How's your balance? Considering shift workers in 'Work-life week'

Amongst the myriad of charitable awareness raising weeks, it's heartening to observe growing interest around one which is closely entwined with the workforce planning and management discipline. 

National Work Life Week (2nd-6th October 2017) is an annual campaign organised by Working Families, a charity which helps 'working parents, carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work'. 

Achieving work-life balance is subjective and relies on many factors that are specific to individuals and organisations.

However, when it comes to organisations that have a demand profile that requires working hours outside the traditional 9am-5pm, the task of reaching a good work-life balance becomes significantly more challenging. 

What needs to be considered?

As Working Time experts, we help employers of shift workers design, implement and maintain shift patterns that enhance employee wellbeing and work-life balance whilst simultaneously ensuring the organisation improves productivity, service levels and compliance.

When exploring how to design ways of working that support work-life balance, there are number of factors that need to be considered:

1.      Demand: Many roles require employees to work hours that are considered ‘unsociable’. For example, hospitality providers and ambulance services experience high demand late at night and at weekends. Likewise, many manufacturers require production lines that run 24/7 to ensure expensive assets are utilised fully and demand is met. The resultant shift patterns required to cover this demand can obviously effect workers home lives and even health.  Efforts must therefore be made to design shift patterns and rosters that factor in individual’s exposure to these patterns and that achieve balance and fairness for all. Amongst the myriad of charitable awareness raising weeks, it’s heartening to observe growing interest around one which is closely entwined with the workforce planning and management discipline.

2.      Employee aspirations: Our experience shows that employee attitudes to Working Time are diverse with a wide range of preferred start times, shift lengths, rotations etc. Some individuals will have family commitments, whilst others may have a preference for working weekends and nights. In these circumstances, a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to rostering can impact work-life balance and ultimately harm both recruitment and retention. Designing groups of rosters that meet the specific needs of different demographics or lifestyles can help accommodate employee aspirations and home-life requirements whilst meeting the demand of the organisation. Getting to a balance is challenging. If a high number of employees want to work more traditional hours, but demand requires weekends and night cover, there is a risk that other colleagues are left with a much higher proportion of unsociable hours in their roster. Engaging employees during the shift pattern design phase is crucial to building understanding around Working Time and can ultimately help deliver solutions that are fair to all.

3.      Manageability: It is simply impossible to provide every employee with highly flexible shifts that respond to their personal preferences. Too many different flexible working patterns can cause significant issues in terms of fairness but also administration. For example, deploying multi-skilled teams to functions/tasks can be extremely difficult if multiple staff arrive at different times which suit them. The key is to ensure the right degree of flexibility is achieved that balances the needs of the individual with their colleagues and the whole organisation. This requires transparency and engagement so employees can fully appreciate the factors that must be considered when designing shift patterns and managing rosters.

4.      Other factors: Supporting work-life balance is key to workforce optimisation but it must be considered alongside a wide range of other factors in the design process. This can span everything from legislative and regulatory compliance and risk/fatigue impact right through to public transport times, availability of parking and resourcing of support services (security, canteens etc).

Engagement is key

The diversity and complexity of the factors outlined above is why Working Time Solutions encourages a fully engaged approach where employees co-design their new shift patterns or rosters alongside us and the organisation.

Employees know better than anyone else the impact shift patterns will have on them and their families and together we can use this insight to create solutions that benefit all stakeholders.

Using a unique blend of software and Working Time expertise we enable this to happen in a structured and effective way.

Working Time Solutions recently helped South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) complete a successful roster review that will support employee wellbeing for around 2,500 front-line employees.

The new rosters have helped limit overworking and stress by reducing utilisation rates and cutting shift overruns by an average of 25 minutes per shift which has created more predictable finish times.

Our approach is based on a combination of consultancy, an engaged workgroup process and our unique shift pattern and roster design and management tools within WORKSuite® software.

By engaging employees around the need for change, the impact on them personally and the options that were available, we ensured they were placed at the heart of the process. Using software to facilitate co-design, workers were also able to directly influence and enhance it.

The approach ensured over 150 new frontline rosters across 96 stations were agreed and implemented quickly. Several stations were so keen, they adopted the new shift patterns earlier than the planned ‘go-live’ date.

Talking about this aspect of the project, Robert Crossman, Director of Working Time Solutions, said:

“Using software to facilitate co-design, employees could visualise the demand requirements and used their experience and insight to help create solutions that deliver benefits for all stakeholders.”

A key issue worth discussing

Supporting work-life balance is a key strategic area of workforce planning and management, affecting everything from productivity through to recruitment and retention.

We live in a period of rapid change where the demand for 24/7 services is increasing and the nature and quality of work is under more scrutiny than ever.

These issues are not going to slow or reverse…meaning organisations and employees must work together to achieve optimal solutions to work-life balance challenges.

It’s great to see awareness dates such as National Work Life Week highlighting this.

If you would benefit from learning more about how to create working patterns that support work-life balance, join us at our Workforce Planning Masterclass.

This event will give you detailed insight into the fundamentals of Working Time and how to design, implement and manage optimised shift patterns.

Alternatively, you can contact us directly and arrange a free one-to-one consultation with one of our experts. 

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