Throughout the last 40 years, there has been an immense change in the nature of work. The changing organisational structuring, globalisation of many organisations and work time of work shifts are contributing to the health and well-being of employees (Sparks, Faragher & Cooper, 2010). The minimum wage in some countries has also decreased, meaning that more employees need to work for more hours, to meet the needs that they face (Sparks, Faragher & Cooper, 2010). As a result, many employees end up working in odd jobs with odd setups to try and make the money to sustain themselves.
This article seeks to highlight some issues that may arise from the shift working schedule. This many people may find themselves in this setup. Therefore, some issues raised may help one in finding healthy ways to cope with what may come their way.
What is shift work?
Shift work is work that takes place on a schedule outside the traditional 9 am – 5 pm day. It can involve evening or night shifts, early morning shifts, and rotating shifts. Many industries rely heavily on shift work, and millions of people work in jobs that require shift schedules (Sleep Foundation, 2020). When working in this type of work arrangement, one does not have set hours where they go to work, resulting in destabilised patterns of life. It has been studied that this type of job arrangement may result in health issues such as insomnia and jet lag.
Reasons why you should avoid shift work
Although working in a shift job is not always entirely at our control, there are some health and social issues that have been noted in research one ought to know and think about, before working in these arrangements.
Studies show that shift work may affect the dietary aspect of an employee’s life. Lowden, Moreno, Holmback, Lennernas and Tucker (2010), found that shift work makes it difficult for employees to get dietary recommendations, especially those working in shifts that involve night hours. The difficulty stems from biological, cultural and social factors. Most meal plans are made to be eaten during the day, as at night, people are naturally expected to be sleeping. Night shifts have made it difficult to know how to eat because it has been found that nocturnal eating causes metabolism problems (Lowden et al, 2010). Not only does this show that employees will not be eating properly but also shows evidence of long term adverse effects of these diet choices.
The study conducted by Lowden et al (2010), also reveals that shift workers who work during the night are also at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. This is caused by the irregular intake of food, leading to confusion in the body when it needs to digest (Lowden et al, 2010). The evidence showed in the study is shocking, as shift workers do not always work the same shifts. so not only are they eating at odd times of the day but the body is not getting used to one cycle, where the employee will consume the food. It can be assumed that, over time, if the employees eat at night but at the same time, the body may become used to it and perhaps function accordingly. Unfortunately, shift work is not always a fixed schedule for everyone. One week an employee may be working at one time and the next week at another time.
Furthermore, Drongelen, Boot, Merkus, Smid and Van Der Beek (2011), carried out a longitudinal study on employees who worked in shifts. It was found that, over the years, the diseases that were mentioned above had a significant effect on the weight change of the employees over the years. The two common weight changes were employees being overweight and obese (Dronglen et al, 2011). It is disappointing to see that organisations have not really thought of ways to deal with the shift work schedules, to combat its effects on other people in the long run.
As previously mentioned, shift work is a type of work schedule, where employees work at different times on different days (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2019). With this, comes the dilemma of a person losing their normal sleep pattern due to irregular
working times. Issues that arise from a lack of sleep include jet lag (Akerstedt, 2003). As a result, a lack of sleep comes with various effects. For example, sleep deprivation may harm interpersonal relationships and responses to frustration and other negative impacts (Kahn-Green, Lipizzi, Conrad, Kamimori, & Killgore, 2006).
Furthermore, Kahn-Green et al (2006) argue that a lack of sleep weakens the willingness to behave in a socially acceptable manner. Being an employee in the hospitality industry, it is of great importance to ensure that individuals interact well with customers and work colleagues, as this is a standard of interaction with others. This may lead to employees engaging in certain tasks which would otherwise be frowned upon. Examples could be an employee lashing out to a customer for minor issues because of the frustration of not sleeping well. Not only do the two parties (employee and customer) get affected but the organisation as well. The organisation may face a bad reputation and risk none returning customers, as a result of lack of satisfaction. The ill-responsiveness to social issues may also have an impact on how employees interact with others in their lives outside of the work setting.
Many people have experienced a change in mood when their sleep pattern has been distorted (Guadagni et al, 2014) and all they want to do is sleep, to regain the equilibrium. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep harms emotional empathy (Guadagni et al, 2014). Being a part of the hospitality industry, it is of major importance that one has emotional intelligence (EI/EQ). Goleman (1998) defines EI as “The capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”. The reason is that dealing with different people requires a lot of effort into understanding. As an employee at the front desk or a waiter in a restaurant, one will come across customers who have different personalities and most probably do not share the same experiences from their time at the hotel. One may encounter a disappointed customer for example who will express their frustration with the service differently from the next person. If emotional empathy in this context is reduced, employees may face a tough time when it comes to interacting with customers which may have a further negative impact on them.
Furthermore, employees do not work in isolation. Frequently, one is given feedback about their performance by managers and the individual needs to be able to receive the feedback as a building critique. Guadagni et al (2014) have stated that an individual’s mood may also be altered as a result. By not understanding where these concerns/issues/feedback stem from, one may become agitated, making it difficult for the smooth operation in the workplace. This may, in turn, have a run over effect on other employees and customers. It is difficult to work with others while in a foul mood and the lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns only heightens the possibility of this taking place (Guadagni et al, 2014).
Work – home spillover, is a phenomenon where the experiences of an employee in the workplace may spill over into the home setting. The same applies when these experiences are taken from the home and have an impact on the employee in the working environment (Grady & McCarthy, 2008).
An example of a negative spillover is where an employee is experiencing burnout, due to a heavy workload at work. The stress of having too much work to do may negatively impact the employee and may cause the employee to behave differently at home, as much thought maybe going into how they will complete the tasks that have been placed on them.
Being part of a shift work schedule which rotates or one where an individual works at night may also pose a threat to an individual’s personal life. Studies have shown that mothers in their middle age are the ones who experience the most effects of the work-life spillover (Grady & McCarthy, 2008). This is experienced because of the major role that mothers play at home and the demand from work. In this study during the interviews, the mothers expressed their feelings of their children being their number one priority but their career also being very important to them. From this, one can see how frustration can arise from both these necessities in conflict, especially for someone who has no control over their job is conducted.
It is seen that most of the employees who work in the shift work sector are not as financially equipped as those who have a fixed work schedule. For that reason, more problems could arise, for example, childcare. A mother with children at home and who cannot afford to hire childcare services will have a tougher time balancing their work and home life (Grady & McCarthy, 2008).
Worrying coping methods
One result of shift work is that it may cause employees to be more tired at work and in their everyday lives. To overcome being tired, most people consume caffeine in the form of coffee or energy drinks. These two drinks are mostly seen as harmless as they are not talked about in the same way that ‘heavy’ drugs are. Many people are not aware of the many and possibly serious effects that it can have on the body. Kahn-Greene et al (2006), found that 90% of adults regularly consume coffee, which is an alarming rate considering the effects that caffeine has on the body that have been found through studies. Regular caffeine intake may result in various disorders such as:
- caffeine-induced anxiety disorder
- caffeine-induced sleep disorders (Tasman, Kay, Lieberman, First & Maj, 2008).
The above-mentioned disorders can also lead to anxiety. Anxiety disorders may make it difficult for people to optimally interact with others (Tasman, Kay, Lieberman, First & Maj, 2008). If an employee is suffering from an anxiety disorder, they may find it difficult to show up at work and if they do, carrying out the tasks of the job may become a very strenuous job.
Smoking is another way that some people use to deal with stress and this negatively affects the lungs. As mentioned previously, Sparks, Faragher and Cooper (2010), noted that employees who work in these long shifts tend to look to smoking to relieve their stress. Smoking has a long term effect on health and can lead to severe illnesses such as lung cancer, blindness and in some cases, hip fractures (Sparks, Faragher & Cooper, 2010).
Smoking has been socialised to be a normal activity but organisations need to be worried if how they conduct their business is leading to employees engaging in these activities. Managers need to be aware that, the work that takes place in the organisation may have a big impact on their employees' lives.
Various issues may be sparked by shift work. Not everyone can avoid this type of work but it is always important to understand what may come your way when entering or being in a certain situation. Take time to think of how your work (even if it is not shift work) may be negatively affecting your well-being. Having done this, it is important to draw up healthy methods to use to manage these.
Thandeka Madziwanyika is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.
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