A 24-hour-a-day business needs 24-hour-a-day HR management. Good HR strategy provides employees who work evenings, nights, or weekends with access to the services they need at times convenient for them.

The demand for 24-hour operations is growing in many hospitals, communications, transportation, supermarket, retail, insurance, and computer operations.

" Some HR people need a wake-up call because they don' t deviate from 9 to 5," when employees who work nontraditional hours often aren' t able to meet with them, says Ken Price, a principal with the Coleman Consulting Group in San Francisco. The consulting group advises companies on scheduling practices that accommodate business, safety, and employee needs.

Not having services available leaves night shift workers feeling resentful, Price says, adding, " They feel as though they are in the dark a lot."

Price has found that the HR department generally is deeply involved in the policy element of scheduling strategy, but at the end of the consulting process he often finds he has to encourage HR to expand its hours to be in alignment with the scheduling change.

Creative HR Scheduling

There are creative ways to meet scheduling needs, Price says, citing the case of the Gallo glass plant in Modesto, Calif., which makes wine bottles. Two years ago the company changed to a 12-hour shift, but after the change was made, the HR department was still working 9 to 5.

" Production had lost access to HR," he says. "The HR people recognized the need to support the production line, so they went on a 10-hour schedule that covers 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. They divided it among themselves. Half of the HR people work from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., so they are available before and after the morning shift change. The other group works 9 a.m. to 7 p.m."

The 15 to 20 HR managers work four days a week, rotating between the shifts and working out among themselves who preferred the early shift and who wanted the later one.

" It wasn' t a sacrifice because they had made a pitch for a four-day workweek. It met their needs and production' s," Price says. " If they hadn' t changed, production employees would have had to come in on their day off to meet with HR. Both groups turned out to be really happy" with the change.

He recommends that HR departments find ways to expand their hours so that their office hours at least overlap with the nontraditional shifts.

According to Price, Coleman Consulting practices what it preaches. " We work around the clock because we work with all shifts," he says. "We tend to drag some HR people and managers to the back shift" for meetings that accommodate the needs of the employees who work nontraditional hours.

The late meetings also give day managers better insight into the range of problems that shift workers face, he says. " They hear things like the vending machines are empty at night. They learn more about making sure the cafeteria is open and the parking lot is safe."

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