Keeping the Third Shift Happy

Vol. 17 •Issue 3 • Page 18
Keeping the Third Shift Happy

It’s important to remember that those working different hours are still a crucial role in any company.

By Lauren Himiak

It is 2:30 a.m. The streets are quiet, the phones are silent, the television is off and most are in bed enjoying a peaceful night’s sleep. It is easy to forget that while the rest of the world sleeps, many are just waking up or arriving to work. For these employees, working in the dark is their time to shine.

The third shift is inescapable for some and dreaded by many. But whether they like it or not, for those in HIM, it is becoming more common. Hospitals never sleep and they need employees who can work all of hours of the day. For managers and their staff, it is often difficult to keep everyone in the loop and content in their position. What to do?

“It’s a Hard Shift”

Coming into work when the world is going to sleep and coming home when everyone is just starting their day can be daunting both mentally and physically.

“It’s a hard shift,” said Chris Meyers, RHIA, administrative director, HIMS (services)/PFS (patient financial services) at Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix. “There is no denying that.” So why do people work it?

For starters, some have to. Because some cannot afford child care, they work hours that allow them the flexibility to be home with their families. Others simply prefer the third shift.

“I like the hours and the lack of distractions,” said Susan Jenkins, an MT II at Spheris. Jenkins works 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and could not be more pleased with her position.

“I have a wonderful supervisor and fantastic backup support through the entire company,” she added.

Other employees find the nighttime to be their most productive.

“I have been a medical transcriptionist for 31 years, almost always on afternoon and night shift, and I like working ‘graveyard’ for many reasons,” stated Teri Darcy, an MT for MedQuist. “The rest of the world is quiet, there are very few interruptions, and I can take a little extra time to research interesting things that show up in the dictation.”

“I work third shift from home, and for me this is an ideal shift,” added Linda M. Stokdyk, an MT III at Mayo Clinic. ”It’s nice and quiet and there are no outside noises to bother me while I am typing.”

True it may be quieter and a more relaxed environment to get work done, but that isn’t to say working the third shift doesn’t come with its complications.

Learning to Juggle

Working such odd hours inevitably creates a struggle to balance one’s professional and personal life. When some hear the term “third shift,” they automatically think they could never work it and still have time for themselves. But that is not the case.

“I am single with no kids, so I can sleep in the daytime,” said Darcy. “I put a sign on my door asking not to be disturbed and voice mail picks up my phone messages.”

For those who have children, it may be more challenging to have a personal and professional life.

“You definitely have to separate them,” Jenkins said. “One does not interfere with the other. When I am working, I am working and there are to be no interruptions other than a dire emergency.” Jenkins believes that once you get into a routine, it is easy to find time for all of your activities.

”I spend time with my son and daughters, I am very involved in bible work on a voluntary basis, and I have lots of friends to spend time with,” she noted. “Again, these are planned in a very definite schedule.”

It is apparent that third-shift employees know what they are getting into when they take the position, but what about those who manage them?

Managing the Graveyard

Not all managers who supervise third shifters necessarily work the same hours. Many rely on technology to stay in touch with their workers, while others set up management teams to work the off hours.

“In the HIMS department we have a complete electronic medical record (EMR), said Meyers. “We are considered paper light, so we have paper-based documents that we capture via document imaging at the point-of-care (clinical units) and the point-of-service (patient registration). The image is processed in the HIMS department 24/7/365 in order to ensure patient documentation is available electronically at the patient’s bedside.”

Banner Estrella Medical Center is a 172 private-bed, acute care facility, where 90 percent of the HIMS functions are completed in virtual environment. Meyers manages 65 full-time employees, including third shifters in HIMS and PFS.

“One of the things I believe contributes to the success of our second and third shift associates is that we do a lot of communication via e-mail,” she stated. “We are accustomed to utilizing technology to our advantage in our high-tech, concurrent and virtual environment. We also have department meetings once a month where people can call on what we call a bridge line, similar to a conference call. We have the calls in the late afternoon to be more user-friendly for the majority of our staff.”

“I communicate with my managers and co-workers quite often,” Jenkins added. “Many of the questions sent to the team will be responded by e-mail. I feel like we are really all there for each other.”

It is very important to remember that even if you don’t see all of your employees during your shift, that doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard for the company. Employees must feel they are part of the team.

“We encourage all employees to attend special functions besides departmental meetings,” Meyers said. “We want them to come to the holiday parties. We try to be very sensitive to those who do not work the typical work shift and allow the opportunity to attend everything.”

Besides learning to communicate more effectively and schedule meetings a little differently, it is important for managers to encourage better health for their third-shift workers.

Sleep and nutrition are two very important factors in working the third shift, and something that managers may forget to stress. It is important to remind employees that they should be getting 8 hours of sleep to function properly on the job. It is also beneficial to keep healthy snacks around the office for those who work the third shift. Because those workers are not eating on a normal schedule, it can wreak havoc on their diet to eat a full meal at 6 a.m. Encouraging employees to stay hydrated on water and snack throughout the night, especially with protein-filled foods, will help keep them active and more alert.

Call It a Night

Working the third shift doesn’t mean you are going to become an unproductive insomniac.

“So many people have said to me ‘I don’t know how you can work night shift,'” Stokdyk said. “My response is usually, ‘I don’t know how you can work day shift.'”

Managers and employees of third shifts must work together everyday to keep the lines of communication open and stay productive. But the question everyone still wants to know is how do they stay awake?

“I have a very definite schedule of sleep so I am not exhausted when I start work,” said Jenkins. “Sometimes it is good to take a walk outside for a minute or two. The night air wakes me up and it is somehow just a secure feeling with the quiet and beautiful sky. By the way, coffee helps too!”

Lauren Himiak is an editorial assistant with ADVANCE.

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