Having atypical working hours would be bad for your health in the long term

Having atypical working hours would be bad for your health in the long term

With the generalization of teleworking, work schedules are becoming more flexible. But working odd hours is not without medical consequences. A study, published in the journal PLOS, highlights the harmful effects of atypical schedules on those who practice them at the start of their career.

It is known that atypical hours, i.e. those that fall outside the traditional 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., can have a negative impact on the physical and mental health of workers, as well as their social and family lives. But the present study is based on a longer-term perspective than previous research on the subject.

Its author, Wen-Jui Han, of New York University, relied on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979, which was carried out among more than 7,000 Americans over a period of thirty years. He wanted to determine whether the practice of atypical working hours at the start of a professional career had harmful repercussions decades later, once one reached fifty.

It appeared that the majority of study participants worked standard working hours more or less regularly. Conversely, 17% worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when they were in their twenties, before adopting staggered hours (evenings, nights, etc.). Some 12% had a similar employment pattern: they started their career by working in a job with traditional hours, before becoming more flexible in the organization of their working time.

Wen-Jui Han found that workers who worked atypical hours during their professional lives had more health problems in their fifties than those who worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They were more likely to have depressive symptoms at age 50, and tended to have troubled sleep.

Women more at risk than men

It is interesting to note that, in the long term, the harmful effects of atypical schedules were particularly obvious among workers who had stable working hours in their twenties, before changing them in their thirties.

Furthermore, Wen-Jui Han noticed that certain categories of the American population are more exposed than others to these risks. Women who worked non-standard hours were more likely to have sleep problems than their male counterparts. But it is especially black women who suffer from the harmful effects of shift work. “(All education categories combined, black women with “early ST-volatile” type employment (i.e. those who had stable hours at the start of their career before adopting a rhythm of more flexible work, editor’s note.) are the most likely to be in poor health among all the groups examined”, explains Wen-Jui Han in his study.

This research shows the extent to which atypical working hours can weigh on the health and well-being of those who practice them. The medical risks they pose vary depending on the schedules used. For example, night work will have a greater impact on sleep quality than evening or weekend work. Regardless, preventive measures must be taken within companies to reduce the risks associated with alternative work schedules.