Shift pattern sickness? Protecting employee health with Working Time arrangements

Barely a month goes by without media reports relating to shift working and its impact on health. 

Higher rates of obesity and ill-health have been found in shift workers compared to the general population’

‘More than 3 million people in the UK work night shifts but research points to negative health risks from obesity and diabetes to breast cancer’ 

‘Shift work really CAN kill you: Irregular sleeping and eating patterns 'increase a worker's risk of severe stroke'

Whilst shift pattern-related health problems are less endemic than the headlines may suggest, poorly designed working patterns do pose a significant risk.

The most immediate threat to health is overworking. Shift pattern sickness? Protecting employee health with Working Time arrangements

This can be due to a lack of checks and balances in high intensity roles that are physically demanding or mentally challenging.

However, the most common cause of long hours working is poor workforce planning and management practices...particularly a persistent misalignment of labour supply and demand which makes working extra hours inevitable.

Quite often during periods of peak demand, employees are asked to work extra hours in the form of overtime or additional shifts. In organisations where supply and demand is never truly aligned this can be a persistent feature of working life.

The impact this has in terms of fatigue and poor work-life balance is a key contributor to stress and sickness levels.

Recent UK HSE figures reveal that stress accounts for 37% of all work related ill health.

Inflexible and inadequate resourcing models also pose a particular threat where workers regularly have to work night shifts.

Night working impacts an individual’s natural circadian rhythm and this should be factored in to rosters, ensuring there is appropriate time elapsed between night shifts for the body and mind to recover. 

What can be done?

Looking after the health and wellbeing of employers is more than just a legal and moral responsibility.

Organisations which fail to consider the impact of shift working risk harming productivity and damaging their reputation and employer brand.

There are a number of key considerations when exploring the impact your shift patterns may be having on employee health:

1.      Benchmark - find out whether your organisation is compliant and whether you meet best practice standards. At Working Time Solutions, we work in close partnership with Health and Safety Laboratory (the commercial arm of the Health and Safety Executive) who provide deep insight into fatigue, stress and how best to mitigate risk.

2.      Understand supply and demand - the alignment of labour supply and demand is key to addressing overworking and rostering issues that may lead to health issues. Implementing Demand-Led Rostering will ensure you have better visibility over requirements and the ability to ensure adequate resourcing levels at all times. The flexibility this unlocks can eliminate the need for overtime and ensure rosters are designed that provide a distribution of shift types that meet or exceed best practice standards.

3.      Harness technology - our WORKSuite® software provides all the tools needed to design and manage shift patterns that balance the performance needs of your organisation with the health, wellbeing and work-life balance needs of your employees.

4.      Engage employees - engaging your workforce around the planning and management of Working Time will help identify and resolve any issues early. No-one knows the impact of shift patterns better than the people who work them. Harness this insight and use it to develop solutions that benefit all stakeholders. We regularly use our specialist expertise to facilitate engagement, helping stakeholders to better understand the nuances of Working Time and the benefits or limitations of certain options.

We put a combination of software and consultancy at the heart of our approach to helping customers optimise Working Time so they can maximise benefits and minimise risk.

If you, or any of your colleagues would benefit from learning more about how to create working patterns that support employee health, 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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