Managing a successful shift system

Dec 10, 2018 | Good Management

When managing a shift system there are a variety of factors to consider in order to ensure things run smoothly and staff are productive and happy. Much of this centres around health and safety, but there are also management issues to consider. Here are some key factors to bear in mind if you want to implement a shift system successfully in your business.

Health and safety for shift workers

Shift working and the resulting disruption of the body clock can have a number of negative impacts, including increased fatigued, disturbed appetite and difficulties in sleeping. It can also be associated with longer-term health concerns, or with exacerbating existing medical conditions.

Obviously you have a duty of care towards your workers and should ensure you are aware of these potential health concerns, and do your best to minimise them, but of course there is also a business case for doing so. These issues can lead to increased sickness absence, an increased chance of accidents or injuries, as well as higher rates of mistakes and a negative impact on performance generally, all of which impacts the bottom line in your business.

Establish a system to identify and manage these issues can be helpful. You need clear policies and procedures in place for managing shift workers and the issues surrounding shift work, and should involve employees or their representatives as far as possible.

Identify workers who may be particularly at risk, such as older workers, young workers or pregnant women, and ensure you take appropriate steps to minimise risks for those groups.

Design your shift schedule to manage the risks as effectively as possible in your business. In terms of tasks, consider the allocation of work so that (for example) work with significant safety concerns isn’t done at night, or the end of a long shift.  Allow variation in work if possible, to reduce monotony.

Ensure the length of shifts is suitable for the work you are doing, and encourage staff to take sufficient breaks. Putting in place a system for recording breaks will help ensure this happens.  When deciding on patterns for rotation, bear in mind that rotating every 2-3 days is considered optimal for health and safety purposes, as the body clock doesn’t have time to adjust, meaning it’s easier to catch up on lost sleep. Weekly or fortnightly are not recommended as the body clock adjusts and then soon has to adjust again.

Management issues

As well as health and safety being a priority, there are some logistical issues regarding managing shift working which you need to consider. Think about whether you are going to allow staff to swap shifts, and if so, how this is to be managed. Allowing this can reduce absenteeism, give staff more flexibility and job satisfaction, but has its risks. You need to ensure your business needs are met, and that your legal obligations are met with regards to working time and time off.

Under the Working Time Directive, staff are entitled to mid-shift rest breaks, daily rest and weekly rest. Managing this for staff who work regular hours each day is pretty straightforward, but that is often not the case for shift workers. While there is no actual requirement to keep records of rest breaks, it is highly recommended that you do so where shifts are involved, to make sure your legal obligations are being met.


If you’d like assistance with implementing or managing shift working in your business, do get in touch.