Two in three shift workers say their job affects their health, report finds

Experts urge employers to conduct ‘health temperature checks’ of irregular workers, warning that poorly organised shifts can harm retention

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Over two thirds of shift workers say that their health has suffered as a result of their work schedule, a survey has found.

The poll of 5,000 UK shift workers, conducted by Surfboard and Breakroom, found that 68 per cent said their health had suffered because of their roster.

Half (50 per cent) said they had no input into when their shifts were scheduled, with a similar percentage (56 per cent) reporting that their shifts are not planned well and do not take into account their needs and lifestyle. On top of this, 33 per cent said they get one week or less notice of their shifts.

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Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of workers polled said they worked shifts because those were the hours that the work needed to be done, and not because it fitted with their lifestyle.

Anna Maybank, CEO of Breakroom, said that many shift workers have reported that they originally took on their jobs as they were advertised as being flexible, before discovering that they would be pushed into shifts at inconvenient times.

She noted that shift workers were often parents with children or students looking to work around their studying, but said: “Too often, what is flexible for an employer isn’t flexible for a worker. Employers claim shift work is flexible, but with 50 per cent of workers reporting they don't get any say over their shifts, that's clearly not the case.”

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Zofia Bajorek, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, added employers had a responsibility to support the health of those who work insecure hours, noting that the health risks of shift work included fatigue, obesity and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The reported limited ‘two-way flexibility’ of this type of work can result in increased stress and reduced work-life balance” she said, adding that employers need to find ways to support their shift workers, including through “health ‘temperature checks’, good line management support and reviewing working patterns”.

The research found that the vast majority (82 per cent) of shift workers have not received any training on the effects of shift work on their health.

The report also found other issues with the scheduling of shifts. Nearly half (48 per cent) said they often have less than a 12 hour break between shifts (the legal minimum is 11 hours), while 30 per cent say they did unpaid overtime. Nearly two thirds (58 per cent) also said their breaks were not scheduled.

The vast majority of shift workers polled (78 per cent) said schedules are organised in-branch or in-store, usually by a local manager, meaning that head offices and HR departments are usually unaware of shift planning.

Natasha Ratanshi-Stein, CEO of Surfboard, said shift workers were often “left in the dark” about their schedules, which were “frequently being done last minute”.

“Poorly organised shifts are a huge hidden cost to businesses both from employee morale and retention but also down to proper planning and making sure you have the right number of staff in at the right time,” she said.