Shift work can cause difficulty creating and maintaining relationships, and often it’s hard for others to realize special challenges shift workers face. However, shift work is by no means a personal issue. Over 55 million Americans work nonstandard work schedules so that up to 150 million people are directly impacted by shift work schedules, based on US census statistics of household size. But shift work does not only affect the immediate family, but also the neighbors that get called in to babysit, the grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles that might not get to see their relatives who work on holidays, the friends who want to hang out on nights and weekends- everyone who wants to support the shift worker as much as they can. This article helps anyone who has someone who works shift work in their lives.
With over 55 million Americans working nonstandard work schedules, up to 150 million people are directly impacted by shift work schedules, based on US census statistics of household size. But many more people are actually impacted by shift work because, while household size has been shrinking, extended families (e.g. extended relatives, neighbors and friends, co-workers) are becoming more important. Shift work can cause difficulty creating and maintaining relationships, and often it’s hard for others to realize special challenges shift workers face.
All together, about 40% of working Americans have nonstandard work schedules. About 20% work most of their hours working nights or evenings, or have a rotating or highly variable schedule. Many more work some of their hours, but not all, in the evenings or at night. And, about 33% of employed Americans work Saturday, Sunday, or both weekend days. So with over 55 million Americans working nonstandard work schedules, up to 150 million people are directly impacted by work schedules (as these workers’ average household population is about 2.5 people per U.S. census).
But many more people are actually impacted by shift work because, while household size has been shrinking, extended families (e.g. extended relatives, neighbors and friends, co-workers) are becoming more important. When the U.S. population reached 100 million in 1915, the average number of people sharing a home was 4.5. In 1915, grandparents and parents might be living together with more children than families have today. In 1967, when the U.S. population was 200 million, households were comprised of just over three residents each. Since 1970 the percentage of households containing five or more people has fallen by half. Today, only 10% of households have 5 or more people living in them.
In 2004, only 40% of multi-person households were occupied by married couples. At this time, 7% of married persons did not live with their spouses. These separated couples include, among others, spouses planning to divorce, commuting marriages, and marriages in which one member is institutionalized or on military duty. There are many different types of households. In fact, the number of multi-person households in which none of the occupants had family ties increased almost sixfold between 1970 and 2004. These include for example, university students living as housemates, unmarried heterosexual couples, gay and lesbian partners, welfare recipients and recent immigrants clustering to reduce housing costs. There is a great book released earlier this year on the topic of households, The Household: Informal Order around the Hearth by Robert C. Ellickson.
It is difficult to pinpoint the size of the average person’s extended family. One way might be to look at family, social gatherings. Most people report family holiday parties include somewhere between 10 and 20 family members. Another way might be to look at extended family vacations, which are seeing a resurgence. Typically, according to vacation planners, the average number of attendees is between 15 and 20.
Another proxy might be to look at Dunbar’s number, the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships, which was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Dunbar theorized that “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” The number also includes past colleagues, such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint themselves if they met again. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a frequently cited number is 150.
So the average number of people with whom we maintain stable personal relationships is probably somewhere between 50 and 150. Whichever way you look at it, more and more people are being impacted by their families’ and friends’ shift work schedules.
So, how can family and friends help shift workers achieve quality of life?
1.Try to communicate effectively. Often family and friends of shift workers don’t realize the special challenges shift workers face. When issues arise, focus on mutual understanding, mutual cooperation and mutual trust. Here are some approaches to developing better communication skills:
-Be a good listener; if you donâ€™t understand, ask questions but donâ€™t interrupt or jump to conclusions about what the other person is saying
-Use body gestures and maintain eye contact to show your interest in the conversation
-When you speak, talk slowly and pronounce each word clearly
-Pay attention to your tone of voice; the words, body gestures, facial expression, tone and message should all match each other
-Be affirmative and supportive when communicating
2. Be patient and courteous. Shift workers may be fully capable of functioning while a little bit compromised. They may be sleep deprived or emotionally run down. This may cause them to over or under react. Pay close attention to clues they may give about how they are feeling; treat shift workers with extra kindness, dignity and respect.
3. Pay attention to the shift worker’s schedule. The time that shift workers have to spend with family and friends can be significantly curtailed by hours of work and unplanned overtime. Always try to organize important events around the work schedule or explain when you can’t. Also, many shift workers’ husbands or wives may work during the day while the shift worker works at night ,so planning extended family events is particularly difficult.
4. Keep in touch but make sure not to disrupt sleeping time. Knowing that your shift worker friend or family member is home from work doesn’t mean it is okay to call them during times they should be sleeping. Good ideas for keeping in touch include starting an on-line blog, creating an on-line picture library, communicating by e-mail or text (but only basic information, not as a substitute for direct interpersonal communication).
5. Be educated. Shift workers have unique challenges which necessitate unique opportunities to address them. Help them sleep enough, maintain good nutrition, exercise and have positive interpersonal relationships. This will help them to be ready for work and to be at their best while engaging in off-work activities.
Definition of Quality of Life from the Quality of Life Research Unit, University of Toronto
This group’s definition of quality of life is the degree to which a person enjoys the important possibilities of his or her life. Possibilities result from the opportunities and limitations each person has in his or her life and reflect the interaction of personal and environmental factors. Three major life domains are identified: Being, Belonging, and Becoming.
The Being domain includes the basic aspects of “who one is” and has three sub-domains.
Physica:l Being includes aspects of physical health, personal hygiene, nutrition, exercise, grooming, clothing, and physical appearance.
Psychological: Being includes the person’s psychological health and adjustment, cognitions, feelings, and evaluations concerning the self, and self-control.
Spiritual: Being reflects personal values, personal standards of conduct, and spiritual beliefs which may or may not be associated with organized religions. Belonging includes the person’s fit with his/her environments and also has three sub-domains.
Physical: Belonging is defined as the connections the person has with his/her physical environments such as home, workplace, neighborhood, school and community.
Social: Belonging includes links with social environments and includes the sense of acceptance by intimate others, family, friends, co-workers, and neighborhood and community.
Community: Belonging represents access to resources normally available to community members, such as adequate income, health and social services, employment, educational and recreational programs, and community activities. Becoming refers to the purposeful activities carried out to achieve personal goals, hopes, and wishes.
Practical: Becoming describes day-to-day actions such as domestic activities, paid work, school or volunteer activities, and seeing to health or social needs.
Leisure: Becoming includes activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction. These include card games, neighborhood walks, and family visits, or longer duration activities such as vacations or holidays.
Growth Becoming activities promote the improvement or maintenance of knowledge and skills.
Quality of Life Research Unit
Department of Occupational Therapy
Centre for Function and Well-Being
University of Toronto
500 University Ave., Rm. 914
Toronto, ON, Canada
For more information go to: http://www.utoronto.ca/qol/unit.htm
Shift workers, like everyone, need all three. Families and friends of shift workers can play significant roles in helping them achieve all three.
This material is provided for personal, non-commercial, educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement