May 31, 2013
Us and them. Maybe it’s human nature for groups to form an identity in opposition to others’. In sports and competition between businesses, this can be channeled in a positive direction. But when it emerges between the early and late shifts within the same department, the breakdown into “us and them” destroys morale and productivity.
Night and weekend workers are the unsung heroes of retail, the ones who really make or break customer service. Yet they’re often the lowest paid, lowest seniority employees, while 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 among night workers. The day shift grouses that the night workers leave tasks undone and leaps to the conclusion that they must be goofing off because they just don’t care. Meanwhile, 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.
This “us and them” dynamic between shifts is not inevitable. Managers can take action to end it. The first step is scheduling your time so that you work across shifts, or vary your shifts. That way you have firsthand experience with the performance and working conditions of all staff members.
Typically, department managers come in early and leave before the evening rush, citing the need to call in orders in the morning. But management is about a lot more than placing orders. You don’t have to let ordering deadlines dictate the quality of your supervision. Call in orders the afternoon before, or train others to do this task at least one or two days a week.
It’s also smart to cross-train all department staff in the tasks of both shifts. 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.
Finally, brief daily department meetings help unify the team. Schedule them at the time of the shift change. Discourage negative written messages between shifts in favor of open, honest, solution-oriented discussion of operational problems in face-to-face meetings.
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