Guidance on Shift Work Disorder for HR Department

October 18, 20192:20 pm1275 views

Are you constantly witnessing your co-workers being unproductive, yawning all the time, or looking pale and unmotivated during the workday? Chances are, they might suffer from shift work disorder.

What is Shift Work Disorder?

Shift Work Disorder (SWD), also known as shift work sleep disorder, is a rhythm of sleeping disorder characterised by insomnia and excessive affecting people whose work hours overlap with the typical sleep period. Commonly, those who suffer from SWD are non-traditional workers who constantly have split or rotating work shifts. However, blue- and white-collar workers are also prone to experience this disorder.

See also: The Importance of Good Night Sleep for Your Career

According to Sleep Foundation, most people with different schedules than the ordinary 9-to-5 job might suffer from SWD symptoms. For example, managers or employees who have work schedule from 9 am to 5 pm but take longer hours until 7 pm to finish a work project might eventually suffer from insomnia. Chronic insomnia then becomes a shift work disorder which later interferes with an individual’s life, like social life and professional life.

The negative effect of SWD

A study published at NCBI surveyed individuals without a lifetime history of insomnia or baseline excessive daytime sleepiness who transitioned to rotating shift work one year later.  It revealed that nearly 90 percent of shift work disorder sufferers reported to greater increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Another study found that SWD has pronounced negative effects on sleep, subjective and psychological sleepiness, performance, accident risk, as well as cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer. In addition, SWD can also disrupt normal workings of a hormone called melatonin. This disruption can lead to poor sleep and chronic fatigue, reported NHS.

The associated symptoms of sleep work disorder are:

  • Excessive sleepiness when an individual needs to be awake, alert, and productive
  • Inability to sleep when an individual needs to sleep. This can mean trouble falling asleep or waking up before a sufficient time of sleep
  • Sleep that feels like unrefreshing or insufficient
  • Waking up feeling unfresh and relentless
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Lack of energy day and night
  • Irritability or depression
  • Difficulty with a personal and professional relationship

What can HR do?

Shift work disorder is a serious problem in the workplace as it can hinder oneself from being fully productive. Being unproductive means loss of profit and a mess-up work schedule for an employer. Thus, being responsible for employees’ development and wellbeing, HR manager should help individuals with SWD cope with their issue. Here’s what you can do.

>> Encourage healthier lifestyle

Given that sleep disorder is caused by an irregular sleeping pattern, you can encourage employees to have a better sleeping schedule. Promoting flexible work hours can also be helpful for employees to change their work hours so it could lessen the bad effects of SWD. You can also give an example of a healthier lifestyle to employees. 

  • Take 48 hours off after a series of shifts due to project or other related work.
  • Wear sunglasses when leaving work to minimise sun exposure. This can help prevent the daytime clock from activating.
  • Encourage a healthy diet in the workplace. Diet with fruits and vegetables.
  • Tell employees and encourage them to block disruptions of having quality sleep. For example, inform employees to use white noise machine, calming music, or earplugs to drown noisy background when sleeping and encourage them to not touch work (for those who like to work overtime) or look at the screen at least 1 hour before sleep.

You can also suggest employees take melatonin. Melatonin is a drug used to help improve sleep. According to research data at Sleep Foundation, melatonin is yet proven but is an effective and safe drug for some types of insomnia but not for other types of sleep problems.

>> Support with warning

Lifestyle changes are an effective method to help employees who work off-hours. But an HR manager cannot always monitor employees’ lifestyle. Thus, for the alternative to shift work disorder cure, you can support employees by setting a warning. The warning should include:

  • Providing schedules that are predictable to business needs permit
  • Limiting employees to work overtime
  • Allowing long or frequent breaks, plus flextime and telecommuting
  • Installing work-area lighting that is optimal for night workers who take overtime

Read also: Overtime Tips: How to Help Sleepy Employee After All-Nighter

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