HR on the Night Shift


Everything changes at night. As the moon rises and darkness falls the majority of a population will wind down, log off and kiss somebody goodnight. But as the day ends for most of us the workday is just beginning for others. These are the people who work the night shift. For some of these people, their night will be a lonely one. These might be the people working at the 24/7 petrol station or on the switchboard. They might be the people who sit in the security hut or toll booth or they might be the people on standby as responders to incidents. For others though, their night shift is a shared thing. These are the people who keep the big machines running. These people keep the busy hospitals in operation, the production facilities producing and the distribution depots working. They are the night shift, the skeleton crew and the people who keep awake while the rest of us lie dreaming. For some this will be a shift they only have to work once in a while, for others it will be normality and something that they grow to know well.

In many cases, having people working a night shift is expensive. It is true that some people prefer nights but, in most cases, higher prices can be commanded and premiums are paid. What this results in is a slimmer workforce. It won’t be difficult to find frontline or production staff working at night but it will be much more difficult to find Marketing, Finance, PR or HR offices that are open nights. Why would you pay the higher rates to people to be at their desks in the night when the work they do can be done during the cheaper, more sociable and normal working hours?

I don’t disagree with the rationale for switching off enabling functions at night. There are opportunities for night staff to benefit from more creative forms of ‘self service’ access to enabling functions during the night, but I wouldn’t argue for a permanent presence that mirrors the daytime service. What I would argue, though, is that there is value to be gained from – on an occasional basis – a Finance, Marketing or HR professional heading back to work after midnight.

For any professional who wants to understand, support and raise their own credibility with a customer there are multiple benefits from breaking out of the normal pattern once in a while and joining the night shift. I’ve listed a few but it would be fascinating to know if any of my readers can think of others:

– ‘Knowing the business’. It was the clarion call at one time for HR Business Partners. If what we want to do as HR professionals is to support a business as well as we can then we need to know it. Personally, I’m not sure that we need to be as engrossed in the detail of a business as some people suggest, but I am in no doubt that exploring the ‘feel’ and culture of an organisation is crucial. I don’t know where you work but, if you think that the night shift is the same as the day shift but done in the dark, you are almost certainly wrong. Different things happen at night. In many organisations supervision levels will be different, different stories will be told, and things happen in dark corners that couldn’t happen in daylight. Nobody can tell you about this, you need to experience it for yourself.

– ‘Knowing the customer’. I tell my HR Business Partners that we are getting it right when we are worrying about the same things that our customers are worrying about. Some of that you learn from reports, emails and other exchanges but much of it is learnt from face to face meetings with customers of your HR service. Being with somebody in a physical sense makes it far easier to pick up subtleties, body language and nuance. It may be that the people working your night shift have the same concerns as those working in the day time. It may be though, that they have some other issues or concerns that they may not feel strongly enough about to contact you with. When you are stood with somebody though, in the middle of the night, a conversation may just stray into that kind of territory where you can find some nuggets of gold in the development of your customer intelligence.

– ‘Credibility’. You will doubtless need to discuss, consider and even report on issues affecting the night shift. How much more credible will you be when you can speak from experience and refer to the times when you have worked at night? Beyond that, even when nobody else in the organisation knows you have done it, how much more credibility will you have with your night shift customers when they know that you have gone out of your way to see their world and work with them at night. You will almost certainly hit the hurdle of “why are HR coming to spy on us at night?”, and you will need to take time to work through that, but you will be slowly earning your stripes with people who need to believe in you and trust you.

– ‘Broadening of Perspective’. Approaching any complex issue from multiple angles is a fantastic way of both better understanding it and developing creative solutions to problems. Viewing an organisation at night presents a new lens through which the operation can be seen. This may inform thinking about how the day shift operates or even result in you thinking differently about some of the larger workforce issues including culture, reward and the team.

So, if you work in an organisation that has a night shift that you have never seen, go and take a look. Be respectful, don’t get in the way, listen and learn. If you think you can help with something, offer that help, and if being honest about the fact that this isn’t a spying mission will clear the air then do that too. Ultimately, you will learn something and that may be something of real significance. We are used to the rapid, throbbing heartbeat of our workplaces in the daytime. Listening to the slower, steady pulse of the night will give you a new place to think, reflect and help you to see where you need to go next on your journey towards delivering the best HR service that you can.


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