The Shift Manager’s Guide to Handling Rota Stress for Employees

For many, shift work leads to chronic levels of fatigue due to poor sleep cycles. The research showed that those working shift work for over 10 years suffer more, with the effects harder to reverse the longer an individual is part of the shift work. Let's learn ways to help each other here.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: December 8, 2022
  • 10 Minutes
shift managers guide to handle rota stress for employees explained by Papershift rota scheduling software

© / Adobe Stock

Planning and implementing a good office rota is challenging. But a good rota is essential for both large and small businesses, whether they are operating across a large number of employees or just a handful.

A good shift rota is important to the long-term health of your business so that everything works as it should and operates profitably, but also so you maintain a productive, healthy workplace.

But it’s easy to neglect the needs of staff (especially if they are shift workers) and implement a rota that causes stress to them in both the workplace and at home.

So how can e-roster managers reduce stress for shift workers while keeping profit margins healthy and business areas covered? 

Did You Know?
20% of employees in the UK follow shift work schedules. Current estimates suggest 1:5 has experienced shift work sleep disorder.

In this guide, we will look to answer these questions and many more.

Let’s begin with the basics.  

What is an e-roster?

eRostering (or e-Rostering) is the use of electronic rostering or scheduling software to automatically create employee schedules. eRostering is most commonly applied to automated schedules used by businesses and is a useful tool for all types of business no matter how big or small, especially those with complex employee scheduling requirements.

What is an e-roster manager?

An e-roster manager is a member of staff or manager/team leader within a business whose job is to work with e-rostering software to create rotas for staff.

He/she will monitor the software, set rostering criteria and pull reports that can be used for analysis of staffing levels and other business needs. 

What types of shift patterns are there in the UK?

There are many different types of shift patterns available in the UK. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few to consider:

  1. 2 shift. The 2 shift pattern is a typical Monday to Friday pattern of mornings (06:00-14:00) and afternoons (14:00-22:00). Often staff in this pattern will rotate, usually once a week.
  2. Night shifts. Despite the unsociable hours, some staff members prefer this option. Night shifts typically offer a slight increase in pay over standard hours. Often businesses will rotate staff between day shifts and night shifts.
  3. 4 on 4 off shift. One of the most popular patterns for businesses that need round-the-clock cover. The 4 on, 4 off shift pattern relies on employees working four 12-hour days consecutively. Their hard work is then rewarded with four days off. The timing of shifts generally varies between days and evenings. Emergency services often use this pattern to provide comprehensive cover.
  4. Rotating shifts. A rotational model covers a wide range of schedules over different times of the day. It’s a good option for scheduling work where an employer’s needs changes from week to week.

Got questions on rota planning software? Register for a free consultation.

What does the UK law say about e-rosters?

There are many laws that impact on rota schedules in the UK. The main one is The Working Time Regulations 1998, but there are others that need to be considered, such as:

  1. The Working Time Regulations apply to employees in all sectors across the UK and stipulate that they should not work more than an average of 48 hours each week. However, individuals have the right to opt out of this agreement if they wish to work more, provided they give their employer written notice and they are over 18 years old. 
  2. These regulations also state that employees should be given 11 consecutive hours off between shifts and that one day off in every seven days must be given to all staff members.
  3. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also states that employers must provide ‘suitable’ rest facilities and time for employees. This is often given as break periods.
  4. In the UK, you are required by law to provide your employees with a work rota in advance. “Advance” is a woolly legal term that sets no minimum or maximum amount of time that they have to be given their shift schedules. In general, businesses should notify employees at least one week in advance to help staff to prepare for work properly.
  5. Employers are also required to keep full records of hours worked by their staff and make sure these are accurate. This is often done with shift management or e-rostering software.

FAQ about work rotas in the UK

Featured Guide
We compile the top rota scheduling mistakes to avoid. Check this guide from ‘Experienced rota managers on shift planning mistakes to avoid‘.

Is a rota a legal document?

Yes. Although there is no specific law stating work rotas have to be published, they are considered an essential part of planning work duties and allocating staff accordingly.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that all employees have the right to know their working schedules in advance, including any additional hours they will be required to work. The same goes for any changes that may occur during the course of the rota period. If you are the e-roster manager, it will fall upon you to ensure that this is carried out effectively.

How far in advance should rotas be completed in the UK?

There is no rule on how far in advance rotas should be done. However, it is often best to work out the schedule at least a week before the first shift is due to start. This gives employees enough time to organise their lives around the rota and plan ahead.

Businesses should make sure they have an effective communication system in place so employees can get in touch and let them know if they’re available on certain days or not. Managers should also have clear guidelines on what happens when an employee calls in sick or wants to book time off.

What about if I work unsociable hours?

By law, if staff work for at least 3 hours in a night shift (11 pm to 6 am), they are considered a night worker. Businesses must pay staff minimum wage but are not obligated to pay higher rates for night shifts.

Young workers aged between 16 and 17 cannot work later than 10 pm, so won’t be entitled to work night shifts.

Workers who do work night shifts must not work more than 8 hours in any 24-hour period.

What about scheduled rest periods?

There are three types of work breaks businesses must provide to employees:

  1. Rest breaks at work
  2. Daily rest periods
  3. Weekly rest period

At the workplace, employees who work for 6 hours or longer are entitled to a 20-minute rest break. Between working days, employees have the right to at least 11 hours of rest. Employees must also have an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week or an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.

Can a rota be changed without notice?

An employer can change their employees’ working hours, including shift patterns, as long as the contract allows it. If the contract sets out fixed hours, then shifts cannot be changed without rewriting the contract of employment (with the employees’ permission).

If changes are allowed, it is important for businesses to notify staff before implementing changes. Employees should be told about any changes to their shift pattern in advance. How much in advance will depend on what is stated in their contract or employment policy. Normally, this means giving at least one week’s written notice to each employee who is being asked to work new hours.

Not notifying employees on can affect their health, wellbeing, and productivity, not to mention the businesses bottom line.

Would like to notify staff quickly via Rota mobile app? Register for a free consultation.

In what way can shift patterns cause employee stress?

At the end of 2014 a study was published in the British Medical Journal that shared findings from a large study of shift workers. The results showed that shift work often goes hand in hand with poor mental and physical health (including stress) as well as problems processing tasks. 

The research showed that those working shift work for over 10 years suffer more, with the effects harder to reverse the longer an individual is part of the shift work.

For many, shift work leads to chronic levels of fatigue due to poor sleep cycles. This fatigue can cause reductions in productivity and performance as well as mental capacity and mood. All of this can then combine to increase stress levels in individuals that can compound matters further. 

So how do reduce stress for shift workers if I am an e-roster manager?

Working shifts can be a positive experience for both employers and employees, but there are risks that need to be managed effectively.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has identified the following fundamental issues that any shift pattern will need to address to keep stress levels low (plus our tips on how to deal with them):

Fatigue and tiredness

Workers are more likely to report fatigue if they work long or late hours. This could lead to a decline in quality of work, as well as potentially increasing the risk of accidents. Businesses need to have rules in place that ensure workers rest sufficiently to remain alert while they work.

Businesses may also want to consider offering assistance with childcare or transport if working hours make it difficult for staff to attend work or look after children during working hours. This too can help reduce employee stress.

Sleep disturbance

Sleep disturbance is one of the main problems with shift work. People who do shift work often struggle to sleep during the day, which may lead to something called sleep debt. This is a condition that occurs when people do not get enough quality sleep regularly. Sleep debt can result in fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, and reduced alertness, which, in turn, could lead to errors at work.

Employers and rota managers should provide staff with a rota that details their shifts well in advance so staff can prepare for them and work out where they can rest adequately. 

Lack of shift pattern communication

Communication is key when dealing with shift work. It is important for all workers, regardless of which shift they are on, to know what other teams are doing and how their tasks are to be completed. If not addressed, this lack of communication can lead to increased workplace stress and safety issues. 

Social Isolation

Workers may find themselves having to turn down social events, or not spending as much time as they’d like with their friends and family. This can lead to long-lasting stress, depression, and other mental health issues. 

When designing or setting up e-rosters, it’s important that HR managers consider the social consequences of the hours they are asking staff to work and build in time away from work that allows the opportunity to meet friends and family.

If working hours are especially difficult, it may be worth considering shift patterns that allow for longer periods of not working, like a 4 on, 4 off system. This will give staff time to socialise and rest up.

What is the best shift pattern to help reduce employee stress?

That’s a really difficult question to answer and will depend on the business, type of work performed and the staff themselves. 

With so many different types of shift pattern available (see above), it can be hard to choose a one-size fits all method. 

Out tip is to speak to staff. Ask them what they would prefer and see if their needs can be met. Balance what they want with the needs of the business and look to find a balance that suits everyone. At the end of the day, you want to keep staff happy, but you need to make money too and if an employee’s needs don’t fit, they may need to head elsewhere to get what they need.

In conclusion

Stress in the workplace is never a good thing and when it is caused by shift patterns, it can cause huge problems for a business. But with a little thought and care, it is perfectly possible for e-roster managers to create rotas that work for the business as well as being able to reduce stress for staff.

manage rota timesheet and employee absence management on the cloud
Free Trial
Rota Planning Online Made Simple & Fun
  • Create any rota pattern
  • Click employees into rota schedule
  • Staff view by hours, day & week
  • Fast & auto rota planning
  • Publish rota on app to employees
  • Automatic timesheets from rota
14 days free trial. No credit card required
14 days free trial More on Rota Planning

We hope you have enjoyed this guide. For more useful workplace information, check out the rest of our website.

Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)