Manufacturers: Don’t forget about your third-shift workers!

When it comes to workplace culture, TentCraft is recognized as a leading employer in the Grand Traverse region. From our progressive parental leave benefits and subsidized child care, to our fleet of kayaks and stand-up paddle boards that employees can use free of charge, we’re constantly tailoring our benefits to promote a positive culture and retain our top talent.

Our business has grown in the past 18 months to the point where we need to add a third shift and keep printers running for our custom tents, custom pool covers and e-commerce fulfillment orders. That now has us thinking about how we expand our best-in-class culture to a team of night-dwelling employees who a majority of our crew will never see during the day.

Spoiler: It’s not as easy as offering free midnight snacks during the shift.

Here are some things to keep in mind — and some things you absolutely need to do — to maintain a good culture and minimize turnover on the third (and second!) shift.

Higher pay

This is one of those things you NEED to do to attract third-shift workers.

Our starting wage on the third shift is up to $18 an hour, which is $3 more than our first shift starting wage. We also pay $1,000 signing bonuses to new third shift employees and $1,000 referral bonuses to existing employees. It’s well-established that those who work the third shift get paid more — there’s no way around this. You need to pay your third shift employees a higher starting wage and offer bigger and better incentives.

Four-day work weeks

More quality time with family? More sun on your face? More mornings in the tree stand? (We have lots of hunters in northern Michigan!) Yes, please! Our success in gaining interest in third shift job opportunities includes four 10-hour shifts, also known as 4/10s. This may seem daunting at first to your organization as it relates to process and planning, but if you put in the time and effort at the senior leadership level to try it and not be afraid to fail, you may find it can work.

Our third shift plan for 4/10s has been such a success, we’ve decided to get out ahead of the curve and start a pilot program of four-day work weeks on all shifts. The more we thought through the theoretical challenges of this idea, the more confident we became in the idea, one which we have been resistant to in the past.

Our third shift from 9pm-7am allows employees with children enough time to put their kids to bed and then see them off to school in the morning. Under our proposed four-day work week, those employees start their shift Sunday night and wrap up Wednesday morning, giving them Thursday through Sunday evening  to spend time with family and enjoy northern Michigan.

We think this is a very attractive schedule for prospective third-shifters, especially those with families where both parents work or for folks who have other responsibilities in life, like caring for others or finishing up those pesky college courses with class times only offered during the day.

Consistent bonding time

It’s critically important third shift employees consistently connect with senior leadership, human resources and other employees on the day shift.

To that end, we’re creating a rotating schedule where members of the production leadership team will work during the third shift. Additionally, our HR team will be on a rotation to be available on the third shift to help with anything from scheduling paid time off – which all production employees start with four weeks – to professional development. Having that type of exposure is a necessity for a healthy third-shift workforce.

We also plan to expand our TentCraft Connect program to the third shift. The TentCraft Connect program randomly connects two employees each week from different departments for lunch on the company, giving them an opportunity to learn about the other person. Both employees then report what they learned about each other to all employees at our morning huddle the next day.

Instead of lunch, we’ll have a TentCraft Connect participant from the first shift have breakfast with the third shift employee and then create a video report to be played during the morning huddle.

If your company has regular events, like monthly lunches, holiday parties, or summer family barbecues, you have to consider ways to be inclusive of all staff members. This may mean altering the third shift schedule that day or — even better — working around the third shift schedule and doing a team breakfast instead of lunch. Something I really like is the idea of offering extra days of paid time off specifically dedicated to attending company-sponsored events.

Be flexible

Finally, you can’t expect to create the perfect third-shift culture on day one.

We know our current and future third shift workers all have a reason for wanting to work in the middle of the night. Maybe they’re caring for an aging family member at home or simply like the alternative schedule. Often, these workers want to come in, get their job done and go home. We get that — and we totally support that!

Make sure to let your employees dictate their culture. Who knows, maybe that impromptu 2am game of ping pong while on break becomes a daily competition, but don’t be surprised if it’s something more along the lines of flashlight tag. The point is to not force culture from one shift to another, but rather encourage and promote an equitable culture unique to their shift.

Rob Hanel is director of people and space at TentCraft, a small business in Traverse City that manufactures custom tents and structures for events and the medical industry. TentCraft employs more than 80 full-time people and is currently hiring for all shifts.