The Year Ahead: Will Shift Work Be Different?

by Katie Sawyer, 4 minutes read
HOME blog the year ahead will shift work be different

2020 was a year like no other. How did it impact shift workers — and what will next year look like for them?

We asked four industry leaders to weigh in on key trends and tips for managers to prepare for 2021. You can watch the full on-demand roundtable here.

Experts from The Shift Project, the largest source of data on work scheduling for hourly service workers, Bay Area specialty running store A Runner’s Mind, and nonprofit University Co-Op in Austin, Texas, share their thoughts.

Read on to learn if shift work will be different next year — and how you can get ready.

With all the challenges people have faced this year, what’s something that stuck out for you in terms of shift work?

"I've been collecting survey data for the past five years so my team has a lot of historical information on how things have been looking for service sector workers. And we were collecting data right as COVID-19 struck. We've been able to draw on some information from the spring and the early part of the surge and then we followed up with workers in the summer and again in the fall.

We found that only one out of four workers were getting unemployment insurance, even though three out of four workers had applied for it. So there was really a long way to go in the spring in terms of taking care of workers who'd been displaced. But in other parts of the service sector, essential services like grocery and pharmacy and in all of the industries that were able to get back to work in some way, there's a really different story and set of concerns.

Many workers felt unsafe when they lacked paid sick leave if they didn’t already have that benefit. And that has a number of really huge consequences during a pandemic. It's bad for the worker, it's bad for their coworkers, and it's bad for the public. And they go to work sick because they can't afford to forgo a day's pay or because they're not allowed to call out."

Kristen Hartnett, Associate Professor of Social Behavioral Sciences at UCSF, Co-Director of The Shift Project

In a recent survey of 1,400 shift workers, 75% of respondents said that COVID-19 was their number one job security concern. What are some of the actions that today's business leaders and employees can take to navigate these decisions and communicate to their employees with empathy?

"The reality is that this is tough on a lot of people. Absolutely for those that have gotten sick or whose families have dealt with sickness or loss, and also for anyone who has been laid off or is isolated.

The best thing that we can do is provide empathy and transparency to people. So communicate a lot to people — about what we know and also about what we don't know. It’s really important that it's not just the broadcast kind of communication, but the one-on-ones. Managers need to communicate directly to their team to make sure they understand what you know and what your plans are for the business as best as you can. That helps people a lot because then they can make plans and figure out what to do in their lives, as much as possible."

David Zinman, Global President, Deputy

How are you planning for 2021? Are you requiring new skills, setting up new software, doing any other procedures?

"In retail, you get a natural turnover of people in general. But during COVID-19, we’ve seen that people need jobs. We have some students that are taking gap years so they've stuck with their job and working instead of going to school.

But looking ahead, we’re still going to hire and how we hire is going to change. You have to hire people with an even bigger personality than before because face masks make it difficult to read customers’ faces.

We also know that business online is going to continue to grow. So in the future, we’ll need people with marketing skills, people to help get that online business built up even more."

Eileen Urtz, General Manager, A Runner's Mind

How can businesses get ahead of the curve when it comes to legislation like Fair Workweek and

"This type of legislation is so important because it's really to the benefit of the employee so that they have some sort of idea when they're working, and how far in advance, and it also shows that we employers value their time.

Texas doesn’t have some of this legislation yet, but we're looking at putting a lot of those things in place ahead of time. Not only are we looking at it from a better retention standpoint and employee morale standpoint, but we're also looking at it as a way to attract better talent. You know, not everybody's running to the highest pay anymore. It's about what other things you offer.

And in reality, we should be doing it for the benefit of our employees anyway. And it's not hard — and it's the right thing to do."

Stacy Henderson, Dir. Corporate Ops, University Co-op

New year, new shift work landscape

As this year comes to a close, it’s time to think about the future of shift work.

Download The 2020/2021 State of Shift Work Report to learn a few trends and tips for making the next year the best one yet.

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