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We work the longest hours in Europe, yet other countries are more productive and earn more. 'The long hours disease' grips too many workplaces.
Brendan Barber
General Secretary TUC
Latest News
Neville Henderson, senior consultant at Crown Computing, addresses the concerns raised in a recent report that irregular shift patterns may affect worker’s mental abilities.
November 10th 2014

It is no secret that shift work can disrupt the body’s internal clock and has previously been linked to an increased risk of health problems such as heart problems and even some cancers.

However, according to this new report, scientists in France who carried out a study of 3,000 people found that an additional 6.5 years of age-related cognitive decline was based on rotating morning, afternoon and night shifts.

An estimated 1 in 5 people in Europe work shift patterns that involve some element of night work, while working on a wide range of shift patterns. Circadian rhythms disruption has long been understood to lead to poor efficiency and increased errors and accidents in early hours of the morning. Stress and other issues often arise from abnormal working times however, for other people, opportunities arise to do things at less busy times.

For those working on shift patterns, working time regulations define a requirement of:

  • No more than 48 hours a week averaged over 17 weeks (can be extended to 52 weeks for seasonal workers) (can be opted out)
  • A minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours
  • A minimum weekly rest period of 24 hours, or 48 hours over 14 days
  • A minimum of 20 minutes rest in any work period of more than 6 hours
  • Night workers should not average more than 8 hours in every 24 hour period – those doing heavy work or work with special hazards should not work more than 8 hours in any 24 hour period
  • An entitlement for night workers to receive regular free health assessments  
  • Paid annual leave of 5.6 weeks

A good workforce management software solution, such as Crown’s Open Options™, helps organisations maximise the investment in their people by providing a solution to manage all aspects of workforce time and ensuring these regulations are met.
I am often amazed that businesses work 24 /7 because they think they have to without first looking to evidence-based models. While continuous process work may necessitate it for some, for many businesses there are an infinite number of shift patterns that may better fit their requirements.

As studies suggest, performance and other issues as well as higher shift allowances and night working should be avoided as much as possible but if required, then only the correct number of people, with the correct skills, should be rostered.

If capacity is an issue, a business should look at this on a yearly basis. As a business owner or HR manager, ask yourself if there is a way of implementing a flexible shift pattern (e.g. annual hours) that has the required capacity through night shifts at certain times of the year and not others?
When rostering shifts, employers may find that their employees usually push for longer shifts, e.g. 12 hour shifts as it means fewer trips to work, however all evidence suggests this leads to poorer performance and an increased number of accidents. A fast forward rotation of shifts between morning, afternoon and night is preferable as this allows longer rest periods between shifts and avoids quick changeovers. Including employees in the design of shift patterns (while taking note of the previous point) encourages ownership of the way of working.

As mentioned above shift working often leads to issues within family life, this can be helped by ensuring rotas can be adjusted to suit individuals as well as maintaining the skill cover for the business by allowing swapping of shifts.

By using a solution such as Open Options™, which gives complete visibility across a whole organisation, managers can set limits and targets to ensure each shift pattern is filled by the correct number of people with the right skills for the job. It will also flag up if an employee has already worked his legal requirement of hours, therefore eliminating human error.

Saving all this information allows managers to look back throughout the year and monitor pattern trends and see when people are needed most and enable them to plan ahead for the next year.

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