Introducing night working

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Nightshift SewingAs the upturn takes hold, many firms are looking at how they cope with growth without investing in more space and plant. One obvious opportunity is to start night-time working. In financial terms adding night-time working offers better use of capital employed. Instead of an empty building and silent plant, staff can be recruited or existing staff re-deployed to carry on the business overnight in one or two shifts. In fact, plant can be working 24/7 365 days a year!

But whilst it’s a good idea financially, there are some big people-issues that need addressing.

From the contractual side, there are two clear scenarios. The first is where existing staff are asked to change from working during the day to working through the night. This is a change to the terms and conditions of employment and can’t be forced through without risk. The simplest way to proceed is to gain agreement of some staff to make the change, perhaps by making it financially advantageous. Given provisions in existing contracts, it is possible to make the change but only with due consultation. The second is of course simpler – just recruit new staff and train them.

We’d recommend too that managers consider trialling such a major change so that they understand the issues before making final changes.

To avoid workers having to come and go in the small hours, generally night working is done in long shifts. Working time regulations constrain the maximum shift length and number of shifts before rest. Typically if a 12-hour shift is proposed, this demands that only four days are worked on and perhaps three or four off.

There are also some equality issues and management will need to be sure there’s equal pay for equal work and that the effort/reward ratio is maintained between night and day.

Often night shifts comprise reduced numbers of staff. Management will need to be sure that the night shift is adequately supervised. During the day, issues can often be escalated to colleagues and management for resolution. If the night shift can’t escalate problems, reduced productivity and low morale will result.

One of the reasons for splitting the day shift and asking half to work nights is to enable competency to be maintained across all teams. Recruitment then builds equally on both shifts. If the night shift is to be recruited from scratch, they will need substantial training. Monitoring of KPIs will be needed to assess productivity and training and support effort will be needed to grow competency.

Finally, not all humans are able to adjust their body clock and work when others are sleeping. There are significant health and safety; duty of care and staff wellness issues that need to be managed. First, a comprehensive risk assessment is needed to walk through all night-time scenarios. Second, employment of night staff should be conditional upon adequate health. The company must monitor night worker health via confidential questionnaire and the company must pay for anyone with increased risk to be seen by an occupational health practitioner.

Adding a night shift is a good way to get better use of costly capital equipment and buildings, particularly when the firm faces rapid growth. It just needs a bit of care when implementing to ensure that operational outcomes like quality, productivity and low absenteeism are not degraded.

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