Working atypical hours is bad for your health


Women who work ‘volatile’ hours like evenings, nights, different shifts and/or irregular hours, tend to suffer more from sleeping disorders than men who work the same kind of hours. — AFP

With the rise of remote working, schedules are becoming more flexible.

But staggered working hours are not without medical consequences.

A study published in the journal PLOS One highlights the harmful effects of atypical working hours on those who adopt them early in their careers.

It has been established that atypical working hours, i.e. those that fall outside the traditional 9am to 5pm framework, can have a negative impact on workers’ physical and mental health, as well as on their social and family lives.

But this new study is based on a longer-term perspective than previous research on the subject.

Its author Professor Dr Han Wen-Jui of New York University in the United States, drew on data from the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth - 1979, which surveyed over 7,000 Americans over a 30-year period.

She wanted to determine whether working atypical hours at the start of a professional career had adverse repercussions decades later, once people reach their fifties.

It emerged that the majority of participants in the study worked standard nine-to-five hours more or less regularly.

Conversely, 17% had worked standard hours when they were in their twenties, before shifting to atypical or “volatile” working hours (i.e. evenings, nights and variable hours).

Some 12% had a similar pattern of employment: they started their careers working standard hours, before transitioning to more variable working hours.

“Evenings” was defined as work beginning at 2pm or later, and ending by midnight; “nights” as work beginning at 9pm or later, and ending by 8am; and “variable” if the participant had either split or rotating shifts, or irregular hours.

Prof Han found that people who had worked atypical hours during their working lives had more health problems in their fifties than those who worked from 9am to 5pm.

They were more likely to present depressive symptoms at the age of 50, and tended to have disturbed sleep.

It is interesting to note that, over the long term, the adverse effects of atypical working hours were particularly marked in working people who had stable working hours in their twenties, before changing to an atypical working schedule in their thirties.

Moreover, Prof Han noted that certain categories of the American population were more exposed to these risks than others.

Women who worked atypical hours were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders than their male counterparts.

But it’s Black women in particular, who suffer most from the adverse effects of volatile work schedules.

“[A]cross all education categories, Black females who had the ‘early ST-volatile’ employment pattern [i.e. those who had stable working hours at the start of their career before adopting a more atypical work pattern], reported the highest likelihood of having poor health among all groups examined,” she writes.

This research shows the extent to which atypical working hours can affect the health and well-being of those who work them.

The medical risks involved vary according to the schedule.

For example, working nights has a greater impact on sleep quality than working evenings or weekends.

Whatever the case, preventive measures need to be taken within companies to reduce the risks associated with alternative working patterns. – AFP Relaxnews

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Work , sleep , depression


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