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.


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.


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.


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!


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!



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

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