Administering Unusual Hourly Schedules

September 2, 2015

in Human Resources

When recruiting for unusual hourly schedules, such as graveyard or on-call shifts, it’s important to sell the position in the right way. Some people prefer unusual schedules because of their sleep habits, their family’s needs, or their recreational habits; but not everyone can be successful working odd or irregular hours. Here are a few keys to successful recruiting and hiring for these positions:

  • Look for past experience in a similar schedule. Many people think they can work odd hours, but most are not suited to it.
  • Conduct reference checks with former employers, specific to the candidate’s ability to work independently, as is often necessary during these shifts.
  • Ask interview questions that probe into the candidate’s desire for this schedule and ability to work under the specific conditions that will be present.

Situational questions can also be helpful. Ask candidates to describe a situation when they had to solve a problem independently. How did they handle it? Present a real life example from your business, e.g., how they would respond to a middle-of-the-night elevator failure or an after-hours breakdown in equipment. Look for candidates who show independent problem-solving initiative—those who would attempt to solve the problem instead of waking their supervisor with an immediate phone call for help.

The downtime often associated with these unusual shifts is another matter to address in the interviews. State your expectations and ask candidates how they would use this idle time. Depending on your business, the ideal answer may include some variation of “I would clean the front area, prepare for the next shift, and then read a book.”

Unusual shifts are usually compensated with higher pay, and we recommend assessing your local labor markets for comparison. Typically, graveyard shifts earn an extra $1 – $2 per hour as compensation for the odd hours and for the independent work. The increased pay may not be necessary for the swing shift, but if you are having difficulties filling swing positions, or keeping employees in the positions, higher pay may be something to explore.

Finally, it’s important to review your state’s meal period regulations. Often times, there’s an exception to providing an unpaid meal period if doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business. It might not be feasible to relieve a graveyard shift (and possibly a swing shift) employee of all duties in order to provide a meal period. In such cases, the meal period must be compensated as part of the employee’s shift.

Another type of unusual shift is “on-call” or “fill-in.” In our experience, these shifts can be difficult to fill for a couple of reasons. First, employees seeking on-call shifts often have positions elsewhere, which means they may or may not be available when you call (it’s rare to find an employee that can subsist on only on-call employment with one business). Second, they are called so infrequently that they often perform below expectations and less efficiently than your regular staff. If you choose to hire on-call employees, it’s important to hire for a position that has clear guidelines, perhaps even a shift checklist, because they won’t typically have the same task repetition as others.

If you elect to hire on-call employees, it’s important to review your state and local laws regarding any show-up pay or reporting time pay regulations. For example, California law states that an employer must pay half of an employee’s scheduled shift (though not fewer than two hours and not more than four) if the employee is sent home early for lack of work.

There are alternatives to hiring on-call you might consider. You may find that your current employees are happy to take on an additional shift now and then for the extra cash, and it may even be more cost effective to use them rather than hire additional help. If this isn’t an option, then consider hiring part-time employees who are regularly scheduled for a few shifts a week, but are willing and able to pick up additional shifts when needed.

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