it ain’t necessarily so – Staffing rotas and the 12-hour shift
with JOHN BURTON
Caring Times, March 2013
The rota is the heartbeat of the home and it must be designed so that it can adjust to the needs of the home without over-stressing the staff.
Staff rotas based on 12-hour shifts are now commonplace. They certainly make planning the rota a whole lot easier, and some staff like them because they get more days off, but do they really suit the residents? There is always a tension in care homes between the complex and varying needs of residents and the availability of staff to meet those needs.
That’s why we have rotas, and that’s why a good rota is never simple. From the residents’ point of view, one advantage of 12-hour day shifts could be the continuity of having the same person supporting you from morning until evening, but I would question how often that is genuinely the case.
And set against that supposed advantage is the discontinuity of the same member of staff being absent for more days than they are there, and quite possibly working somewhere else while they are away.
Twelve-hour shifts rarely allow for proper handover meetings whereas with a rota based on three shifts (including a 10-hour night shift) there can be a half-hour overlap in the morning and at night, and a full hour after lunch.
Staff development To some employers this represents a waste of time and money, but more professional and committed providers see it as essential for staff development and team working. In addition to handing over (the subject of a future article), part of the hour after lunch can be used so well for supervision, short training sessions, and special individual work with residents.
Of course, such an approach brings us back to the need for detailed planning, variation and flexibility in the rota. I’m not suggesting that some 12-hour shifts can’t be incorporated into the rota because they do have their advantages for residents, and it’s sometimes necessary to ask someone to stay on to do “a long day”.
However, if your whole rota is constructed on a central framework of 12-hour shifts, you do not have the same flexibility, and you may be encouraging some staff to “moonlight” in other jobs during their long rest periods. “Doing” the rota is a key task in a care home – time-consuming and anxiety-provoking for many managers. Everyone wants to know what their rota is well in advance and who can blame them? And there are nearly always complaints from staff each time the rota is produced. Help is at hand!
There are various software products to help you, some available directly on line. They will do much of the tedious work for you, but they won’t take the big decisions – that’s your job.
We found a different way: Caring Times readers tell their stories
Nigel Burns, support worker, Hertfordshire
I like doing 12-hour shifts and I think they can be good for the residents. I work in a care home for adults with learning disabilities, some of them in their 70s.
Twelve-hour shifts give me the opportunity to see a whole day through and the continuity is appreciated by the residents, but I also do shorter shifts sometimes and not all my colleagues do long days.
I’m able to vary my work through the day so I don’t find it too stressful. I also like the longer blocks of time off. So, at our place we have a mixture of long and shorter shifts to suit residents and staff. I’ve previously worked in care homes for older people with dementia and I don’t think that 12-hour shifts are such a good idea in that setting.
The work is too intense and tiring, and eight hours is quite enough for most people.
Manager of a care home with nursing, West Midlands
Having recently taken over a large care home where 12-hour shifts are standard, this is a hot topic for me.
The nurses and care staff have got used to long shifts and the proprietors encourage them in all their homes (because they think it’s cheaper), so it’s going to be difficult to change but I’m determined to do so.
I’m not against doing occasional long days which can be good for residents and gives you the flexibility to respond to absences and to do some special work, but if everyone’s doing long shifts you lose that flexibility and you build in staff fatigue.
I know a few of the staff are using their days off to work in other homes and that’s wrong. Staff breaks have become inflexible with staff wanting a whole hour off as well as their usual breaks. Handovers don’t really happen because everyone says they know what’s going on.
The night staff pass the day staff – in and out – there’s no overlap. I don’t understand how we got into this state. My regional manager advises me not to challenge it. CQC say it’s nothing to do with them. I know I’ll be up against the unions.
I feel very much on my own and that’s why I don’t want to be identified. I plan to do it bit by bit. There are a couple of nurses and perhaps half a dozen care staff who I think would like to go back to shorter shifts and working a five day week. I’ll start with them and see if I can gradually persuade the others.