February 5, 2020

Wellness Challenges Facing Shift Work Industries

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You’ve likely heard the term “shift work” before, but what does shift work actually involve and what are the barriers to wellness that employees on this schedule face? The simple definition of shift work is any schedule that falls outside of regular daytime work hours (weekdays from around 7 AM to 6 PM). However, beyond that description, workers often rotate shifts from day to night, work irregular shift lengths, split shifts, or work shifts longer than 8 hours. Common industries that utilize shift work include emergency services, hospitals, transportation, food and beverage, and manufacturing.

As you could imagine, shift work has been linked to health issues like sleep disorders, increased accidents, mental health issues, and even increased risk of metabolic issues and CVD. With the number of employees in North America working shifts currently hovering around 30%, there is a strong need for wellness programs catered to these individuals. However, standard wellness programs won’t cut it – read on to find out why.


Their shift times don’t allow them to participate.
Most company wellness programs are planned during daytime hours (typically over lunch hours), so those working atypical hours often miss out. To allow equal accessibility, try to repeat the same events at different times so that all employees have a chance to attend. Allowing employees to focus on wellness on their own schedule (ie. through a digital platform or wellness challenge) can also ensure equal opportunity for participation.


Fatigue is common.
With many shift workers suffering from sleep disorders, fatigue is a common barrier to participating in wellness programs. To combat fatigue barriers, try starting with wellness goals that are simple and easily achievable (think “five one-minute stretch breaks”. With frequent, quick wins an employee will be more motivated to continue with the program and will perceive the program more positively than achieving slow gains. Another strategy is to provide wellness programming at the beginning of the shift. By catching employees before or early in their shift, they have less excuse to later avoid the activity. Bonus: being physically active before work can increase energy levels, improve focus, decrease stress, and have overall benefits on sleep!


They may lack support.
Social support is an important factor in building and maintaining healthy behaviours. However, studies have shown that shift work may lead to decreased family support, and increased isolation. Addressing these issues through a wellness program may involve increasing awareness of social isolation’s effects on health, providing healthy social strategies for shift workers, and allowing for a supportive culture within the shiftwork population.


Don’t forget best practices!
The challenges facing shift workers are unique, and wellness programs should aim to address these challenges and provide a unique wellness experience with equal opportunity for all shift schedules. That being said, best practices for wellness programs should still be applied to shift work-focused programs as well. That means having solid communication, gaining leadership support, providing program incentives, and of course measuring and evaluating program success. Combine all practices and be sure to see greater results in the wellness of your shift work team!

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