How Atypical Work Schedules Affect Performance

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Date:
Monday, December 10, 2012

are often employed in the most dangerous jobs, such as firefighting, emergency medical services, law enforcement and security, or in professions, such as nursing, medical practice, and commercial driving, which require them to perform at their best so as not to endanger others.

Shift work can also affect workers’ quality and length of life by making them more prone to various disorders, including cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, diabetes, and cancer. In addition, shift work has adverse effects on worker productivity. Frequently, shift work is instituted for economic reasons, i.e. in order to maximize the use of costly equipment. But the deleterious effects of shift work has led some experts to question whether the economic savings linked to using shift workers in certain industries outweighs how it hampers the health and well being of these workers and their productivity, as well as the overall costs to society due to sleep-induced accidents. (Drake and Wright, 2011; Folkard and Tucker, 2003)

Key to making worthwhile policies related to shift work is developing an understanding of how irregular and long hours affect performance, productivity, and the physical and mental health of workers, all of which will be explored in this paper.

Biological clock goes contrary to worker’s time clocks
All people need between 7 and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night to feel well rested and function at their fullest. (NHLBI, 2005) The body has built-in mechanisms to ensure we get that sleep, including a biochemical means of tracking how much time we spend sleeping or being awake. When a sleep debt builds up, this biochemical tally triggers excessive sleepiness and the urge to sleep. In addition, natural circadian rhythms make us more likely to feel drowsy in the dark early hours of the day, and more awake during the light hours. Consequently, most people do their best work during the day. (NHLBI, 2005) Even night workers who have adequate sleep feel drowsy at work during the low point of this natural circadian rhythm in alertness.

In addition to circadian rhythms, several other factors conspire to make shift workers less likely to have