- Shift workers are more susceptible than their peers to sleep disorders and metabolic syndrome, which elevate the risk for stroke, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, researchers reported in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association Feb. 3. Employees who work night, rotating or irregular shifts are at even greater risk for these disorders, the authors found.
- The authors said that working nights throws off the body's circadian rhythm, which controls neural and hormonal signals. When the circadian rhythm is desynchronized from sleep cycles, said the authors, individuals are apt to experience disruptions in hormonal levels, which include increased insulin, cortisol and ghrelin and decreased serotonin.
- Lead author Kshma Kulkarni said employers can help prevent chronic illnesses by eliminating rotating shifts that further disrupt sleep cycles.
A 2019 study of Gap employees also revealed that irregular shifts damage worker health. It determined that the stress of working erratic shifts, being on call and rearranging personal activities to accommodate work schedules can deprive employees of sleep and raise their risk of developing adverse health conditions.
Employers of all types have increased their focus on worker wellness in recent years. Well-being programs, for example, work to provide employees with the knowledge and resources they need to make healthier lifestyle choices while lowering risks for chronic disorders and decreasing medical costs and benefits usage, according to Humana's Go365 wellness and reward program. Biometric data in the study showed marked gains in lowering the risk for diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and other medical conditions during a five-year span.
By contrast, wellness programs that fail to meet employee expectations may need revamping, as results from a Willis Towers Watson study indicated. More than half the employers in the study believed that their well-being programs allowed workers to lead healthier lives, while only 32% of workers agreed with them.
Additionally, some have taken steps to reduce the burdens associated with shift work. Shake Shack, for example, is testing a four-day workweek for its managers in one-third of its U.S. restaurants. Feedback has been positive so far, with some employees reporting the new model allows them to spend less money on childcare, as well. Aloha Hospitality launched its four-day workweek systemwide in 2018 to boost morale and retention, and a New Zealand study found that that this model reduced stress for workers by 7% and boosted satisfaction by 5%.
This strategy could help employee health, as 74% of chefs and restaurant workers report that they feel burned out do to lack of sleep. Studies also show that each year, fatigued employees cost businesses $411 billion in terms of productivity.