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How HR tech can help provide job security to shift workers

Technology has transformed the world of work, now it needs to be applied to vulnerable, shift workers.

Allie Nawrat

shift workers
Credit: Nathan Bennett via Twenty20.

Shift workers face significant financial insecurity when they don’t know their hours beyond a week in advance. Unleash Your People

  • Around 17% of UK workers do not have set hours, and instead, work shifts.
  • This creates significant insecurity for them, something which has only increased with the pandemic.
  • How can tech help to add some structure to the lives of shift workers, as well as keep them engaged with developments when they are not on shift?

Working nine to five Monday to Friday might feel like the norm for white collar, office workers, but it does not reflect the realities of the labor market.

According to 2017 figures from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), approximately 18.6% of UK workers do shift work. This rises to 27.2% for the retail sector, 37.7% for the transport and logistics sector, and 33.5% for health and social care.

This figure has almost certainly risen significantly in the pandemic as 1.7 million people – 5% of the UK population — have lost their jobs and may be seeking alternative ways to stay afloat.

How insecure is UK shift working?

Unlike working a nine to five where you know exactly when you work and how much money will come in your pay cheque at the end of the month, shift working is fundamentally insecure.

Workers do not know how many shifts they will get assigned to – and therefore how much money they will have at the end of the month to pay their bills.

Research by the UK’s Living Wage Foundation found that 37% of UK workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shift patterns. This increased to 62% for those whose jobs involve variable hours or shift work, with 12% of those having less than 24 hours notice.

The foundation’s survey of 2,000 UK workers found that just 10% of shift workers had four weeks notice of shift patterns.

“Without clear notice of shift patterns provided in good time, millions of workers have had to make impossible choices on childcare, transport and other important aspects of family life,” noted Living Wage Foundation director Laura Gardiner.

“Low-paid workers have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, with millions struggling to plan their lives due to the double whammy of changing restrictions on economic activity and insufficient notice of work schedules from employers.”

To add to the financial insecurity of shift workers, they are also facing higher healthcare risks. Separate research by the UK’s Trade Union Congress (TUC) found that insecure workers are then 10 times more likely to receive no sick pay than secure workers.

They were also twice more likely to die of COVID-19, being faced with having to put themselves in harm’s way to keep paying their bills, putting food on their table, and keeping a roof over their head.

However, this does not need to be the case; shift working does not have to be insecure. Let’s look at how tech solutions can bring more security to the lives of shift workers.

Scheduling shifts

Technology can go a long way when it comes to providing some structure to the lives and finances of shift workers.

One example is Deputy, which aims to simplify shift work by making it easy for companies to organize rotas and timesheets. It is used across a broad of industries, and its customers include Amazon, NASA, Nike, and Perfect cleaning solutions.

Deputy’s app allows companies to fill shifts easily – meaning they know they have enough coverage across the week – and enables workers to keep track of their shifts, as well as easily swap them as and when they need to.

The app also allows employers to quickly adapt when workers call in sick — they can offer the shift to all available, qualified staff with one click, giving those able to work the chance to pick up extra shifts without any hassle. Staff can block out the times when they are not available, so as to avoid being assigned shifts they are unable to make.

Shift management is also a feature of Microsoft Teams – it is more than just a video calling platform.

Before the pandemic, IKEA, which is a Living Wage Foundation accredited employer, relied on paper to sort out shifts for its employees. However, they have integrated Microsoft Teams not only for their office-based staff but for all workers. Teams’ Shift capability allows staff to use their personal devices to easily request shifts and clock in and out.

In a press release, IKEA employee Nadja Soto Huurre, who runs the restaurant at IKEA’s largest store in the world in Kungens Kurva, Swede, said: “Everybody has the Teams app on their phones, so now, no matter where they are, they can use Shifts to make schedule requests, whether they’re changing shifts, taking open shifts, or requesting time off.

“And if they need to chat with me or coordinate with each other, they can use Teams chat.”

Communication is key

Just because shift workers aren’t glued to their computers and checking their emails from nine to five or at the same time as everyone else in the organization, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included and informed about the developments in the organization.

Of course, Microsoft Teams also allows IKEA managers to stay connected with their shift workers, but team connection is also the focus of other applications out there.

For instance, Deputy has a news feed that ensures workers don’t miss important messages or announcements from their employer.

Communication is a core focus of Beekeeper’s frontline worker-focused mobile platform. Used by companies like Domino’s and Hilton, its mobile platform focuses on connecting up all workers in the organization.

Workers on the frontline, who are incredibly busy, can confirm they have read important messages with the tap of a button – gone are the days of wasting hours trying to find announcements on an intranet.

This is also the priority of another shift scheduling app, Catapult, which focuses on team wellbeing and engaging the workforce.

Employee wellbeing and empowerment, as we all know, are crucial to productivity and companies’ ability to both attract and retain talent. One company that used Catapult to retain staff was Planet Organic.

So it is crucial that businesses find ways to keep all their employees – including shift workers – engaged and interested in picking up shifts.

[Read more: Employers take note: You need to do more to support mental wellbeing.]

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