How Long and Irregular Days Impact Worker and Family Health

(Courtesy of Pixabay)
(Courtesy of Pixabay)

The idea of a 9-to-5 workday is rapidly eroding for many people, including those who work in some of our most critical service industries. As the work world transforms, many of the changes that accompany shifting schedules may be detrimental to workers’ physical, mental, and emotional health.

The rise of extended or irregular work days (EIWDs) may have negative effects on workers’ health and family life. This issue is being investigated by UConn Health with more than $350,000 in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Jennifer Cavallari, an assistant professor in the Department of Community Medicine and Health Care and Alicia Dugan, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, will conduct a study investigating how long and irregular workdays impact worker and family health.

Traditional classifications of overtime or shift work no longer capture the true scope of the variable and demanding work schedules many employees now have.

This problem stems, in part, from some corporations and manufacturers using “just-in-time” scheduling. They offer short, variable shifts to people who are “hungry for hours.” This kind of scheduling may be a result of the worker’s own income insecurity, but more often it is imposed by employers using “lean” production methods to reduce the number of workers. This practice allows employers to bypass costs to train and provide benefits for more employees, leaving the rest of the reduced labor force to have to work EIWDs.

The rise of EIWD also affects people in hazardous jobs such as healthcare workers and law enforcement agents. The irregularity and length of shifts in these jobs are often justified by the 24-hour nature of these critical service industries despite the fact that workers need to be especially well-rested and alert on the job.

EIWDs may be having an impact on worker and family health and quality of life. Workers may experience sleep deprivation, fatigue and strain. There may also be mental health implications as employees lack a dependable structure around which they can base their lives and carve out essential quality time for themselves or to spend with loved ones.

“We look forward to learning more about how the changing employment landscape affects the well-being of workers, families, and communities, and finding new ways to shape that landscape so that it supports the healthiest possible future for all,” Dugan says. To investigate this, the researchers will survey over 600 employees who are exposed to EIWD scheduling.

Cavallari received her Sc.D. from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in environmental health where she also completed postdoctoral training in epidemiology. Her research focuses on occupational exposures including the use of biomarkers as measures of exposure and preclinical markers of disease as well as workplace interventions.

Dugan received her Ph.D. from the Department of Psychological Sciences at UConn Storrs in industrial/organizational psychology, and she is a licensed mental health counselor. Her research focuses on worker stress and lifestyle practices that influence health, and the contextual factors that affect stress and health. She also develops interventions to improve worker well-being.


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