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Dear Workforce Shift Work Is Harming Morale. How Do We Make Amends?

Our financial services company recently introduced shift work for some service positions, which has led to grumbling and general discontent. For example, our service-desk positions previously were 8 a.m.-5 p.m. jobs, but business needs warranted going to a 24/5 schedule. We are concerned about a drop in morale, along with the attendant productivity drops. We tried to roll this out gradually, giving service people time to adjust and informing them of the change through group meetings and one on one. Still, morale is at a new low since we began the shift-work schedule. How could we have missed on this so badly? And how can we repair the damage? —Sinking Fast, manager, finance/insurance/real estate, Johannesburg, South Africa
September 27, 2009
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Related Topics: Workforce Planning Systems, Time Management, Job Rotation, Global Staffing Management, Attendance, Alternative Work Schedules, Motivating Employees, Scheduling, Workforce Planning, Dear Workforce, Legal, Staffing Management
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Dear Sinking Fast:
A change in daily schedule can be a major change for most people and a catastrophic change for some. You have employees who applied for and were hired to work a set first-shift schedule from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and now they must do something different. They may feel that a promise has been broken, even though one may never have been made. So it is understandable that such a dramatic transition can create bad feelings, resulting in declining morale.
I believe that most employees are willing to support efforts to make their place of employment stronger and their position of employment more secure. Although you may have gone through extended efforts to inform employees of the change and give them time to adjust, there must have been a breakdown in communications at some point.
Communication breakdowns and the absence of trust are two of the primary contributors to low employee morale. The drop in morale following the change in schedule may not be the major issue, but rather the final straw if the lacks of communication and trust are perceived by employees as the primary issues. It is in this area where we should start to explore methods to repair the damage done. I suggest the following seven steps as a course of action:
1. Assess your process of delivering information to employees. Look at the methods of getting information to employees, the timeliness of that information and how comprehensive the information is. Look for breakdowns, particularly in your first-line supervisor ranks. How well informed and prepared are they to carry information to their employees? Try to determine if they share ownership in information communicated, both good and bad.
2. Every organization has a rumor mill. Assess the strength of yours. A strong rumor mill is a sure sign that you have had a significant breakdown in your communication process.
3. Survey your employees to establish a baseline for employee morale. Particular emphasis should be placed on trust in management, communications and employee involvement. Periods of low morale are good times to conduct an employee survey. These make it easy to map out areas needing improvement, as well as to demonstrate that improvement to your employees.
4. After you have secured the results of the survey, schedule focus groups to better determine the specific causes of discontent and get the employees actively involved with management to resolve issues. You may want to conduct a focus group specifically on the change in schedule, with the understanding that the company must maintain 24/5 coverage to meet customer needs. The employees may be able to propose some changes that you might like and adopt.
5. Address the issues identified. If communications and/or management skills are identified as major issues, address them with the understanding that there is no such thing as a quick fix. Commit to sustained improvement over time.
6. Create goals for improvement from the baseline to the next survey.
7. Develop a scorecard to communicate or chart changes that result from surveys and focus groups. Give credit to employee involvement for any activity implemented, process adjusted or methodology changed.
Employee morale can drop quickly and easily, but there is no quick or easy way to raise it to higher levels. That takes commitment and hard work from your management team.
SOURCE: Lonnie Harvey Jr., SPHR, president of The Jesclon Group, Rock Hill, South Carolina, August 6, 2007
LEARN MORE: For another view, read a provocative article on the Myth of Employee Satisfaction.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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