Shift work (working hours outside the traditional work schedule) and rotating shifts place a great deal of stress (both physical and mental) on the worker. Shift work disrupts the 24-hour “circadian” rhythm that regulates all body functions.
Health effects of shift work
Shift work can cause a variety of health problems:
There are ways to make rotating shifts less harmful. Because of the human body’s natural “biological clock” or “circadian rhythms,” the least disruptive is to change to the next later shift after a day or two off. In other words, a day-afternoon-night shift rotation is better than a day-night-afternoon rotation. A fast rotation (every two days, for example) should be avoided because it does not allow enough time to get used to night work.
Even where shift rotations are properly scheduled, prolonged shift work can place great strain on personal relationships for workers whose waking and working hours are “out of synch” with those of their family and friends. In addition, shift workers may find that the quality of time that they spend with family and friends is unsatisfying because the worker’s fatigue (from poor sleep or lack of sleep) prevents normal social activity. Some workers just never adjust to shift work. Whenever possible, working the night shift should be voluntary and/or include provisions for employees who simply cannot adjust.
Improving shift work schedules
Minimize a permanent (fixed or non-rotating) night shift. Most workers never get used to night shift because they go back to a daytime schedule on their days off. Also, some workers on fixed night shifts lose contact with the rest of the workers in the organization.