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Night Workers Have Greater Feelings Of Social Isolation: Study

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 12/14/2011 11:35 am Updated: 12/14/2011 11:35 am

When workers pull evening and weekend shifts, it can be great for a company's bottom line. But it's often not so good for the workers themselves.

Employees who punch in and out at odd hours are more likely to feel socially isolated from their peers, according to new research from the Economic and Social Research Council, a government agency in the U.K. Working during times other than the standard work week -- which the ESRC defines as Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. -- can lead employees to feel excluded from the world around them, and cause their relationships with loved ones to suffer.

These aren't the only drawbacks to having an unconventional work schedule -- in fact, research suggests that working odd hours can take a serious physical and mental toll on employees. While the ESRC study appears to focus on workers in the U.K., it has relevance in the United States, where the workplace culture increasingly encourages long hours, and a lifeless job market is forcing more and more people to take work where -- and when -- they can find it. Almost one in every five American employees is currently on some kind of night shift schedule, according to a recent CNN report.

At the same time, American corporations are squeezing more out of their workers. Companies' profits per employee rose for the second year in a row, this year.

For the workers examined in the ESRC study, being on the clock at unusual times, especially during evenings and on the weekend, left less time for face-to-face social interactions like playing sports, volunteering, participating in religious activities or simply being with friends.

People who work during the normal work week spend an average of eight hours a week on those social pursuits, according to the researchers, while people who work on Sundays spend just five hours a week doing the same activities.

"Social participation is important for an improved quality of life," Matt Barnes, the lead researcher on the report said in a press release,

Working off-peak hours can compromise quality of life in other ways -- many of them serious.

When evening or night shifts force a worker to change her natural sleep cycle, for example, it can lead to insomnia, or result in restless sleep that still leaves the worker feeling tired. Night shift employees also seem to be at a higher risk for cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and may be more susceptible to tumors, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Working the night shift may also be linked to type 2 diabetes risk in women, according to recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health.

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