Unsociable working hours & mental health

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Health Assured team

17 June 2019

Working hours can vary depending on a variety of factors.

From the geographical location of the organisation to its target audience, services they offer, business objectives and everything in between.

Unsocial working hours (also known as anti-social hours) are common among shift workers. It’s work that takes place outside of the traditional (9am to 5pm) schedule.

Functioning during these periods can have adverse effects on your employees’ mental health. This can then go on to affect their productivity and overall job performance.

This piece explores unsociable working hours. We take a look at its effects on the mental health and wellbeing of employees.

What are unsociable hours?

Although there isn’t an official definition, This includes:

  • Night (or evening) shifts.
  • Early morning shifts.
  • Rotating shifts.

The government defines ‘night period’ as any time between 11pm and 6am. And a night worker as anyone who works regularly for at least three hours during this period.

Unsociable hours and mental health

Working these hours increases the risk of developing or exacerbating existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress.

It affects two main areas:

  1. Social life.
  2. Sleep.

When friends and family members are working different shifts, it can be a challenge to create and maintain relationships. This then leads to a feeling of isolation, which can result in depression.

Workers will also experience difficulty adjusting their internal clock. It contributes to disruption to their sleep pattern, constant tiredness and could even lead to insomnia.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder there’s been a lot of research into the effects of working unsociable hours. According to  The National Sleep Foundation, there’re links between working these hours and mental health issues.

The most common amongst such issues is stress. A study of nurses working unsociable hours found that the loss of sleep, inadequate pay and incentives and lack of social life all contribute to stress, depression and other mental health conditions.

If left unaddressed, these issues can worsen and lead to other underlining problems.

Unsocial hours pay law

There’s no legal requirement to pay workers a higher rate for working unsociable hours. The only legislation regarding pay is that they must be paid the National Minimum Wage.

An employee is entitled to unsocial hours pay if the company includes a clause for payment for said hours within their employment contract.

There’re also regulations regarding limits on working hours and rest breaks. Because of the effects of working these hours on the wellbeing of workers, employers must offer free health assessments.

The assessment should be undertaken by a qualified health professional before an employee can be classed as a night worker. The aim of the assessment is to identify risks and hazards to their physical and mental health before they start the job.

These should be offered before the employee becomes a night worker and then again at regular intervals for as long as they work at night.

Managing unsociable hours

It’s important to effectively manage and support your employees working these hours. This is necessary to ensure that there’s an even balance between their work life and social life.

Consider these tips for supporting employees:

  • Ensure that work area, car park and entrances are well lit, secure and safe.
  • Consider adjusting shift start and end times to fit in with public transportation times. (If not possible, consider providing transport to and from work).
  • Encourage communication between workers. (For lone workers, ensure that they have access to working telephones and alarm systems).
  • Consider installing security systems or hiring security staff.
  • Encourage flexible working: Most shift workers experience an increase in their level of stress. To reduce this, consider introducing flexible working schedules to offer them more control of when they work.
  • It’s important to remember that regular breaks can increase productivity and engagement amongst employees.
  • Offer Employee Assistance Programmes.


How can you support your employees mental health?

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health in the workplace and in life. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all.

We support employees mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.

For every £1 invested in an employee assistance programme, organisations can expect to see, on average a 10x return on investment.

Find out more about EAPs



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