Us and them. Maybe it’s human nature for groups to form an identity in opposition to others. In competition between sports teams and businesses, this tendency can be channeled in a positive direction. However, when it emerges within a business or a single department between those who work the early shift and the people who work the late shift, the rivalry becomes destructive to morale and productivity.
Night and weekend workers are the unsung heroes of retail. They really make or break customer service. Yet, they’re often the lowest-paid in the store because they have the lowest seniority. That happens when the early shift is regarded as desirable, sometimes even as an entitlement for those who’ve “paid their dues.”
The unfortunate result can be elitism on the part of day workers and a sense of victimization for night workers, not to mention substandard service for customers. The day shift grouses that the night workers leave work undone and leaps to the conclusion that they must be goofing off because they just don’t care. The night shift feels unappreciated and unsupported when the day shift doesn’t stock up or produce enough output to last through the evening rush.
But this “us and them” dynamic between shifts is not inevitable! Managers can take action to end it.
Working the late shift
The first step is for managers to schedule their own time so that they work across shifts, or vary their shifts. That way they have firsthand experience with the performance and working conditions of all their staff members.
It’s common for department managers to prefer to come in early and leave before the evening rush, citing the need to call in orders in the mornings. As a result, they don’t interact much with their later shift workers. However, ordering deadlines need not dictate the quality of supervision. Managers can call in orders the afternoon before, or train others to do this task for at least one or two days a week so they’re free to work a later shift now and then.
Walk a mile in others’ shoes
Next, cross-train all department staff in the tasks of both shifts. Or in small stores, cross-train all staff. If the early shift emphasizes production or displays, while the late shift focuses more on assisting customers, ensure that everyone can perform both sets of tasks. When training new workers, schedule them to work the opposite shift for one or two weeks.
A manager of an organic meat department in a large natural health retail store took over the job at a time of high tension between the morning and evening shifts. He immediately started cross-training. “Once they walked a mile in others’ shoes,” he remarked, “day and night workers would comment, ‘I never realized all they did.’”
Brief daily department meetings help unify the team. Schedule them at the time of the shift change.
Discourage negative written messages between morning and evening shifts in favour of open, honest, solution-oriented discussion of operational problems in face-to-face meetings.
How to reduce and prevent conflicts between shifts
• Schedule management to work across shifts or varied shifts.
- Cross-train employees in skills needed for day and night shifts.
- Appoint a person in charge on night shifts if you’re not there—an assistant manager or shift leader.
- Hold department meetings at times both shifts can attend.
- Constantly uphold the priority of customer service for all employees.
- Nip “us against them” sentiments in the bud. Challenge those who complain about the work of other shifts to be part of the solution.
- Don’t take sides. Show that you value the contributions of both shifts.