Managing 24/7

Communication Breakdown:
Enhancing Workplace Communication at 24-Hour Operations


When your operation runs 24/7, it’s easy for communication breakdowns to occur between managers and shiftworkers, and across shift crews.  Unfortunately, even a small instance of missed or misinterpreted information can lead to a serious accident or a disruption at a 24-hour operation.

Though communication breakdowns occur in every business, shiftworkers are especially susceptible due to the effects of fatigue, shift changes, and long breaks.  It’s not uncommon for skilled and experienced workers to make careless mistakes during the overnight hours — errors that may not surface until the next crew has taken over. 

Likewise at the end of a shift, employees eager to get home might forget to pass along key information to the next crew.  Or, if your workers have long breaks built into their schedules, getting back up to speed can be a challenge.

Although you can’t eliminate human performance limitations, here are some things you can do to enhance communication around the clock: 

Log books: Shift log books, whether electronic or paper, are the most commonly used communication tool in 24-hour operations.  Typically, shiftworkers or a supervisor record what happened on their shift, highlighting any abnormal or unusual activities.  Workers on the next shift must read and initial the book to show they’ve read it. 

Bulletin boards:  Operations with processes that don’t change much day to day may find that posting a bulletin board in a centralized location suffices as a communications center.  Each day, management posts a one- or two-page briefing with instructions for that day, with copies kept in a book for workers to review after days off.

E-mail and computer networks: With e-mail, managers can easily get information to and communicate with night crews they might otherwise have no contact with.  Another idea is to use your department’s computer networks to post information workers can read and print, but not change.  Such posts might include meeting summaries and workers’ shift schedules.  

Shift overlap:   Another common technique is to have shiftworkers — or at least the shift supervisor — come in early or stay late to provide added time for direct contact between different shifts.  Many companies use overlaps of 15 to 30 minutes, an ideal time period for a brief pre-shift meeting.

At one chemical company, the shift “leadman” — an hourly employee — always stays over for 30 minutes of overtime.  “It’s a cost we’re willing to pay because it works well,” the unit manager said.  “It’s especially beneficial during the midnight shift change, when there may not be any managers working.”

Meetings:  Scheduled meetings, held weekly, monthly or quarterly, are an ideal way to highlight important news and procedural changes at your company.  Some companies schedule meetings near the shift change time to catch multiple crews, or even hold the same meeting two or three times.  If possible, avoid calling night workers in during the daytime (when they normally sleep), or calling in workers on days off, for a meeting. 

Video:  Since getting people together can be difficult logistically, some companies routinely videotape daytime meetings and have workers watch them during the night shift. You can also post these video clips on the local computer network for viewing.

One metal processing company on fixed 8-hour shifts holds a monthly meeting at 2:30 p.m. for first and second shift workers (with the second shift coming in half an hour early).  The meeting is videotaped for third shift employees to watch that night. 

Next Steps:

•    Live training on Managing Fatigue and a Shiftwork Lifestyle – This on-site training program provides critical information in the form of practical, ready-to-use advice and examples.

•    Working Nights™ Newsletter – Monthly newsletter filled with tips and ideas to maximize the benefits of Working Nights (view free sample).

•    Working Nights™ Health & Safety Guide – This easy-to-read guide helps workers better adapt to the demands of shiftwork.

•    Fatigue Training Online – The premier online fatigue management training program for the 24/7 workforce.

Have a Question? Need Help?

For over 30 years, CIRCADIAN has been helping shiftwork operations around the world.  Feel free to contact us by clicking here.

Communication Breakdown:

Enhancing Workplace Communication at 24-Hour Operations

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