9 Ways Managers Can Help Workers Adjust to 12-Hour Shifts

The process of changing schedules can be daunting, especially for the workers; however, there are a number of processes that can be implement to ease the transitioned.

Based on interviews with shift work experts and 24-hour managers, CIRCADIAN suggests these 9 tips to help your workers manage a shift schedule transition.

1. Don’t over rely on overtime

Excessive overtime can be the downfall of an otherwise successful scheduling change. Avoid extending scheduled shifts and ensure that workers experience the primary benefit of 12s — increased days off.

To avoid overtime-related fatigue problems, here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Prohibit overtime on scheduled work days, except in emergencies.
  • Even in emergencies, limit shifts to 14 hours unless the worker has the next day off — especially with shifts that include overnight hours.
  • Don’t call in workers on their days off more than two or three times per month.
  • Monitor overtime by individual so you can identify workers who are accruing excessive overtime.

Following these guidelines can help your company avoid being at risk for fatigue-related accidents and potentially reduce employee burnout and turnover rates.

2. Permit multiple short breaks

To maintain fairness for workers, along with avoiding fatigue and vigilance problems, the work-to-break ratio should remain the same after a schedule change.

Allowing additional short breaks – even as many as 4-5 breaks per shift – can be helpful in the transition from 8- to 12-hour shifts. Frequent, 10-15 minute breaks allow workers time for revitalizing activities (a short walk, a snack or a call home) that reduce feelings of monotony.

3. Cross train

Effective cross training can increase job satisfaction (reducing turnover in the long run) and make the physical and mental challenges of 12 hour shifts more manageable.

In physically demanding jobs, workers who use the same muscles for the entire shift are at risk for repetitive stress injuries. In less intense job positions, monotony can set the stage for boredom and an increase in fatigue-related incidents.

To avoid these risks, workers should be trained to responsibly to handle numerous tasks.

4. Focus on communication

There is a potential for communication breakdowns to occur when scheduling 12-hour shifts. Breakdowns in communication most frequently occur with schedules that provide workers with 6- or 7-day breaks within a given shift cycle.

To avoid this issue, consider developing a short debriefing process for workers that lights any changes that occurred while they were gone.

Have workers come to work 15 minutes following several days off. Another solution is to establish a message board for important updates or to use a computer messaging system.

5. Require managers to work 12s

Managers should regularly experience working a 12 hour shift schedule; however, it’s impractical to expect all managers to work the same 12-hour schedule as employees.

Requiring managers to work at least some 12s opens the lines of communication between management and workers; it also improves worker morale by demonstrating that management takes a genuine concern in the realities of their jobs.

One reasonable approach is to require daytime managers to work two 12-hour shifts per month, possibly in exchange for one 8-hour day off.

6. Establish an internal review team

An internal review team can service as an everyday liaison to other workers and meet formally every three months to identify trends.

To identify areas for improvement, create a team comprised of workers, with at least one representative from each job function. The team can pass on any insights to a senior-level management.

While there may be general satisfaction with a 12-hour schedule, there is always room for improvement.

7. Hold team-building social functions

Team building social functions boost team spirit among crews, and 12s make it easier to for workers to get together outside of work.

On any given day, half of your shift workers have the whole day off (whereas with 8s, three-quarters of your workforce is either on the job or working later that day).

Capitalize on this benefit by holding occasional morale-boosting events, such as dinners or softball games.

8. Encourage exercise

Workers who exercise frequently have improved morale, alertness, mood, health and sleep at home (provided the exercise isn’t too close to bedtime). Allowing for the opportunity to exercise at work is often incredibly well-received by workers.

Some companies allow people to exercise while they work, putting treadmills, rowing machines or stationary bikes in control rooms. If this isn’t feasible at your facility, consider furnishing a break room with exercise equipment, light weights, and a TV with aerobics DVDs, etc.

9. Seek out shiftwork-friendly products

Make 12-hour shifts easier for workers by installing shiftwork-friendly products designed to minimize fatigue and stress, such as: ergonomically-correct chairs, high-top stools for standing workers, computer screens that relieve eyestrain, and “anti-fatigue” floor mats.

Choose durable products, as they are used 24 hours a day. With office furniture, find products that reduce discomfort and backaches, yet aren’t so comfortable that they set the stage for falling asleep.

Want to learn more about 12-hour shifts?

Download our free white paper "Advantages & Disadvantages of 12-Hour Schedules: A Balanced Perspective"

12 hour shift schedules white paper download white paper About CIRCADIAN

CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations with traditional and/or extended operating hours optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of sleep deprivation and fatigue.


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