Shift Workers' Performance and Engagement

Addressing the needs of working parents is one way to make sure you’re engaging your workforce. Depending on your industry, you may find that most of your employee base works non-traditional shifts, placing them outside of the home during the hours that are most beneficial to their families. One way to increase employee engagement is to help limit outside influences that cause stress during the work day and impacts their performance.

Outside of Work, There is Family

According to a study conducted by North Carolina State University, shift work and impact on families (two-parent and single-parent households) and children, in particular, is significant and this impact carries over to the job. The NCSU research team asserted, “Working a job that doesn’t keep 9 am to 5 pm hours can hurt the relationships between parents and adolescents, increasing the likelihood that children will engage in delinquent behaviors. However, the researchers found that in some circumstances, an unconventional work schedule can be a benefit for children.”

In summary, their findings are as follows:
• “Tag-team” parenting, where one parent works a nonstandard schedule, can result in stronger family relationships.
• Children in two-parent households where both parents work nonstandard schedules reported weaker bonds with their parents, compared to children in households where both parents work standard schedules.
• Children of single mothers who work nonstandard schedules did report both higher levels of delinquent behavior and weaker child-parent bonds.

The results of this study point to possible stressors that your employees may be facing, day after day. It may not be apparent yet, but it can cause distraction and even a drop in performance if family needs begin to creep in to the workplace.

What Can HR Do?

So what does this mean? Why is it important for businesses and human resources to engage and understand these employee dynamics? What else can we do to reshape the employment environment so that it better fits with the realities of our society, while at the same time, provide the balance needed so that companies can continue to be productive and strategic?

We can’t operate successfully in a vacuum, so we adapt. There are many family structures this day and age. Likewise, our work-shift structures can vary from typical 9 am to 5 pm, to evening or early morning shifts, to full-time traditional, to full-time compressed work weeks, to part-time, on-site or remote home office arrangements.Whew! That’s a lot to consider for an HR team trying to provide a flexible environment while fostering a high-performance culture.

How Are Companies Responding?

Clearly, there are positions that allow more flexibility, such as consulting. In many cases, large companies like Deloitte, PwC and Accenture address this by fostering an environment of work/life flexibility in the workplace. For instance, Deloitte has a workplace structure that enables employees to “dial up or down” in various work arrangements depending on their role. This example might include working part-time or a reduced schedule that provides more time at home or with other outside activities. This arrangement is regularly monitored by the executive leadership and the employee to ensure that the arrangements are successful for all parties.

Another great example of non-traditional flexibility is a schedule led by Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, where she embraces how “our differences make us incredible assets.” Parsons believes in an environment that works around social pressures and provides support to ease the craziness of the outside world so that employees are happier and more productive. Parsons elaborated, “As CEO of Palo Alto Software, I have made it a priority to encourage my employees to do whatever they need to succeed at work while raising a family. We have a room in our office designed specifically for children to relax after school while their parents are still working. We do not have strict hours for the sake of having them. If someone needs to leave work early to take their child to the doctor or work from home, we’ll never single them out. But they’re always expected to do what’s asked of them and more.”

The simple act of providing a room for children to relax in after school is huge. It demonstrates significant support of the family and encourages flexibility. Organizations that understand their employees and provide supportive environments find that performance levels increase and employees are just happier.

Be More Aware

You may not be able to provide an after-school room at your organization, but you can be open-minded and empathetic. To be aware of issues your employees face, regardless of familial status, and provide measures of support, is also beneficial to your workforce. Supportive solutions don’t always have to cost money.

I recognize that not every industry or employer has the ability to provide a flexible work environment, especially in a shift-structured setting like a hospital or newspaper facility. Employees are needed around the clock to manage the workload. However, a supportive leadership that is aware of employee needs and demonstrates ways to address those needs goes a long way at maintaining or improving employee engagement.

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Rachelle Falls

Based in the Washington, DC area and with 14 years of industry experience, Rachelle Falls provides client service solutions in the areas of HR, Social Media, Marketing, and Brand Management. Rachelle holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business from West Virginia University and a Master’s of HR degree in Strategic Human Capital Management from Georgetown University. She’s an HR pro, blogger, and conference speaker.