Chapter 13 - Social/Family Life

Learning Outcomes

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

  • Explain the impacts that working non-traditional hours may have on family and social life.
  • Identify strategies that may help to balance work and family/social life.
  • Name the benefits of balancing work, family, and social time.

Unsocial hours

A healthy social and domestic life is an important foundation for good physical and mental well-being. Much of the research into shift work and nontraditional work hours shows that working “unsocial” hours creates unique family and social stresses. Generally, social time is arranged around the standard work week (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday), and evenings and weekends are highly valued for social interaction and participation. Shift workers have been considered relatively “poor” in social time compared to those working traditional hours.

If the hours you work are constantly changing or unpredictable, the opportunities for social interaction are reduced. It may also be difficult for shift workers or those working non-traditional hours to see themselves as part of the community. Shift workers are less likely to be members of clubs, attend meetings, join political organizations, and undertake group activities such as sports.

Balancing family and work can be a source of conflict, regardless of whether you work traditional or non-traditional hours. Such conflict may make it hard for you to meet your family’s needs or expectations. Conflicts can worsen as the demands of work or family increase.

The conflicts associated with shift work or non-traditional working hours can hold especially true for women, as they generally assume responsibility for managing the house and parenting. However, many men are taking on equal responsibilities and experience similar pressures. In such situations, it is not uncommon for people to place family and social responsibilities before their personal needs. This often causes significant stress for the worker.

When people are not able to meet family and social obligations, they often feel a sense of isolation. This, in turn, can lead to depression, which can significantly affect the health and well-being of the worker.

As such feelings of isolation increase, people may begin to sacrifice sleep time for social or family time. This is a potential safety hazard for employees and employers. If you find yourself in this situation be aware of your elevated fatigue levels, and the associated risk of either a work- or non-work related accident.

The potential conflicts in trying to balance non-traditional hours of work with social and family life are clear. However, where you can effectively balance the two, working non-traditional hours can prove beneficial. Some of the benefits include:

  • Increased income. Many jobs that require non-traditional work hours have higher salaries to compensate for the social and family sacrifices.
  • Free time during the day. This can be particularly useful for paying bills, running errands, and having access to public services that are only available during the traditional 9-to-5 work day.
  • Free child care. Many parents choose to work non-traditional hours, so that one parent can always be home to look after young children.

Some working arrangements have potential advantages for families and activities outside of the workplace. One example is the 12-hour shift system. Assuming overtime is not worked, 12-hour shifts generally involve long uninterrupted blocks of time away from the workplace. These blocks of free time are often highly valued by employees because they provide the opportunity for a more flexible lifestyle. This may include being able to spend more quality time with family, time to relax and engage in social activities, or time to perform household chores. But it also has a considerable downside. On working days, employees have little time for anything other than work and sleep, which may contribute to difficulties with child care and involvement in daily family life.


Provide some examples of changes in family and social life that are brought on by non-traditional hours of work.


Coping strategies

There are a number of strategies that workers can use to balance work, social, and family time, and thus avoid feelings of isolation. One of the main strategies is talking about your work schedule with your partner and children. This can be effective in planning ahead to spend time together as a family. Your family will also be more aware of when you are likely to be sleeping after work. As a result, they can arrange to be out of the house when you are sleeping, or be more considerate of the need for quiet. This in turn can provide you with undisrupted sleep, allowing more energy for social and family interaction during non-work and nonsleep time.

Another strategy is to actively organize family and social events. Make a point of spending time with those close to you, including your family, friends, and colleagues. This may be organized on a routine basis around your work schedule to ensure regular contact.

Joining a recreational organization can also be a useful strategy to minimize feelings of isolation. This can be particularly effective for meeting friends who work a similar schedule to yours. It provides an opportunity to socialize and relax when most other people are working.


checkmark Knowledge Check

  • Why are some working arrangements referred to as being “unsocial”?
  • Describe two strategies that can help in balancing work and family.
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