While the rest of the world sleeps, a unique breed of employee ensures that the world keeps turning even through the small hours of the night. Night shift workers are a somewhat overlooked group, and yet they have a crucial role tom play in the global economy.

Around one in five working adults in Europe and the US works night shifts, covering some of the hours between 10pm and 5am, the time that many consider invaluable rest time. As such, working nights comes with its own set of occupational hazards, which makes managing employees on night shifts a unique challenge for managers.

The unique challenges that face night shift employees

Among other side effects, working night shifts has been shown to increase restlessness, impair attention and judgement, and disrupt a person's natural circadian rhythm. These can prove dangerous if coupled with the sort of high-stress jobs that require split-second decision making, like law enforcement and healthcare. The World Health Organization even classified night shift work as “a probable carcinogen” due to the effects of circadian disruption.

But as the aforementioned roles show, many night shift jobs are essential for the safe and smooth running of our society, and so managers need to know how to ensure their employees’ well-being when they are working nights.

Proper management is essential not just for raising on the job performance, but for encouraging all round employee wellbeing and seeing the benefits of this in the long term: greater loyalty, lower turnover, and higher productivity among others. We’ve gathered some top tips for night shift managers below, so take note!

As a manager, be aware of the challenges

The first step is to make sure you’re aware of the challenges and difficulties that night shift workers face so you can address them effectively. As well as the health effects mentioned above, there are other issues which may be harder to recognise but are still important to look out for.

Night shift ejmployees can be marginalised socially, and their working patterns may have a negative effect on their home, health and personal life. Be sure to keep an eye out for any indicators of psychological unrest that may be due to the strain of these circumstances.

Schedule shifts as consistently as you can

Luckily, the human body is a flexible and resourceful thing, and with time, people can naturally adapt to new working patterns. Circadian rhythms can adjust to new timings and so keeping a given employee on the same night shifts may help their bodies to learn when they should be asleep and when they should be alert.

If it’s not possible to always give someone the same shifts, try to give them a block of time before they rotate, rather than having them rotate on a daily basis. Just like when traveling between time zones, our bodies need time to adjust. Plan your shifts in advance and share them online with a scheduling tool like Findmyshift so that employees have a chance to get used to the timings.

Encourage healthy attitudes towards sleep

There are plenty of things night shift employees can do to help mitigate the effects of working nights, from eating healthier, light meals to managing their sleep and getting regular exercise.

Make sure you can provide information to them on how to make a positive change, and back up that commitment with actions. Schedule time for regular breaks, make healthy eating easier, and be sure that senior staff follow their own advice and set a good example! Here are some more tips for cheap and easy ways you can start an employee wellness program in your small business.

Make staying connected with employees a priority

If not all of your employees work nights then isolation can be a serious psychological problem for those working night shifts who may find it a struggle to stay connected with the rest of the company, let alone the wider world. Be sure to keep night shift workers connected by sharing company updates and announcements, considering their schedules when planning events, or even making a social group or platform so that colleagues can easily connect.

Listen to your night shift workers

Whether it’s to provide a sympathetic ear or gather feedback on how their working environment could be improved, be sure to regularly reach out to night shift employees and take on board what they have to say. Schedule regular meetings with them and encourage an open culture where they’d be happy to approach you outside of these as well.

With these steps, you’ll find you’re better able to manage night shifts and their unique challenges, keeping your employees happy and healthy.

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.