"Human resource managers hold the key to uncovering the hidden costs of extended hours operations and developing effective programs to reduce these costs. Unfortunately, in most companies, human resource managers are absent members of the extended hours operations management team. Since human resource managers are not usually on duty during the evening, nighttime or weekend shifts, impacting these excess costs is challenging," said Acacia Aguirre, M.D., Ph.D., one of the principal authors of Human Resources Management in the Extended Hours Workplace, a shiftwork practices survey conducted by Circadian Technologies Inc. that surveyed over 1,000 companies representing more than 150,000 extended hours employees. Aguirre is Circadian's medical director.
The study found it is not just limited access to human resources that is difficult for extended hours workers. Other support services, such as medical services and employee assistance programs, were also reportedly provided only to a limited degree to extended hours workers in 2003. If a percentage of the workers at a facility are not aware of the support services or have limited access to them during their time at the facility, then the benefits of providing the services (potentially less turnover, higher morale and healthier workers) are not fully realized.
The study found that:
- 21 percent of companies offered Human Resources services to all shifts
- 18 percent offered Medical Services to all shifts
- 18 percent offered access to Senior Management to all shifts
- 15 percent offered Employee Assistance Programs to all shifts
While workforce demographics are a concern for all human resources managers, they are even more important in the already challenging environment of extended hours operations. The critical problems that extended hours operations managers face, according to the Circadian study, include:
An aging workforce that creates challenges in the management of health care costs, heightens training issues, requires companies consider the use of flextime/job-sharing and contributes to increased conflict among employees.
The increase of women working in extended hours operations and the need for quality extended hours child care, an issue that has been largely unaddressed by U.S. employers.
The ethnic and racial composition of the U.S. workforce, which continues to diversify. The increased diversity leads to new employee challenges such as the need for bilingual communication and training.
Extended hours operations take a toll on employees, affecting their health and well-being and this costs the company more than it needs to.
"Many workers in extended hours operations do not know how to minimize the negative effects of working around the clock. These problems are avoidable when employees learn how better to cope with the special demands of extended hours operations," said Kirsty Kerin, Ph.D., one of the principal authors of the study. "Areas that should be covered in employee training include how to get good sleep according to the shift schedule worked, napping strategies, and the use of caffeine and other substances that can improve or decrease alertness."
Circadian's data indicates that an adequate work schedule, taking into account both operational needs and workforce characteristics, is key to minimizing accidents and injuries. The challenges faced by extended hours operations are diverse, encompassing a wide range of industries and employees. Developing and implementing an effective plan to optimize an extended hours workplace requires both a detailed knowledge of the site-specific issues and an expert grasp of extended hours operations and scheduling factors.
Said Kerin, "While it is tempting to look for a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges of extended hours operations, it simply does not exist. The 'ideal' solution depends on many factors including, the makeup of one's workforce male/female, younger/older, children/no children, married/single, the nature of the work, commuting issues and other important factors. A full assessment of the operating environment, composition of the employees, and management objectives is necessary to develop the appropriate comprehensive solution to the challenges of extended hours operations."