It is no secret that communication is essential to facilitate the smooth operation of an organization – entire books have been written about it. Yet, in almost every company that our consultants have helped, less than 50% of the shiftworkers felt that their managers communicate well with them. Is this because these managers are not trying to communicate? Certainly not.
Shiftwork operations pose a new set of communication problems that traditional communication methodologies often do not address:
- 60% or more of the time a shiftworker is at work, top management, administrative, and human resource personnel are not at work.
- A three-shift operation often functions like three different plants. A “new” company starts work with every shift – and communications are dealt with differently in each company.
- Most shiftworkers are more loyal to their crew than they are to their company, making them less responsive to information that comes from non-shiftworker sources.
- Each shift position is filled by three or more individuals that must coordinate their efforts, yet they may only see each other when shift change occurs, or not at all.
Improving Management Communication
While there are many facets to effective management communication in a shiftwork operation, four of the most important things that you can do to improve communication and the perception of the quality of that communication are to:
- Regularly schedule line managers to work off-shift. Part of a line manager’s responsibility is to manage the personnel keeping the operation running on weekends and nights. Most managers that implement this solution choose a day in the week (say Tuesday) that they will either come in to work early and go home early or come in late and stay late. The part of their day that overlaps regular day-shift activities is used for those types of activities, and the rest of the day is devoted to walking the floor, or scheduling formal and informal meetings with shift employees (either salaried or hourly) to communicate business issues. These opportunities for direct interaction between managers and shift employees open the door for effective communication between management and the workforce.
- Schedule periodic (at least quarterly) meetings with all shift personnel. These meetings formalize the communication process between management and the workforce. They ensure that all employees are exposed to at least the minimum information needed for them to understand how the business is operating in the current economic environment. It also provides an open channel for communication from employees to upper management.
- Involve shift managers in the daily decision-making process for their areas, and expose them to the decision-making processes used in other areas. Companies that have the most success communicating business issues with their shiftworkers have shift managers that have ownership for the business decisions that are made.
- Give night and afternoon shift employees exposure to personnel performing job functions that are best done on day shift. Occasionally exposing shift-personnel to the difficulties of the non-shift part of the organization helps broaden their perspective, and often changes their perception of what it takes to make a company successful.
Other Communication Mechanisms
Improving management communications is the first step in a successful communication solution for a shiftwork operation. Shift to shift, department to department, location to location, and other communication issues must also be addressed. Other communication mechanisms that have been used successfully include:
- Closed Circuit TV Monitors
- Employee Improvement Committees
- Bulletin Boards
- Union Leadership
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