Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Married workers like shift work better than singles

A story published today by Newswise reports that working shifts may not be as tough on marriages as many believe.

A study conducted by Xavier University researchers found that married workers, including those with children, who work shifts had higher levels of life and job satisfaction than their unmarried co-workers.

“It’s somewhat surprising because it is widely believed that shift-work has a negative effect on marriages, but that is not true in all cases. Some workers adapt quite well to shift work,” said Dr. Mark Nagy, an assistant professor of psychology at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Nagy and Sarah Ipsa, a human resources specialist with OKI Systems, Ltd., a materials handling firm based in Cincinnati, based their findings on a survey of more than 200 second and third shift workers in several organizations, including a manufacturing company and a hospital.

They will be reporting on their research at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Chicago April 2-4.

“Most people would like to work ‘normal’ hours from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. But in today’s 24/7 business world, there is no such thing as normal hours,” says Nagy.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics about 14.5 million full-time wage and salary employees work on shifts; that is, their workday encompasses hours outside the times of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Once primarily in the manufacturing sector, more than half of today’s shift workers are in service-oriented occupations and reflect employers’ 24-hour work cycles. These would include law enforcement, fire fighting, security guards, eating and drinking places, information technology, telephone order businesses and customer service positions.

The disadvantages of shift work for the married worker seem obvious: less time spent with a spouse and children; disruption of meal times and social and family events; interference with leisure activities as well as upsetting sleep patterns.

“Previous shift work studies have focused on negative health affects, but we wanted to study shift work’s influence on family life, which has received less attention,” says Ipsa. “Our hypothesis was married workers, both with and without children, would be more adversely affected by shift work than single workers with no children. But that turned out to be wrong.”

Using proven and reliable and established job and life satisfaction scales, Ipsa and Nagy found that married workers with children had about the same levels of life and job satisfaction as did married workers without children. But both married workers with children and those without children were more satisfied with their work and lives than single workers.

Nagy cautions that the study is not convincing proof that married workers, especially those with children, are happier working shifts. “What it did show is that married workers have adapted better to shift work than single workers. There are some positive tradeoffs to working shifts and I think some married people have found them, or at least learned to live with them.”

He adds that 53.3 percent of shift workers do so because it is “the nature of the job.” However, a significant number of people prefer working shifts for several reasons, including higher pay and better arrangements for family or child-care. “Having a family member caring for the children is a huge relief for many working parents. And when they figure the amount of money spent on day care, working alternative shifts begins to make sense,” says Ipsa.

Also, shift work gives each parent an opportunity to spend quality time with the children, and attend school functions and sports events, that many 9-5 parents are unable to do.

The researchers say it was “significant” that the survey results showed single workers had lower levels of life and job satisfaction than their married counterparts. A likely reason is that shift work interferes with single workers’ leisure time and leads to difficulties in dating, they point out.

“I think there is a bias towards hiring single people for shift work; the perception being that shift work would be more suitable for them because they have fewer family commitments,” says Nagy. “So perhaps it is a result that employers should look at ad consider the adaptability of married workers.”

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is an international group of 6,000 industrial-organizational psychologists whose members study and apply scientific principles concerning people in the workplace. For more information about SIOP, including Media Resources, which lists 1,400 experts in more than 100 topic areas, visit http://www.siop.org

From April 2-4, 2004, SIOP will be holding its annual meeting in Chicago, IL. More than 3,000 top workplace scientists and practitioners will attend and present research on emerging trends, debates and the way people function in the workplace.


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