If you’re running a round-the-clock business, someone’s got to take the night shift. But are certain employees better suited to working non-standard hours than others?

New research by the University of Warwick has revealed that some people struggle to adapt their body clock to shift work. Even if they’ve being doing it for a long time.

Understanding when your team performs best can help your company to tailor schedules to individual staff. With the right shift planning platform in place, you can create rosters that deliver the resourcing you need – without forcing early birds to work nights.

The impact of night shifts on workers’ health

Anyone who’s ever stayed up too late can tell you that it takes days to recover from a bad night’s sleep. So how does frequently working through the night impact people’s wellbeing?

The University of Warwick’s research compared key health indicators for French hospital employees working day and night shifts. Almost half (48%) of night shift staff had disrupted body temperature patterns – including employees that had been working night shifts for several years

Other scientific studies have corroborated findings on how night shifts affect people’s health. The European Society of Cardiology found night shift workers are more likely to develop some types of heart disease.

But before you start worrying about the long-term impact of night shifts, it’s worth knowing that some staff are naturally suited to antisocial hours than others.

Understanding employees’ body clock patterns

How quickly and effectively employees adapt to night shifts depends on their circadian rhythm. The concept of people being an ‘early bird’ or a ‘night owl’ is actually grounded in science. Every person has a chronotype; a natural inclination to sleep at a certain time. According to The Sleep Foundation, there are four key chronotypes:

  • Lion: someone who wakes early and is most productive in the morning, but struggles to be sociable in the evening. Around 20% of people follow this pattern.
  • Bear: someone whose natural body clock follows the sun. This group finds standard office hours easy to maintain and can also socialise in the evening. Over half the population are the Bear chronotype.
  • Wolf: someone who is most energetic and productive at night – around 15% of people fall into this category.
  • Dolphin: someone who remains alert while sleeping, and takes a long time to fall asleep. This is the rarest chronotype category and dolphins are often referred to as insomniacs.

Naturally, any Wolf chronotype employees will find night work easier and more enjoyable than Bears. And Lion chronotypes will struggle during night shifts because it demands the exact opposite waking pattern to their natural circadian rhythm.

Matching shifts to people’s natural rhythms

Understanding the spectrum of natural alertness can help your company to distribute shift patterns differently. Giving your employees the flexibility to work in harmony with their body clock can help them to perform better and feel healthier. It also potentially reduces the strain of sick leave and burnout on your business.

However, for shift work to become more flexible, you need a good shift planning system. Investing in an online scheduling tool will help you to understand your workforce requirements throughout the week, so you have a baseline requirement for daytime, evening and night shift staff.

Once you know exactly how many employees are required for night shifts, you can look at which team members are best suited to working these hours. If there are any employees that struggle to cope with night work, you can set their availability to make sure they aren’t selected.

Read more: should your business be doing more to protect night shift workers?

Introducing flexible night shift planning policies

Of course, any change to your staff rostering system needs careful consideration. Some employees may feel it’s unfair that they are eligible for night shifts when others are excluded. Conversely, some team members may enjoy being given ‘first dibs’ on their preferred shifts. Having an open conversation with your workforce is the best way to introduce any shift pattern change. And if you decide to go ahead, formalise any changes in your staff scheduling policy.

Even if you decide not to discount staff from working night shifts, it’s worth considering special dispensations for employees struggling with their physical and/or mental health.

Losing a valued team member can be damaging to your productivity, and there’s a cost to recruiting and training new staff. If someone in your company can’t keep pace with the demands of a 24/7 business, excluding them from the night shift rotation may improve their health and wellbeing. And you get the benefit of retaining their knowledge and talent.

Creating schedules that work for every employee

Natural body clocks are just one example of the ways in which all your employees are different. Skills, talents, experiences and goals all shape the contributions people make to your company.

The greater flexibility you can bring to staff scheduling, the easier it becomes to build shift patterns for everyone in your business. Online shift planning tools like WhosOffice give you full transparency and agility over planning and updating employee rosters. So you can support the health and wellbeing of your team without spending hours on employee admin.

Start your free WhosOffice trial to explore our flexible shift planning tools.


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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio of Pexels.com.