Sleep and wellbeing: Co-op Group reaches out to night workers

Working nights can affect physical and mental health - so how can employers help minimise the risks?

One of the essentials for wellbeing is a good night’s sleep – a challenge for shift workers which the Co-op Group is trying to address.

The retailer has teamed up with health charity Wellcome on the Night Club initiative, which gives advice, and draws insight from, shift workers. And with one in eight people – around 11.5% of the UK workforce – now working nightshifts, it hopes its insights will be useful to other organisations.

Working with public engagement consultancy, The Liminal Space, Night Club is visiting all of the Co-op’s UK depots. The immersive experience consists of light-based experiments, chronotyping tests to establish an individual’s own natural body clock, one-on-one consultations with sleep experts and trials to show how eating at different times of the day can affect slumber.

Workers study information at the Night Club

The largest mobile initiative of its kind in the UK, it will unite shift workers – including retail depot workers and Funeralcare night ambulance crew members – with professional sleep experts.

Related: Co-op research explores importance of community wellbeing

Sarah Eglin, head of HR, Logistics and Food Support Centre at the Group, says that compared to the rest of the workforce, nightshift workers often go “forgotten, or unseen … we felt that there must be something we could do”.

Research suggests that those working nights face higher mental and physical health risks, including heart disease and cancer. And they are more likely to have problems with addiction, and often struggle with their finances and relationships. There are also problems of loneliness and social isolation – which has been a key focus of the Group’s recent community campaigning.

“It’s a male dominated environment,” says Ms Eglin. “There are team members who don’t have English as their first language, and the nature depot work means there’s not much interaction, with communication via a headset. It’s a very lonely job.”

It wasn’t easy getting the shift workers to talk about these issues, she adds, “but they will talk about sleep”.

The Group is planning to bring the project and its findings to other organisations with night workers, such as the NHS and emergency services, and has enlisted the support of trade unions Usdaw and Unite and charities MIND and the Samaritans. Morrisons, Network Rail and ISS have also agreed to contribute to the research.

Advice includes recipes, to help workers with the cravings their disrupted body clock produces for caffeine, carbs and energy drinks, and information about products such as blackout blinds to help them sleep during the day, and coloured goggles – orange to stimulate sleep at home, and blue, which helps them stay awake and alert at work.

Efforts are also made to ensure shift workers get two consecutive rest days, although Ms Eglin concedes this is not always possible.

Chief executive Steve Murrells (centre) visits with shift workers at the Night Club as the touring facility visits the Group’s Coventry depot (Photo: Richard Grabge / UNP)

Steve Murrells, CEO at the Group, said: “Our night shift colleagues play a vital role in ensuring our Co-op customers and members can buy what they want, when they want it. Their health and wellbeing is hugely important to us. We’re pleased to be able to bring the Night Club initiative to our depot colleagues so that together, we can improve their experience of work and their wellbeing. ” 

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