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9 ways to overcome the struggles of shift work

Shift work cannot be eliminated, but there are very plausible remedies that can make it less of a physical and psychological drain

Updated on 6/3/2014

Research indicates that there are limitations to human adaptability to odd working hours, and the ramifications of shift work.

In this 24-hour world, shift work has become inevitable in many occupations. Learn about the consequences of shift work and how to remedy those problems.

Research indicates that there are limits to how much people can adapt to odd working hours, and the ramifications of shift work extend into every area of an employee's life . Consequently, employers can expect lower employee efficiency, more errors, and higher absenteeism and health costs. Shift work is characterized as work that begins at anytime other than between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.

The later in the day the shift begins and/or the more frequently workers change shifts, the more marked the problems. Part of this can be explained by the fact that many shift workers do not maintain their "work" schedule when they are off. They rotate it to be with their family and accomplish "daytime" tasks. Since it takes the average person 30 days to adjust to a change in sleep schedule, daily or weekly changes in schedule are extremely detrimental; whereas, semi-annual rotations or permanent shifts cause fewer problems.

Individuals who work second or third shift tend to demonstrate the following:

They go to bed in the morning and fall asleep quickly but wake up prematurely and have difficulty becoming alert and demonstrate severe sleepiness and reduced performance through out the day

A higher than average rate of insomnia

An increased in on-the job accidents and acidents while driving to and from work

A 40% higher risk of cardiovascular disease

Poorer health behaviors such as smoking, poor diet, increased alcohol consumption and lack of exercise

Reductions in socialization, a factor that has repeatedly been demonstrated to buffer against stress

A strong negative impact on family lives

Increased depression and anxiety

Increased absenteeism and turnover

Increased gastrointestinal problems

Remedies for Shift work

1. Three main factors influence people’s adjustment to shift work: how easily they adapt to different sleep schedules; ability/inability to overcome drowsiness and whether they are naturally most alert during the morning or evening. Consequently, companies should consider letting people select their own shifts. [4, 18]

2. Research supports the theory that workers on fixed work schedules (at least one year on the same schedule) are better off than workers on rotating work schedules in terms of mental health, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, social participation, anticipated turnover, absenteeism, and tardiness

3. If workers must rotate schedules, forward rotation is always much preferable to backward (i.e. first shift to second shift)

4. Workers should sleep no more than ten hours on their days off. Attempting to compensate for sleep loss with extra sleep on off days may hinder shift-work adaptation

5. Workers that have an extended interval between each rotation (such as a week off) adjust more easily.

6. The body operates on a 25-hour clock that is "synchronized" by anchors that occur at the same time each day such as meals and traditional rituals (showering, watching Letterman etc.) Make sure to insert similar anchors in your day regardless of whether it begins at 7 a.m. or 5 p.m.

7. Light to moderate exercise tends to wake people up and can induce changes in the circadian rhythms of shift workers that may be interpreted as an adaptation to shift work

8. Workers who maintain socialization activities report better psychological well being, fewer sleep problems, and are more satisfied with shift work and their life in general

9. When workers enjoy their job and feel that there is a balance between effort and reward, many of the negative effects of organizational stress in general and shift work in particular are reduced . Many departments offer shift-differentials, but there are many other rewards such as being able to get time-off when it is needed and supervisor flexibility in scheduling.

Shift work cannot be eliminated, but there are very plausible remedies that can make it less of a physical and psychological drain.


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