The Impact of Shift Work

Do you maintain work hours other than the usual “nine-to-five”? If so, you are among the millions of shift workers in the modern workplace. You may work when most people are asleep and attempt to sleep when the rest of the world is awake.

As the global marketplace continues to turn the time-to-productivity ratio to its favor, more and more employees are needed to work unconventional shifts. Nearly 20 percent of employees in industrialized countries are employed in shift work. In the US alone, more than 22 million are shift workers, and the number is growing by 3 percent each year.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sleep, most shift workers don’t get enough. When shift falls during late night to the wee hours of dawn, the employee is fighting the natural wake-sleep pattern. The human body follows a 24-hour period of wakefulness and sleepiness that is regulated by an internal circadian clock. The circadian clock, which is linked to nature’s cycle of light and darkness, regulates cycles in body temperature, hormones, heart rate, and other body functions. That’s why shift workers may have a hard time staying alert at night, and falling and staying asleep during the day even though they are tired. Shift workers also get less sleep than daytime workers do, and the sleep is less restful.

In fact, a study from a consultancy firm estimates that maintaining the practice may be costing companies a steep $206 billion annually (or $8,600 per employee).

Ironically, shift work can diminish the economic gain it is designed to create.

The Cost Of Shift Work

The study also found that graveyard-shift workers make five times as many serious mistakes and are 20 percent more likely to suffer severe accidents. Obesity and diabetes incidence are likewise higher among overnight-shift workers. Since they are more likely to go for sugary, sweet, high carb and high calorie snacks such as cakes, pastries, soft drinks, etc.

Social costs are also high. Night shifters don’t go home, have dinner, watch TV, and then go to bed the way day workers do. This disruption in life’s routines might be why divorce rates are as high as 60 percent among all-night workers, and why they have 150% more stress-related gastrointestinal disorders. A staggering $28.8 billion health-care coverage is added to the corporate bill. Then there’s the high turnover rate for night-shift employees, as high as 300 percent annually in a number of industries. This put in an additional $39.1 billion in costs.