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Improve Shift Scheduling for Frontline Workers | Flexibility, Predictability, and Control Are Key

Improve Shift Scheduling
shift schedules frontline workers

The two biggest questions that most frontline workers have when they start a job are “When do I work?” and “How much will I get paid?”

Suffering from shift stress? Fill open shifts faster without making a single phone call.

Shift schedules are often one of the top pain points for frontline workers. Inconsistent hours. “Bad” shifts. Being scheduled to work when they’re unavailable, and not being given enough notice of when they’re expected to work can push your hourly workforce to a breaking point. 

If left unaddressed, these frustrations around shift schedules can even cause workers to look for another job, or push them into the gig economy where they can enjoy flexibility, freedom, and control over their own schedules and pay.

What we’ve found both in our own research and in third-party studies is that the key to eliminating “shift stress” for frontline workers is to give them both flexibility and stability in their work schedules

Here’s why.

Quick Stats on Shift Work in America

The term “shift work” doesn’t necessarily mean graveyard shifts. It refers to any work schedule that falls outside the hours of 7 am and 6 pm. 

  • About 25% of the US population are shift workers
  • 80% of night-shift workers have trouble sleeping
  • Shift workers are 23% more likely to suffer heart attacks
  • Shift workers are 2Xs more likely to be injured on the job
  • About two-thirds of workers receive their work schedule with less than two weeks’ notice, and about one-third receive their schedule with less than one week’s notice
  • Only 1 in 5 workers report working a regular daytime schedule

Some sleep experts have even said that some of the worst industrial disasters in history – including nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Bhopal chemical spill, and the Exxon Valdez crash – were caused, in part, by workers suffering from fatigue due to irregular shift work. 

Health Risks Associates with Shift Work

An unstable, unpredictable work schedule for shift workers not only causes added stress, but it can negatively impact their overall health. This is especially true for workers who frequently work night, graveyard, and swing shifts.

Understanding Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD)

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a sleep disorder that commonly affects those who work non-traditional hours, outside the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.

Irregular shift work schedules disrupt peoples’ internal body clocks or circadian rhythms. SWSD causes difficulties adjusting to a different sleep/wake schedule, which causes disturbances in sleep patterns

It is estimated that about 25% of the full-time workforce in the United States is involved in some form of shift work.

Physical Symptoms of SWSD

People with SWSD experience increased risk for the following health conditions:

  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer

At least one-third of shift workers experience sleep-wake disturbance and symptoms that would meet the criteria for SWSD.

Stable, Consistent Shift Schedules Boosts Overall Quality of Life for Your Frontline

“Workers are desperate for stability, frontline managers are overburdened and burned out, and corporate leaders are trying to look to the future.”

– Axonify’s Deskless Report 2022

According to a Fast Company study, a lack of stability in an employee’s work schedule can negatively impact their sleep and even their overall happiness.

  • 16% of respondents reported that they receive their work schedules with less than a few days’ notice. Imagine it’s 8:00 on a Sunday night, and all of a sudden, you get an email saying you have to open at 5:30 the next morning. Finding out at the last minute that you have to work in a few hours is incredibly stressful — yet this is a reality for many hourly workers.
  • 12% of respondents reported that they’ve had shifts unexpectedly canceled at the last minute. For someone who may live paycheck to paycheck, this unwelcome day off could seriously impact their financial stability.
  • 45% of respondents reported feeling distressed. I mean, can you blame them?!
  • The study also found that even small improvements in schedule stability can alleviate many of these problems. Simply sharing employee schedules two weeks in advance was strongly associated with the chance that more workers would feel happy in their jobs. 

Another study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shift Project found that unstable shift schedules for frontline workers can negatively impact their children — and their children’s children causing multigenerational damage.

This study found the following:

  • Children of parents who worked opening and closing shifts back to back (also known as clopening) missed more days of school than kids whose parents have stable work schedules
  • Asthmatic children of shift workers were more likely to end up in the ER
  • 41% of children whose parents were service workers do not get the recommended amount of sleep each night 

The good news is that with a little planning and preparation, managing shift schedules for hourly employees doesn’t have to be so painful. And your organization as a whole will benefit.

Shift Stability or Flexibility? Frontline Organizations Must Offer Both

It’s clear that erratic, unpredictable shift schedules have countless negative effects on both the frontline workers themselves and their family members. Working parents or frontline workers who have family or community commitments outside of work need reliable, consistent, stable work schedules. 

Prioritizing shift consistency and stability for workers who need a reliable schedule (like single moms) can greatly reduce burnout, alleviate work-related stress, and improve the overall quality of life for these frontline workers. 

When it comes to understanding what frontline workers want in their work schedules, there’s a clear generational divide that must be considered. Gen X and Baby Boomers want consistent and predictable work (and pay). Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Z crave flexibility and freedom

Companies must do both in order to maximize retention across their entire workforce. 

The Other Side of the Spectrum: Gen Z wants Flexibility and Freedom Above All Else

Gen Z is the largest and fastest-growing segment of the global workforce. They were also among the cohort of frontline workers most likely to leave their job during The Great Resignation. 

As the first generation of humans to be born digital natives, Gen Z workers have high expectations when it comes to workplace technology. Information must be delivered in a mobile-friendly, immediate format for them to consume. This includes how they access their work schedules. The only “bulletin board” these tech-savvy employees have ever used is Pinterest. 

Younger Workers Want Flexibility and Freedom

For companies looking to win back workers who opted into the gig economy, they’re going to have to match the level of autonomy that driving for Uber or working for Postmates promises. 

We are in an unprecedented time, where younger people have more options than ever before in terms of how to make money. From joining the gig economy to becoming a social media influencer, understanding how to woo young workers can be a challenge. 

Tips to Retain Gen Z Frontline Workers:

  • Mobile-first workplace technology
  • Ditch paper schedules. Team members should be able to access their work schedules 24/7. Anytime. Anywhere
  • Make shift swap requests easy and seamless
  • Make open shifts more visible to workers who might want extra hours
  • Streamline communication to enable rapid responses to questions (social media has conditioned modern workers to expect immediate responses)

Eliminate Shift Stress for Your Frontline

Aside from pay, shift schedules that meet their needs are the #1 thing frontline workers look for in a job, and they’re a critical determining factor on whether or not they stay. 

A mobile-first shift coordination solution (like Beekeeper!) enables companies to modernize shift scheduling, delivers cutting-edge workplace technology that employees crave, and minimizes frontline burnout which causes absenteeism. 

A shift scheduling tool offers many benefits:

  • Keep every shift covered (without ever picking up the phone)
  • Offer more flexibility 
  • Streamline shift handovers
  • Extend your existing shift scheduling software to the frontline

Ready to say goodbye to shift stress? Learn more about Beekeeper’s latest shift scheduling solution.