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A different lifestyle: following a few basic guidelines helps staff adjust to night work.

Working the graveyard shift need not be a bitter experience. Many corrections professionals begin their careers under the moonlight, and for some it remains the shift of choice. As one who has more than 20 years experience in night shift work, including the past two years at a juvenile detention center, I can testify that night work can be fulfilling and enjoyable--if you follow a few basic lifestyle guidelines.

The three most important things are getting enough sleep, exercising and eating right. These basics apply to everyone in corrections, but they take on added significance for night workers. Without them, emotional, mental and spiritual harmony are impossible.

Sleep. An estimated one-third of Americans have some kind of sleep problem. For those who work on night shifts, this problem may be more pronounced because sleeping in daylight can be difficult. Not getting enough sleep results in more than a grouchy disposition. Lack of energy, a short attention span and sloppy work habits all jeopardize institutional safety and security.

Experts say that about 90 percent of adults need eight hours of sleep daily. Let experience be your guide. Establish a sleep schedule and stick to it; it may take you weeks or months of trial and error. Your off-duty activities, social and family obligations and the time of day you sleep most soundly will determine whether you should sleep right after work, during the afternoon or during the evening. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that naps during the daytime are not a substitute for sleeping in one continuous period.

Exercise. Regular exercise helps you sleep better and contributes to alertness on duty. Get a thorough medical examination. Set up an appointment with a physical therapist to develop an aerobic routine and choose muscle strengthening exercises that are right for you.

Eating right. My own experience, coupled with an informal staff survey, suggests that you should eat your biggest meal a few hours after you wake up, before coming to work for the night. Meal times should stay the same every day. Include a low-calorie lunch or snack while on duty. If you go to bed within three hours after going off duty, limit your caffeine intake--and cut it out midway through your shift.

It's been said that a rut is a grave with both ends open. The rut-to-grave syndrome is a particular threat to night shift workers. While it's easy to get bogged down because most of your friends and family will be working opposite hours, remember that working at night is no excuse to neglect them and your community and religious obligations.

A Supervisor's Role

If you are a supervisor, you have an added obligation to set a good example for the offenders under your care and your staff. Effective supervisors strive to know more, maintain a proper demeanor and attend to personal appearance.

Night supervisors who are concerned only with what happens from midnight until 8 a.m. will be excluded from management decisions by default. You may be able to keep abreast of daytime activity at your facility by logging onto the computer system. Go out of your way to establish contacts with daytime shift supervisors who can keep you up-to-date on what is happening. Supervisor meetings are a common way to exchange information. And don't overlook the staff secretary, who can be a valuable resource.

Personal appearance and demeanor go together. Reporting for work bleary-eyed and dressed like a slob won't inspire confidence in those expecting you to set the pace. Juvenile detention is no place for T-shirts imprinted with sleazy designs, slogans, heavy metal logos or trite statements advocating revolution. It's also unlikely that the agency expects you to wear a suit and tie. Use common sense and look sharp.

Attend outside workshops and seminars. Read professional journals, magazines and books. Become an expert on detention policies and procedures. Consider one of ACA's correspondence courses on supervision. Become computer literate. Learn another language. Work on another degree.

A word on professionalism: Everyone tires of a constant complainer. If you have a legitimate problem, do what you can to get it resolved, but don't fall into the habit of bad-mouthing your employer. Remember that supervisors--like other staff--are replaceable. Exhibit a healthy sense of humor. Don't be flippant or inflexible. Supervise and work from the view that when the job is not important, it won't exist anymore. Until then, be professional.

A trained and efficient staff makes a supervisor shine. Take a personal interest in the professionalism of each member of the shift. Know your shift's specific duties and why they are important. Safety issues consist of more than ensuring that a juvenile doesn't commit suicide with a bed sheet. It takes skill and tact to calm a 17-year-old--or a 10-year-old--brought to detention at 3 a.m.

Hold impromptu training sessions. Search procedures, CPR, proper use of force, suicide prevention, handling medical risk juveniles, bed checks--these are the basics of detention work. If staff talk with the general public, training in telephone etiquette also is important. Regular staff meetings provide a forum for discussing problems and possible solutions.

When new hires begin work, give them a written outline of job performance expectations. Answer their questions completely and fill them in on any particular shift nuances. This prevents misunderstandings later and sets an objective tone to the evaluation procedure.

Supervisors who work at staying healthy, strive to keep a professional edge and make training staff a priority will be successful no matter what the shift.

Jerry McElroy is the overnight shift supervisor at the Maricopa County Juvenile Court Center in Mesa, Ariz.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McElroy, Jerry
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:933
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