Shiftwork and health

For supply, technical and economic reasons, shift work is a necessary working model that poses great challenges for employees and employers alike. Employees who work in shifts, or at night, are particularly exposed to stress factors regarding their health and performance. For example, they are more affected by insomnia and feel that their social lives are negatively affected – particularly when it comes to reconciling the demands of family life and work: Shift workers must pay special attention to their health on the one hand, while ensuring a balance between work and leisure time, fatigue and recovery on the other.

Employers are required to create healthy conditions in the workplace. This includes socially acceptable shift planning in line with recommended health standards. By designing shift work based on the needs and wishes of employees, more autonomous and healthy behavior is promoted.

When organizing working time, company-specific and individual employee factors should be considered.

Recommendations for designing health-oriented shift work

Although it is not possible to provide uniform, universal solutions when designing shift work, there are many useful recommendations. And while the goal is not necessarily to implement all the following points one to one, they can be adapted in collaboration with employees to meet company-specific and individual requirements.

According to the recommendations of occupational science, a health-oriented shift plan is characterized by one that takes in account, among other things, a forward direction scheme and break structures. Accordingly, free days following night shifts and regular weekends off are decisive for well-being and performance. Shift schedules should also be designed in a clear and long-term manner, while at the same time allow flexibility in permitting change and individual solutions.

  1. Rotation direction of shift plans:
    A preference for shift schedules with forward changes
  1. Number of consecutive night shifts:
    Maximum 3 consecutive night shifts
    No permanent night shifts
  1. Time off following night shift phase:
    If possible, 2 days off following night shift phase
    Avoidance of shift sequence: night-free-early 
  1. Consecutive late shifts:
    Maximum 3 consecutive late shifts
    No permanent late shifts
  1. Minimum number of days off and working days:
    At least 2 consecutive working days and free days
  1. Weekend free time:
    At least one day off on weekends
  1. Early shift start:
    Not too early: Ideally 7:00 am
  1. Limitation of working time:
    Avoidance of excessive daily working hours and periods of work
  1. Weekly working hours:
    Uniform weekly working hours planning
  1. Predictable and manageable shift schedules:
    Avoid short-term changes to shift plans
    Regular shift sequence to support private life planning
    Long-term planning
  1. Provide flexibility:
    Provide opportunities for changing shifts
    Avoid rigid working hours as much as possible
    Offer shift model options

Both free days following night shifts and regular weekends off are decisive for well-being and performance.