If you work in skilled industrial trades, there’s nothing like a bad shift to push you into a job change decision. We spend a huge amount of our week at work, so having a schedule that doesn’t work for you can turn your work into a real nightmare. In this article, we take a look at why tradespeople choose an unusual shift and how you can manage issues related to shifts.
There are generally four scenarios where tradespeople take or end up with less ideal shifts:
For those who begin at entry-level positions or begin working in a different division of the same company, you may inherit a “bad shift” when you start out. “Paying your dues” trades comfort and a desirable shift today so that you can gain valuable skills and advance within the company tomorrow. You might benefit from thinking of this period as schooling or a training program. The employer may only be benefiting partially from your new skills compared to a more high-skilled individual, but they are making an investment in your future, and so are you.
Some employers with more senior teams will likely start their newer employees in their less ideal shifts, so the senior team members can enjoy the more preferred shifts. This creates incentives at the company for workers to stay a long time and gives those long-time employees a sense of pride that, hopefully, you will also enjoy some day.
These shop “pecking orders” work well unless they are mismanaged. Here’s an example of an issue that can arise. What if a more experienced and skilled tradesman or tradeswoman is brought on board? Do they get the “bad shift” because they are new or do they get the “good shift” because they are experienced? These are cases where acompany benefits from having a thoughtful management team and a culture that respects individual trades skills. Ideally, the company should recognize the value of the tradesperson’s skillset and experience elsewhere and allow him or her to move into the shift category that fits that skill level at the company.
“Paying your dues” should not last forever. You put in your time and acquire skills and eventually you get to move into a better shift, which makes it all worthwhile.
Tip: What do you do if you have now paid your dues, but no change is being made? In most cases, the manager may have lost track of how long you have been with the company or in the current shift. No doubt you are more aware of each day spent on the “bad shift” than he or she is. In some cases, the normal flow or promotion of workers within the company is “stopped up,” because people they expected to retire or turn over haven’t left. In both these cases, you are best-off being open and communicative with your manager or employer.
But don’t be aggressive or obnoxious. Request a sit-down discussion to talk about your past six months, one year, or year and a half at the company. Review what skills you have acquired, your performance, and the value you are bringing to the organization.
Then talk about the shift itself. This depends on your situation. You may want to explain that you would like to take a daytime shift if one was to become available. How much you push in these situations depends on how painful the shift currently is for you and your family and how steep your learning curve still is (i.e. are you still learning a lot?). If you are a high-performing tradesman or tradeswomen, then it is likely that you will have some leverage with your employer and that they will want to make sure you are happy and will stay with the company. Your job is to make sure that you are being fair and their job is to make sure they are being fair. That’s the pact between employer and employee.
But what if the employer is not being fair? These are usually the moments when you get a deeper look at the culture of the company. If your manager tends to “play favorites” or be totally irrational about who gets to move up in the company, this may be an important problem for you to recognize at this juncture instead of two or three years from now. Again, follow the same steps above. Talk about the issue and clear up what isa hunch vs. what is reality. If you are seeing no progress, don’t forget your value. You deserve to be treated fairly and you deserve a long-term career path where you can achieve your goals.
If you are stuck at a “dead end,” take action. Explore alternative job opportunities or reach out to a specialty recruiter such as Industrial Trades Pros that helps industrial trades professionals handle these situations and discover alternative opportunities.
People often agree to less than ideal shifts for a certain period of time during their initial negotiation with their future employer. In general, the terms of this negotiation are not put in writing in any contract. It’s a verbal agreement between you and the manager that you will work this shift for a specific period of time and then transition to a better shift. The employer may want you to fill this less ideal shift because they have a seasonal need,it is a quieter shift where you can receive more training, or they are just struggling right now to fill it, and it would really help them out.
Tip: The typical problem with this arrangement is that it is not in writing. The manager may remember very clearly for a few weeks, but over the course of months he or she might forget what you both agreed on. If possible, try to get the details of this conversation in writing. If you can get a confirmation email from the manager to you or to your third–party recruiter you are working with that would be best, but is also not always possible. If these options aren’t available, take clear notes from your discussion and save them on your computer or email them to yourself.
If you get to that important date when you were expecting to change to a different shift and no change is made, don’t panic. Communicate. Approach your boss and remind him or her of the discussed date, clarify with him or her whether it was an oversight or if things have changed. If something has changed, try to understand the situation. Your reflex may be to get upset, but it may also not be worth sacrificing your future at the company. Try to get commitment about what the new plan is, if there is one. If the terms of this new agreement are not good enough or if you feel like the breaking of this promise represents a bigger problem at the company, it may be worth making a change.
Don’t quit on the spot. Start a search process and continue to work the bad shift, so you are not put in a tough financial position because of the manager’s actions. From our experience, this story will be very understandable to another employer and it will make a positive impact to show how professionally you handled it.
In the third bad–shift scenario, current convenience drives the decision to take a certain shift. Some people are just night owls and would prefer a swing or night shift. Many people choose shifts outside normal working hours because its works better with their personal responsibilities. Perhaps a spouse works another shift and children need to be minded, or you are finishing school during the day. These unusual shifts ultimately serve you and your family’s needs.
Tip: Things can change and what may have been more convenient before has now became a strain on you or your family. What do you do now?
First, don’t panic. Try to figure out whether another shift at the company might be an option. Are there other employees that have recently made this transition? Did they first need to acquire certain skills or achieve certain performance metrics? If you have time, then you might be able to take some steps within your company to move in that direction. If this is a possibility, we recommend that you let your manager know aboutyour goal. It shouldn’t hurt to share that you understand the requirements and are gunning for the new and preferred shift. This conversation should act as confirmation that you understood the career path properly.
What if you need to make the change immediately? As above, communicate. Plan a sit-down discussion with your manager and lay out the challenge. Talk about how much you enjoy your work, how much you have learned, and how you want to stay at the company for the long-term.
Now transition into your issue. Explain the personal situation. Make it real with details, but don’t turn it into a drama or make it your manager’s problem. It’s still your issue. Ask if there is any way that the company can accommodate the change. If you hit a dead end, try to protect your current position for the coming weeks and talk about a possible timeline so you can start to look for another position elsewhere. Your manager should understand, and appreciate your professionalism. This moment is also an opportunity to ask if your manager would be willing to give you a verbal or written recommendation that you can use with other employers.
Our final situation is where a shift started as a “good shift” and has become bad over time due to more and more hours being added on to it. Overtime can be a great thing, up to a point. We encounter many trades professionals who are glad to have the overtime at first, but as the shift moves from 4×10 to 5×10 to 6×10, things start to get out of control.
Tip: What do you do if your “good shift” has become a “bad shift” due to excessive overtime? These can be very difficult situations. For starters, they tend to happen slowly and include the obvious benefits of overtime pay. Additionally, it usually combines with some kind of big push from the company to achieve important goals. There is a sense of excitement at first that everyone is working together towards a goal. Eventually, that goal was or was not achieved, but the new hours continue because this new level of effort has become the new normal.
So there you are. You feel like you have allowed yourself to get pulled into this situation like the frog slowly boiling in water. You want to be part of the team, but you also want to be able to see your spouse, family and friends and not have every minute of your life defined by work.
Try to be tactful and assess what the long-term plan is going to be. You might want to put out some “feelers” with your manager about what the shifts are expected to be in a couple of months when, let’s say, you might be “planning some time off.” The clarity of this answer will probably tell you a lot. If it appears that the overwhelming shift is expected to continue, you have to make a decision. If the overtime pay is too good to give up, you may want to stick it out for another 6 to 12 to 18 months, while you bank some very impressive overtime pay. If you have had enough, take heart in the fact that highly-skilled and experienced trades professionals are in high demand and it is likely that you will be able to find another option in your area that offers a more balanced work schedule. We have found that the explanation regarding this overwhelming shift with a prospective employer is very understandable and does not reflect poorly on your candidacy or work ethic.
As above, try to stay with your current position during your search process and, especially in this case, it may be helpful to work with a specialty recruiting company like Xemplar that can help manage your job search process while you focus on your work.
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Now that you’ve gained some insight into how to manage situations involving bad shifts, always remember that there is likely a professional way to handle these problems. If you do find yourself needing to make a change, and you are an industrial tradesman or tradeswoman with experience in your trades, we encourage you to reach out to Xemplar Workforce Solutions. We specialize in working with talented trades professionals just like you to coach and support your career and identify great, long-term career opportunities. Contact us today to elevate your career!