Chapter 1 - Working Non-Traditional Hours

Learning Outcomes

After reading through this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Explain positive and negative impacts that non-traditional hours of work can have on you.
  • Identify individual differences that influence the capacity to adapt to nontraditional hours of work.

Living in a 24-hour society

We live in a 24-hour society where many different work patterns have developed beyond the traditional Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 routine. An increasing proportion of the workforce is engaged in shift work and non-traditional schedules. Between 15 and 30% of the workforce of industrialized countries is engaged in shift work. In Finland, 25% of the working population are shift workers, while in Singapore that figure is closer to 32%. In Canada, approximately 30% of workers are employed in some form of shift work.

Working shifts work or non-traditional hours involves more than just a work schedule. It is a way of life with a fundamental impact on not only work, but sleep patterns and the management of health, family, and social lives. Research also indicates that shift work affects physical and mental health, as well as work performance.


What are some of the personal difficulties that you or some of your coworkers have experienced as a result of shift work or non-traditional working hours?


Can you think of positive and negative effects of these work hours on health, lifestyle, safety, or well-being?

Positive effects
Negative effects

Some shifts (such as night shifts) are more likely to be harmful to health than others (see Chapter 15 for the different types of shifts and their impact on the worker). The effects of a particular shift depend on when it falls within a 24-hour period and the disruption it causes to your body clock.

Body clock (circadian rhythms)

One of the most predictable environmental variations to which the body must respond is the cycle of night and day. This cycle relates strongly to why we feel sleepy at night and awake during the day. Many body rhythms, such as sleepiness and wakefulness, secretion of digestive enzymes, hormone production, and body temperature operate on a 24-hour cycle. These are called circadian rhythms.

These normal biological rhythms do not adjust easily to a pattern imposed by work schedules unless the schedule is day work. On the whole, most people find working at night more difficult than working during the day. This is because these schedules are more likely to disrupt sleep/wake patterns and other biological rhythms. People find themselves trying to sleep and eat at times when their body is not programmed to do so. This is why, in the long run, shift workers are more likely to experience fatigue due to sleep disruption and gastro-intestinal problems.


Work hours influence a person’s ability to perform in a given situation. Other factors play a role as well, such as the type of task to be performed, motivational effects, individual differences among workers, and how well workers adjust to changes in routine. Unlike health effects, deterioration in performance can occur very soon after beginning to work certain hours. The negative effects on performance can be worse in jobs that require sustained attention, extended hours, or high-risk tasks.

Individual differences

The impact of a schedule varies from one person to another. Exercising, eating a balanced diet, having good sleeping habits, and using effective time management strategies are all behaviours that help in better coping with shift work. More information is provided in the following chapters on how these factors can reduce the impact of shift work.

Coping with shift work and fatigue becomes increasingly difficult with age. This is in part because the body’s physiological systems become gradually less able to adapt. However, as we age, our past experiences and the strategies we have developed to manage and cope with the demands of non-traditional work hours may help to counter some of the physiological effects of aging.

The ability to cope with shift work also depends on an individual characteristic related to circadian rhythms. People can be categorized either as morning or evening types depending on the moment of the day when they perform at their best. Morning people will better adapt to early morning hours but will have more trouble coping with night work. Evening types cope more easily with evening and night shifts. They tend to cope better with shift work overall since they generally have less rigid sleep habits and find it easier to catch up by sleeping late in the morning.


checkmark Knowledge Check

  • Name three aspects of your life that can be affected by non-traditional hours of work.
  • Name two types of biological rhythms that are regulated by the body clock.
  • Name three personal characteristics that influence the impact of non-traditional hours of work on a person.
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