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Night shift workers in need of better support

Co-op has launched a new manifesto in parliament calling upon retailers and policy makers to address the deteriorating physical and mental health of night shift workers.

There are currently seven million people working at night, 54% of which were identified as key workers at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Office of National Statistics.

The retailer said it wants organisations to demonstrate a duty of care for these people as they are known to be at greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity and depression, all of which can be caused by chronic sleep disruption.

The manifesto also stated that in time, companies will and should be held legally responsible for the consequences of night work unless mitigating action is taken.

Speaking to HR magazine, Sarah Eglin, Co-op’s head of people, food stores and logistics, said: “We hope that today represents a real step forward for night shift workers, who we know often feel invisible to the rest of society.

“The manifesto, and the extensive scientific research behind it, should provide a genuine vehicle for change. We are calling for all night shift workers to be brought out of the shadows, for the risks to their health to be properly managed and the balance of their lives to be protected.”

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In partnership with research-charity Wellcome Trust and design studio consultancy Liminal Space, Co-op recently rolled out a sleep engagement programme called Night Club for its employees.

Night Club aims to create a healthier 24-hour working culture by bringing leading sleep research directly to night shift workers and major employers. Eglin said that the programme had had positive results over the last 18 months, and hopes findings from it will help drive the issue forward with other employers.

Commenting on the Co-Op’s manifesto Sally Austin, chief people officer at logistics firm Wincanton, told HR magazine: “There is more to do in this arena and so we welcome calls to the government for further support on policy.

“Having a fully motivated and engaged workforce is fundamental for every business to thrive and so it’s vital we continue to educate ourselves and others on the importance of all aspects of wellbeing.”

In addition to the manifesto, Co-op has laid out the five ‘Rs’ template to help address health and social issues of night shifts. The ‘Rs’ are:

1. Recognise and champion night workers as a coherent group

2. Respond to their needs and place night shift workers at the heart of any solution

3. Respect and understand that they face a specific set of challenges in a variety of working conditions

4. Research-led approach to implement evidence-based solutions

5. Raise their profile and mobilise a cross-industry response to mitigate these challenges