Clopening Shifts: Why Managers Should Avoid Them (+ What To Do Instead)

Clopening. It’s a weird word, and even weirder shifts.

It’s when an employee has to close up shop at night, and then open the following morning, arriving home late and getting up early. They got the clopening shifts, the shifts that no one really wants.

Imagine looking at your schedule and seeing that you’ll close the coffee shop at 11pm, and then have to stagger back in at 4:30am to get the morning pastries and brew going. Do the math on those hours.

We get why employers set up the dreaded clopening shifts.

You’re probably struggling to make it with a smaller staff, and if you have long hours or have expanded your hours to meet customer demand, clopening makes it possible to do more with less.

At least, that’s what you think.

Not only is it harmful to your employees, but you could be breaking the law. Once you understand what’s going on for those stuck clopening, you’ll be convinced to avoid scheduling them, and be reassured that your customers (and your bottom line) are better served in the long run.

How clopening affects employees (and your business)

Clopening is common in particular industries, such as restaurants, bars, hospitals, gas stations, and convenience stores. Some retail stores, with extended hours, also use clopening shifts. If a business says it’s open 24 hours a day or has less than ten hours between closing and opening, they’re probably using clopening.

Trying to manage an always-open business with limited staff, particularly during a labor shortage, is tough. Unless you purposefully choose not to do it, the clopening shifts are going to end up on your schedule and you’re going to find it convenient to solve your scheduling problems.

Your problems might be solved, but your employees’ problems are just beginning.

For starters, there’s a sleep deprivation problem that comes with clopening.

According to the CDC, adults need about seven hours of sleep each night. Granted, most of us don’t get a perfect score every week, but there’s a cumulative effect. Repeated sleep deprivation can even lead to chronic health issues.

There are immediate effects, too, not just long-term cumulative effects.

Sleep deprived employees tend to lose focus and zone out after a while, getting that 1000-yard stare as their brain shuts off for a break. Yes, they might have periods of what seems like normal productivity, which is why too many managers think clopening isn’t really impacting their employees. But once their focus starts to go, they usually can’t get it back.

And even worse, they don’t realize it’s happening.

“Are you OK with clopening?” you might ask them.

“Sure, no problem,” they say, either inwardly groaning and outwardly lying, or simply unaware that they aren’t as effective as they would be.

Add to that the frustration of an employee who feels like they get the clopening shifts too much, and the loss of work-life balance that comes with it. Instead of family time, they’re spending their evening at work, commuting from work, briefly sleeping, and commuting back to work to start it all over. Now you’re looking at bad attitudes and employee turnover.

Bottom line?

Clopening is expensive for everyone. 

It’s a short-term solution with long-term side effects. It takes a physical and mental toll on your team, causing employee burnout. It leads to lackluster performance that won’t impress any customer. And there’s even a calculable price tag: lowered productivity from sleep-deprived employees costs employers almost $2000 a year per employee.

Laws against clopening

Is clopening illegal?

That’s a good question. If you’re dead set against removing your clopening shifts, be aware that in some states and cities, there are laws that restrict them.

We’re delving into the world of predictive scheduling and fair workweek laws, and states like California, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and a growing list of others have either adopted restrictions on clopening, or are considering limiting how employers can schedule employees in this regard. Some cities have taken it upon themselves to put in their own restrictions, while public pressure has caused some corporate businesses to no longer use clopening shifts.

Best recommendation? Contact your state and find out what regulations they have regarding these kinds of shifts. Find out from your city if there are any as well.

If it’s not illegal where your business is, consider that there’s enough growing pushback to suggest it could be, or that, at the very least, you’re not making your business enticing to new hires in a tight labor market.

Yes, you heard us right: by refusing to schedule clopening shifts, you can make your business stand out in a competitive market where others are still using them. You can promote that as a benefit.

How to schedule your employees effectively (and avoid clopening shifts)

If you can’t see any other way to build your schedule than with clopening shifts, you’re in luck. We know how you can dump those shifts and make your employees, your customers, and yes, even yourself, much happier.

Use advanced employee scheduling software

Using advanced scheduling software, like When I Work, can automate the bad habit right out of your employee schedule.

When I Work lets you use templates to generate a schedule, templates based on the definitions you create on what kinds of shifts are allowed. If your template won’t allow clopening shifts, you’ll never schedule another one again. It also can help you better schedule tricky shifts that are in response to fluctuating customer demand, reducing the need for juggling employees on clopening shifts.

This is the better way of handling a schedule if you have fewer employees than you’d like. It’s the difference between scheduling smart and scheduling to burnout.

Even if you chose to keep clopening shifts, advanced scheduling software connected to your payroll makes it easier for you to pay overtime, or provide some other reward, for those who have to clopen. One of the best features of scheduling software is its ability to keep tabs on employee overtime, something that could be a concern if clopening shifts gets compensated more and employees are free to choose it. You can spot (and stop) an employee from taking those shifts too much, for their physical benefit as well as your own bottom line.

By automating your scheduling, you can remove clopening shifts and schedule so that there are mandatory rest periods between shifts for every employee. That can be tough to manually handle, especially if you have a lot of employees, but with scheduling software, it’s simple.

Be flexible with your schedule

One of the serious downfalls of clopening was the lack of work-life balance. It’s those shifts that make employees feel chained to the job, because family time is missed and the sleep deprivation that can come from it makes off time best spent napping. 

When I Work is built on flexibility. Employees can swap shifts (within the boundaries you set up), and communicate directly with each other. It gives them a sense of control over their life, and that’s empowering. 

Another key component of schedule flexibility is making that schedule available early, and easily accessible. Employees need to know when they work so they can plan childcare or make appointments.

We know employees live on their mobile phones, so that’s where we put their schedules. When the schedule is live, everyone knows. And if you’re using templates to build it, you’ll be getting it done earlier. No more dragging your feet to deal with spreadsheets. It’s almost plug-and-play.

Get input from your employees

Communication is important. Whether there’s a clopening problem or just a general schedule problem, lack of communication means you’ll only find out due to high employee turnover.

Wouldn’t you rather know long before it gets to that?

Ask employees their thoughts about the shifts. What would they change? What shifts have too many employees? Too few? Do you need to hire more employees? How can you make it work with what you have if new employees are hard to find? What shifts can employees work? Are there some shifts that some employees absolutely can’t work? Build it all into your software framework and the automation can keep you on track.

If there’s a scheduling issue you’re struggling to find a solution for, ask your employees. They probably have good ideas.

Everyone needs a break, including you

Bold statement, but true.

Employees have always been your most valuable asset, and never more so than in a labor shortage. When hiring is competitive and budgets are tight, your schedule can be the benefit that sets you apart from everyone else.

Be the one who gives employees control over their lives, who makes sure they are well-rested and set up to give your customers the best service possible.

And give yourself a break. Start using advanced scheduling software to take the burden of managing complicated shifts off of your shoulders.