Several years ago I worked at a company that consistently ran two shifts, and occasionally ran a 24/7 production schedule. The second shift typically worked until 11 p.m. or midnight, sometimes pulling all-nighters. I used to pass them each night as I headed to the parking lot, never putting much thought into the fact that they would still be working long past dusk.
Then I found myself overseeing a major project that leaned heavily on the second shift. I realized that I had taken my “normal” schedule for granted and quickly received a crash course on what it takes to work into the wee hours of the morning.
Standing around with a clipboard “supervising” has never been my style, so I decided to jump right into the project’s assembly line. My background is primarily in sales, so after about six hours on my feet, and long past my normal bedtime, I began to feel mentally and physically exhausted. As my self-pity reached its pinnacle, I scanned the room to see if my fellow assembly line members shared the same look of despair. To my surprise, I saw each and every one of them just as focused as they had been at the start. One who was eight months pregnant and could have given birth at any moment looked up and smiled at me.
Instantly, I was embarrassed that on the good side of thirty years old, I was totally defeated before finishing one shift. For the remainder of this project, she became my source of inspiration, symbolizing my lack of awareness of the role that the late shift plays.
Working hard but overlooked.
Bottom line, the late shift was working extremely hard and often did not get recognized for its contributions. As a leader, I was reminded how critical it is to put myself in the shoes of team members and experience firsthand their challenges. While not always practical or possible to work the assembly line, immersing yourself in the role of each employee should be a priority for all leaders.
Another lesson from the graveyard shift: It’s easy for crews to feel separated and removed from the rest of the organization. Since they worked odd hours, often times they weren’t included in company update meetings. Simple oversights like these can lead to a sense of being lost at sea, forgotten about. Leadership should take the time to address and get to know this often unheralded but ultra-important team, even if it requires an occasional all-nighter to do so.
I’ve also found that individuals who excel in the relative isolation of third shift are highly self-motivated people. Still, even the most driven of them desire to know where they’re going and what they’re working towards. Leaders should realize the importance of this need and make a point to not only share a vision with this team, but actively engage them in the vision as well.