Ever done shift work? I have. In fact, most of my adult life has involved a roster that covers days, nights and weekends.

7 days a week, 365 days a year, people are working. Crazy, right?

We work weekends, we work nights, we work public holidays and we work everything in between. We are your nurses, your doctors, your care staff, your emergency services, your shelf-packers, your printers, your public transport workers and your truck drivers and more. We work across health, mining, IT, hospitality and many other industries. There are morning shifts, evening shifts, night shifts, split shifts and irregular shifts. According to the ABS, in 2009, shift workers made up 16% of the workforce. That might not seem like much but it equates to 1.4 million people. 5 years on, it’s probably even more when you take into account the mining boom, the ageing population and so on. Shift workers deal with a unique set of problems that regular folk just don’t seem to understand. Here are just a few:

Nothing is ever planned for during the week.

Shift workers often work nights and weekends. It’s a simple fact of (shift worker) life. But does anyone get married when it’s convenient for shift workers? No. Does anyone have their birthday party on a Wednesday morning? No. Are their school reunions on Tuesday afternoons when we are off? Nope. Family and friends get cranky when we can’t make the Friday/Saturday/Sunday stuff but I bet if I organised a big Wednesday night shindig, they’d complain! Can’t win!

Except home renovations, maintenance and building that’s always during the week.

It’s usually when your local shift worker needs to sleep, either before night shift or, even worse, between them. Drilling, hammering, power tools, lawn mowers, blowers and god knows what else. Plus the accompanying radio blaring. There has been more than one occasion when a wild-eyed, bed-haired woman in a fluffy pink robe has appeared on my street to ask bemused tradies to please, please turn it down.

SLEEP

Earplugs are the number one suggestion but can I tell you, they aren’t very comfortable for us side-sleepers. You can’t even call the council or the police to complain about the noise. The police especially will sympathise but they will also tell you there’s nothing to be done.

Your family and friends will never, ever get used to your roster.

They just can’t. It’s not personal, it’s just incomprehensible to the average 9-5 worker. They invite you to Friday night drinks the THURSDAY before and get all huffy when you can’t go, because you’re working. Can you not just swap a shift? (Sure! Do you know anyone who wants to work my Friday night shift?) Can you not just call in sick? (Sure! And you call in sick when I wanna hang out on Monday afternoon, okay?) They ring you at ridiculous times, like a random Saturday morning, to ask if you want to go to the shops or something crazy like that. They phone on a Wednesday evening, just for a chat, leaving increasingly annoyed voice mails that you don’t get until 1am when you have a break and check your phone. Or they want to chat between shifts! If you know anyone who works long shifts, trust me, the gaps between are no-man’s land. You won’t get any sense out of us anyway- send us a text and we’ll you call when we surface.

text

Because he’s asleep. Or at work.

Shift Work can lead to weight gain and stuff.

Studies show that working nights in particular disrupts your body and you have an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It makes sense because you eat at ridiculous hours. You’re often tired so your food choices might not be the most sensible. There is the lure of take-away. There is the irresistible pull of midnight cake (that’s regular cake, eaten in the middle of the night.) There is chocolate. Fizzy drink. A vending machine full of chips. A Nutella sandwich at 4 in the morning. The associated weight gain? We call it the shift-work spread. In my case, the amount of night shifts I do are directly proportionate to the size of my arse. Day shift isn’t much better, to be honest. I’m powerless against it, because more often than not, I’m too damn tired to fight it. And it’s not only at work that is the problem. When you are recovering from a block of shifts, your judgement is impaired. On your days off, you might be full of creative and healthy meal ideas. Immediately after your shifts, however, you might serve up garlic bread and a side of grated cheese to your family for dinner and see absolutely no problem with this.

squirrel

Shift Worker Confusion.

It’s a thing. Really. I challenge anyone to do a bunch of shifts in a row, say 2 day shifts followed by 2 night shifts. Make ’em 12 hour shifts just for good measure. Go home and have a few hours sleep after the last night shift, then get up and tell me what day it is. Not only will you probably not know, it’s doubtful that you will even care. However, this means you forget to do things or be at places you are meant to be at. Or you remember to go, but forget to put a bra on or brush your hair. Always a great look for Parent Teacher night!

confused

It’s not all bad, though.

In fact, it has its perks. Some weekdays off are a necessity, in my opinion. How the hell do normal people get to the post office? Or the dentist? And who wants to go to the shops on a weekend? It’s bloody packed. Same with indoor play centres. You couldn’t get me near one on a weekend. That’s more of a Wednesday morning activity. Actually, shift work can be pretty good for parents, if you can manage it. Of course, you need a partner on different shifts or who doesn’t do shift work. I mean, you’re tired anyway, right? And no one dares to question your caffeine habits!

COFFEE

 

In short, be kind to us, your shift worker friends and family.

I remember a well-meaning (I hope she was well-meaning) friend once trying to gently remind me that I made the decision to be a shift worker when I was having a whinge discussing my issues around work hours. I gently reminded her back that if people like me didn’t choose to do shift work, we’d be in a world of trouble. There’d no one to help us in emergencies, no one transporting our food, no one working round the clock to deliver the post and so on. Shift workers are like the cable-ties of the workforce in that we hold shit together and keep things moving, even when we are tired and delirious. For that reason alone, forgive us our routine confusion, exhaustion, unavailability and delayed phone responses. We’ll get back to you after a good sleep, I promise!

This post also featured at The Glow.

Why not check out  my follow up to this post, a suvival guide  for shift workers new and old? Click the link to read So, You Think You Can Do Shift Work?

Images via giphy.com

#IBOT @ Essentially Jess

all hail pin

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  • I often think about shift workers. Usually when I’m out in the middle of the night for some strange reason and there are all these cars on the road and people being “active”. I think I’d be in a permanent state of jet lag! Three cheers for shift workers …

    • Sometimes I finish at 3 am and I drive home wondering what the people in the other cars have been doing!

  • If we didn’t have shift workers our world would fall apart. It must be so tough though. My first partner was a shift worker and he was never settled. I hated it. He hated it. But that was our life. Finally he got off the shift work. I do know people though that love it. I even know someone who works nights permanently and wouldn’t have it any other way. At least that’s better than rotating shifts or three different shifts in the same week. That would suck.

    • It really would! I do love it- for now, not forever!

  • I did it for a few years and it nearly killed me. Hats off to you Amy! It takes an enormous amount of planning and commitment to make it work, especially with a family to juggle as well!

    • Sure does! It’s no wonder I don’t often know what day it is!

  • Yasmine Perkins

    For 10 years now I’ve been a shift worker. Currently I work just about every Saturday evening or night. I miss out on heaps of stuff- parties, weddings, dates with my husband. But it means I’m there for school pick ups and drop offs, parent days at school and canteen duty. Shift work may not suit me forever, but for now I feel the sacrifice I make in my social life is beneficial for my family.
    And for those who have never experienced a week of night shift- it feels exactly like you have a hangover, complete with nausea

    • Oh god, it does. Night shift in the early stages of pregnancy was hell on earth- added nausea!

  • I’ve been working shifts for nearly 4 years now! And while it does have it’s perks, I can admit I’m pretty much always tired! It’s true about never being able to stick to plans. My shifts like to change at the drop of a pen, haha! Someone’s got to do it’! And it does give me time to blog x

  • I am completely convinced that shift work (not even regular shifts, irregular and sometimes with illegally small gaps between shifts) contributed to my husband’s health issues. He was ok when he did regular overnight shifts (sure, the usual sleeping problems during the day, especially in summer) but it wasn’t until it was irregular hours that his health suffered.
    We have tradies next door at the moment doing renos for our neighbours. I’ve wondered if the cop across the street is able to sleep because it’s horribly loud in our house.

    • Ness I think research supports your conviction there- it has quite an impact on health (not just my arse size!)

  • Lisa Berriman

    I certainly appreciate all the shift workers. It must be so hard to get used to. How rude is that friend. Imagine if every time having kids was hard (or being married was hard) people said “Well it was your choice” some people are clueless!

    • They are! I’m sure she meant well…or something!

  • I actually just applied for something last week that would involve shift work. I don’t think I’ll get it as I don’t have the type of experience required, but I did wonder how I’d cope… good to see there are some perks though!

    • Oh look, I probably didn’t focus on them enough (In my defence I was very tired haha!) I adore my days off and the flexibility I have! 🙂

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    This is my hubby Amy. He is on a 6 week rotating roster of 12 hr shifts- day/night. He misses out on many things at weekends (when on shift obviously) but then he can be lucky and watch the kids do their things during the week others would miss out on

    • That’s exactly what I do. You do get used to it but it can be tough!

  • I wouldn’t survive this and think that anyone that does is a hero/ine. #TeamIBOT

  • No shift workers in our household, enough extended friends and family who are though – and it takes a juggling act to make it all work – I’m in awe. The guy who lives across the road (who I may spy on through my kitchen window) is a shift worker. I open my kitchen curtain to start breakfast and get the day rolling, and he is walking through his front door, no doubt to go straight to bed….

  • Shift workers do some of the most important jobs in the world. Hats off to you and anyone who does it! I did it years ago and used to do a 5pm-5am shift… Killer! Xx

  • Shift work is not something I envy. I’ve had friends who have struggled not only with their weight but also their mental health because of the irregular routine. But you are right, we’d be lost without our shift workers and as the saying goes someone has to do it. X

  • Hugzilla

    Aaaah, yes. This is all so alien to me! I’ve been a retail or office worker all my life, so other than weekends and Thursday nights have never really worked outside of the norm. I don’t think I could handle that!

  • GAH! The whole “can’t you just swap your days?” drives me nuts. My husband gets that sometimes (he works Tues-Sat any time between 6am-10pm). You’d never ask an office worker to “just work on Sunday instead of Tuesday” because it was more convenient. They just don’t get it.

  • My hat goes off to you! I don’t know how you stay awake. My mother in law is a disability carer and often works a 7pm to 7am shift. She stays awake all night. It messes her around for days, she’s in her 70s now, but she does it because she loves the job and as you say someone’s got to do it and hold shit together.

  • The forgotten people that keep us all afloat. My sister does shift work was always tease her all if we ever try to plan stuff all she says is “Im working …..Im working” I get it now. Ill be sharing this post with her. I have done shift work before. I enjoyed the daytime sleeps.

    • I hope she gets a chuckle out of it! The day sleeps, if you can get them, are the best 🙂

  • Trent does shift work – 2 days and 2 nights in a row all 12hr shifts. His first day off is basically a waste of time. I’ve gotten pretty used to being a pretend single parent because its usually bub and me by ourselves most of the time. I decided to stay at home because it was too hard for me to go back to work with his shift work {i.e. organising daycare} because his shifts are rotating so never the same and because I worked til 6pm I wouldn’t have anyone to get her from daycare in time the nights he did shifts. His family never understand that we’re not available to do lots of things when its convenient to them because of his shifts – they constantly complain like we’re deliberately avoiding them.

    • Oh yes, it takes a day or two to get back to some kind of normality, for sure!

  • With both hubby and myself working “business hours” it is so hard to get anything else done! I can see shift work having it’s benefits when you need to schedule appointments, go to the bank etc we struggle to do those things. But being on a different schedule to everyone else in the family would be hard.

    • Yes, it’s hard to strike the right balance, for sure.

  • My FOMO would be in overdrive if I did shift work, worrying about all the things I’d be missing out on but at the end of the day I think it swings on roundabouts, doesn’t it? There’s definitely some advantages to shift work , midnight cake and 4am Nutella sandwiches are a big draw card for me… just saying! High five to all the people that work shifts and keep the wheels of the machine turning. We literally couldn’t survive without you! x

    • Oh the FOMO is a fact of life unfortunately! Sucks!

  • I salute shift workers…I could never do it! I can see benefits though — like not having to battle Sydney traffic! And as you said, you can get to the shops on a weekday, the post office and all that instead of cramming some important stuff in your lunch break. Ideally, if we could choose our hours, I’d start early and finish early.

    • Unfortunately, we still cop plenty of traffic- sigh! 😀

  • I am so going to show this to Dave. He works rotating 12 hour shifts, 2 day shifts followed by 2 nights shifts with three full days off in between each shift. He NEVER knows what day it is! The only way we can plan anything in advance is thanks to the fact that his roster is set in stone for the forseeable future, so I can flip ahead 6 months and see what shifts he will be working. I love it because it means that he is there for three full days to take some of the load off with the girls, we get to do couple stuff when he has week days off and the girls are at daycare and everyone else is at work, and he now gets a full long weekend every six weeks, something he never used to get before they switched to printing 24/7. He used to do a week at a time of day, arvo or night shifts, and half the time he wouldn’t know more than a couple of days in advance what shift he would be on the next week, so this is definitely better!

    It also means that he is home when the girls wake up after a night shift and they love waking up to Daddy (and it also means that if it corresponds to a day when we don’t have tafe/daycare, etc, I get to sleep-in till 9am when he comes and kicks me out of bed so he can sleep). It’s (mostly) winning all around for us. But for everyone else, there is definitely the issue of them not getting it. Except for his family, both his brothers, his Dad and our BIL all work at the same printing press on different shift crews so they totally get it. How his Mum keeps track of all of their shifts is beyond me, but she still manages to work out the day when everyone is either off, in-between shifts or on their last day shift so we can get together for family dinner.

    • It definitely has it’s benefits, for sure. It suits us so well for now but not forever, I hope!

  • Just A Jade

    I could not love this anymore! My partner works two jobs both being shiftwork and we constantly cop the cranky voicemails and grumpy looks when we can’t go to every party due to a shift. It has it’s benefits for us in the sense we always try to do as much as we can when he has short breaks.

    • It really is poorly understood by those outside of it, isn’t it? 🙂

  • Hockeyfan016

    I work 2 days then 2 nights, 5 days off, 2 days then 3 nights, 4 days off, 3 days then 2 nights then 5 days off and repeat. All 12 hour shifts, 6am-6pm or 6pm-6am. Done it for 10 years now. Family is used to it as both brothers do shift work and father did it as well. Sucks missing out on a lot of social events and gets tiring when friends and extended family ask why you cant come and the answer is always work. Dont like the switching back and forth, would prefer straight nights, but it has its perks such as better pay, regular time off, a regular schedule you know for the whole year, take 1 tour off and you get two weeks off. Also seems to help when travelling I dont seem to have jet lag like others do. Downside is odd sleep cycles, effects your health, seem to be tired most of the time, overeating or poor food choices which lead to weight gain, missing family functions and holidays. I tell you a lot of people dont understand shift work, they give you some pretty strange looks when you and your work mates are having a beer at 6 in the morning after a night shift lol. Hopefully more will understand after this article, it is a different world and different life that a lot of people can do.

    • It is a very different world, for sure. Has it’s perks but I think the main downside (aside from the health issues) is the total lack of understanding from others! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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  • You’re so right about the post office and shops – they always seem to be shut when you can only do things on weekends or afterhours week days.

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