurses'' hours to provide some time weekly on night and evening shifts.
  • Allow shiftworkers to vote to retain or change schedule at year-end.
  • Provide literature on adjusting to shiftwork.
  • Offer optional annual health screening.
  • Encourage employees to do more strenuous work early in 12-hour shift.
  • Implement behavior-based safety program.
  • Install natural-light type bulbs in continuously occupied areas.
  • Institute drug-testing program.
  • Provide hot chocolate along with coffee and tea.

The complete text of the survey is available at

Managing Overtime and Improving Safety, Morale

Chemical manufacturer Rhodia Canada has a sensible policy that companies on 12-hour schedules may wish to emulate.

The plant''s schedule includes runs of two and three night shifts.

To keep individual workers from accruing excessive hours, employees can work a maximum of four consecutive days or nights.

An additional clause requires a minimum of 24-hours off once a person does work four days or nights in a row.

"We set the policy when we went from 8s to 12s, to be on the safe side," said Malcolm Blair, shift supervisor. "Some people will spend their lives in the plant if you don''t make them take days off. That''s the sort of person we had in mind."

Does restricting overtime offer tangible benefits? ELT, which prints labels for stores and remanufactures toner cartridges, found it does. The company significantly boosted production numbers simply by reducing overtime.

Staffing at the plant stayed the same, meaning that employees were able to produce more in less time because they weren''t as tired, according to Plant Manager Johnny Witten.

"We gave them goals and said, ''Let''s see what you can do,'' and they really stepped up to the plate," said Witten.

Witten became plant manager about a year ago. At the time, the plant had a day crew and a night crew, each working 12-hour shifts from Monday to Friday. That made for regular 60-hour weeks.

"People had that glazed-over look in their eyes," said Witten. "When they came back on Monday they were still exhausted."

Witten instituted a four-day week, shutting the plant on Fridays. "A three-day weekend gives you something to look forward to," he said. "You can spend a day taking it easy and know you still have two days ahead of you without work."

Since reducing overtime, production has increased from 10 million to 15 million sheets per month, and the first-quarter return rate was one-tenth of 1 percent, according to Witten.

To reward employees, Witten surprised the day crew one day in April by shutting down the plant with no advance notice and taking all employees to see the Tulsa Drillers, a minor league baseball team. The night crew received tickets for an upcoming game.

Sharpe Corp., a metal parts manufacturer, came up with an effective way to reduce absenteeism among shiftworkers.

The plant uses fixed 8-hour shifts. For each calendar quarter of perfect attendance, workers on the evening and night shifts get a lump-sum bonus payment for every hour worked.

Workers with one year of service get 50 cents per hour, and it rises to 75 cents per hour with two years and $1 with three years or more.

Exceptions are made for absence due to bereavement, on-the-job injuries and jury duty.

The plant is doing a one-year trial that began in January. So far, though, it is a hit, according to Mary Hettinga, human resources manager.

Attendance on evening and nights for the first three months of 2000 was 99 percent, up from 93.5 percent.

"If attendance continues to be strong, we''ll continue doing it," said Hettinga.

Hettinga hopes the program will affect turnover as well as absenteeism, since new workers now have an added incentive to stick around past their anniversary.

So far, there''s only one drawback to the program.

"People on the day shift were pretty upset," said Hettinga. "We told them, ''If you want to be eligible for the bonus, all you have to do is request a transfer to the night shift.''"

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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