Managing 24/7

Hiring shiftworkers? Look for these common traits of successful shiftworkers

Success in any operation begins with having the right people for the job. Do you know what type of person is the best fit for your shiftwork operation? Here are
some of the common attributes that many successful shiftworkers share:

1. Commit to the shiftwork lifestyle.   A personal commitment to shiftwork is the most important factor affecting a person’s ability to work shifts.  Key to this commitment is a willingness to schedule one’s life — and one’s sleep habits — around a nontraditional work schedule.  

During hiring interviews, ask people if they have worked shiftwork before and, if so, how they handled it.  Look for signs that the person has developed strategies for handling a nontraditional work schedule — for example, setting up a dark and soundproof place for day sleep or eating a healthy diet to minimize digestive problems.

2. Have a support network.  Having people in their lives who understand and accept their schedules gives shiftworkers an edge.  Shiftworkers whose spouses and children respect their need for daytime sleep and recognize that they cannot always attend important events fare well in the long run.  Friends are also important; someone who can rely on friends to go out with or talk to on the phone is less likely to develop negative feelings about being a shiftworker.

While you have legal constraints on what you can ask about a person’s private life during a job interview, you should be able to elicit some basic information from job seekers that indicate whether they have a support network available to them.

3. Are “night owl” types.  While most people are comfortable waking up between 7 and 9 a.m. and going to bed around 11 p.m. or midnight, certain people are extreme morning or evening types.  “Owls” love to sleep into the late morning and can stay awake and alert past 2 or 3 a.m., while “larks” rise as early as 4 or 5 a.m. and feel sleepy by 8 or 9 p.m. Research has shown that owls have an easier time adapting to night shift work than do larks.  

4. Exercise.  The benefits of exercise are especially relevant to shiftworkers: reduced risk for heart disease, increased stamina and improved sleep.  Studies suggest people who exercise daily fall asleep faster and sleep better than those who don’t.

While your shiftworkers need not all be marathon runners, it does help if they at least get some exercise.  Someone who merely takes a brisk 20-minute walk every other day is likely to adapt better to a rotating schedule than a true couch potato.

5. Not have inflexible obligations outside work.  Hobbies not tied to precise times of day are ideal for shiftworkers.  For example, athletic shiftworkers can arrange to jog or play tennis with friends at varying times but would be frustrated if they signed up for a softball league and had to miss every other game.

Bottom Line: While there are factors that might make someone a more natural fit for shiftwork, it’s also critical for companies to provide training and educational materials to new hires on how to manage a shiftwork lifestyle. After all much of what determines who is a successful shiftworker comes down to developing good habits that can be learned (e.g. making sleep a priority, creating a good sleep environment, eating the right food at night).

You might be surprised, but sometimes the difference between someone quitting after one month on the job and staying for twenty-years is getting the right information about shiftwork when they are hired.

Next Steps: We encourage you to check-out the various training and educational materials CIRCADIAN® offers:

•    Live training on Managing 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.

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