Shift work has its perks, but it can have a very anti-social impact on your life.

If you ask most people who work nights and weekends to explain the positives of their job role, they’re likely to first respond with the financial perks. Yes, the extra dollars are great. Yes, you can structure a more lavish life around this higher income. Yes, you can feel trapped in this ’night’ life because you have shaped your lifestyle to suit the increased earnings.

The health and social implications of working shift work has drawn much attention from researchers over the years. The negative impact to one’s health is well documented. Disrupted eating habits, poor diets and lower levels of exercise lead to a higher propensity to experience a greater sickness record and likelihood to be generally unhealthier overall than their day shift counterparts. And let’s not ignore the effects on one’s sleep. Interrupted sleep patterns can lead to a poorer work performance with a higher rate of error and increased likelihood of a sleep deprived accident. Oh dear, apart from the money this unsociable working schedule is not sounding at all positive!

An Australian study that surveyed 2600 workers from a range of industries and professions determined that people who often work nights and weekends have the worst work-life balance. Shift work hours are those traditionally spent with families and friends, engaging in social activities or relaxing. And when you’re out of sync with the natural rhythm of family and social schedules, it becomes a challenge to maintain relationships.  Interestingly the shift work system consequently sees families shouldering the key responsibilities for managing the tensions that arise between family and work life. Can I therefore conclude that employers don’t view these tensions as part of their responsibility in managing the health and well-being of their workforce?

It’s not all bad news though. Some of us are night owls and love the advantages that shift work provides us. I mean, can you imagine not having to fight the morning traffic as you travel to work? Being able to take care of all your errands and appointments throughout the day instead of squeezing them into your lunch hour? Not having the daily work distractions, allowing you to have more thoughtful interactions and develop better relationships with your co-workers?  And what about the avoidance of childcare costs and being able to attend important school events? Every cloud has a silver lining.

Employers are obligated, legally, to pay higher rates to those employees who work the unsociable Monday to Friday hours of 6pm to 7am and weekends. It is recognition that their workers are sacrificing important health and social benefits they would otherwise enjoy if they worked regular hours. But is it enough? Should employers being doing more to help their employees cope with the downside of shift work? There is certainly scope for employers to support and monitor healthier habits for their employees, regardless of the hours they work. It is much more difficult to compensate the social deficiencies attributed to shift work. But where there is a will there is a way. And employers who think outside the box and work with their employees to identify means to combat the social deficiencies will go some way to making a positive difference. It’s all about effort.

While the majority of our population enjoys the 9-5 working day, many of these have partners who don’t have that luxury, thus they too experience the negative implications that shift work can generate. Yet for some reason it is not an item of focus that sits high on the Director’s agenda, if at all. So I ask, should we continue to sit in silence on the matter or should we be giving this very real issue more of our time and attention? It is an interesting query, particularly for those organisations that operate with a multi-shift workforce. I’d like to hear your thoughts…

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