Meeting the Unique Needs of Off-shift Workers Requires a Focus on Mental Health & Wellness

Meeting the Unique Needs of Off-Shift Workers Requires a Focus on Mental Health and Wellness

For site leadership, combatting burnout means meeting the unique needs of off-shift workers through programs and initiatives that support their whole health and wellness.

Tradesmen working in high-risk environments are regularly exposing themselves to labor-intensive and dangerous tasks. Now add in doing this work at 3:00 a.m. when the rest of the world is asleep. That’s what off-shift workers experience every day on the job. Nontraditional shifts, including late night and early morning hours, can be isolating for workers, making them feel disconnected from the larger team that works traditional daytime hours. Combined with trade work that can be physically draining, it can lead to more frequent and more severe feelings of burnout.

Burnout isn’t just feeling tired or unmotivated at work. The World Health Organization defines burnout as the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, causing feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy. For off-shift workers, feelings of burnout can be compounded by the innate challenges of working off hours including disrupted sleep schedules, feelings of exclusion and impacts on social life.

For site leadership, combatting burnout means meeting the unique needs of off-shift workers through programs and initiatives that support their whole health and wellness. This means prioritizing their mental health and well-being, fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment, and setting them up for success both at work and at home.

Three Steps to Combatting Burnout in Off-shift Workers

  1. Build a community and engage workers.

The most basic challenge of off-shift work is in the name. Workers are on the job site when few others are, likely including leadership. They’re off when most people in their lives are working, and it can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation and disconnection from their communities, which plays an important role in workers’ happiness and, ultimately, their health. It’s important to close that gap by building a community and fostering inclusion through programs that bring

off-shift workers closer to each other and their regular-shift counterparts.

Forming committees or work groups can provide an outlet for off-shift workers to feel more involved and allow them to gather more regularly with people who are experiencing the same things as them. Off-shift workers often feel forgotten, but even small things like playing music on the site or providing engaging activities like games or challenges can bring off-shift workers together and show them that they are top of mind for leadership. When workers feel included

and engaged, they’re more content with their roles and are less likely to feel as if their leaders and fellow colleagues have forgotten them during their middle-of-the-night shifts.

  1. Enable wellness through communication.

While off-shift workers are exposed to the same environment and are often performing similar tasks as their day-shift counterparts, the considerations that need to be made when it comes to staying safe and sustaining energy throughout the shift aren’t identical. It’s important to provide wellness education that is tailored specifically to off-shift workers. Energy campaigns that hit on the four main considerations for off-shift workers of nutrition, caffeine, exercise and sleep

are one way to engage workers in their own health and on the worksite.

Providing educational information on foods to eat to keep energy up and stay full throughout the night shift—or the difference between healthy and unhealthy caffeine consumption—will not only help workers better care for themselves, but the materials are another form of thoughtful communication between workers and site leadership. Even putting information on screens or posters around the site shows off-shift workers that leadership cares and values them. To

make the education stick, it’s crucial to tap into workers’ motivation and show them how their health impacts their job performance and satisfaction, their family and home life, and their overall quality of life. Doing so will help motivate them to make positive behavior changes.

  1. Promote vulnerability and embrace mental health.

Nutrition, sleep and social interactions all affect mental health. The nature of off-shift work creates mental health challenges that can be hard to overcome without support. It’s important to recognize this and work toward switching the mentality around off-shift work from negative to positive. This ties into the previous steps of building a community and enabling wellness. It also includes normalizing mental health awareness on the worksite through interpersonal communication, providing resources and creating avenues for workers to get help if they need it.

Normalization of mental health starts from the top down. If leadership is vulnerable with managers and so on, it will trickle down to workers. Vulnerability is really about creating a safe space and making connections by asking someone how they’re doing that day and being there to listen. It’s the difference between “How ya doin’?” and “How are you today?” Managers are often focused on getting the job done and might not take the time to make those connections

with workers. But if leadership sets the tone for the whole team, it will create a culture of care and a safe environment where workers feel they can open up about what’s going on in their lives and get the help they need.

Better Supporting Off-shift Workers

Off-shift workers can sometimes feel like they got the short end of the stick, and the disconnect from the rest of the team and from their social circle can quickly contribute to burnout. However, programming that’s tailored to their unique needs and brings them together as a team can help create an inclusive and motivated environment that workers are happy to come to every night. When leadership shows that level of care and concern for off-shift workers’ mental health and wellness, it helps keep them motivated and energized while on shift and satisfied with the job and employer in the long run.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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