Shift Workers often feel out of touch with friends and family. It’s possible that workers in your team are struggling to maintain social lives and family relationships.

Shift work vs life

All shift workers know what it is like to be out of sync with “normal” life. Family and friends are able to plan activities without a worry. They want to include you, but you’re too busy sleeping or working to join in to the fullest extent.

Trying to maintain family life, or any kind of social life, when working shifts is difficult. Studies show that nearly all shift workers will experience the following issues at some point in their working lives. All of which affect the ability to manage social and family life alongside shift work. 

1. Isolation

The feeling of social isolation/loneliness is common for shift workers. It can be related to the shift worker, or their partner, as time together is limited and the pressures and stresses of shift working take their toll. Simply finding the time to be with other people becomes a major undertaking.

2. Less time with children/family

Many shift workers complain that their shift schedule leads them to miss out on important events. But also smaller family events too.  Whether it’s birthday parties and graduations or days out in the park or a fish and chip supper, missing these socially important occasions creates upset to family (especially children) and feelings of guilt and anxiety for shift workers. 

3. Decrease quality of time with family/friends

Because shift workers often exhibit feelings of extreme tiredness, time they do spend with partners, children, family or friends becomes stretched. Shift workers then exhibit behaviour that might be described as moody or irritable, because they are trying to cram important social activity into too smaller time period.

4. Fracturing of family life

In situations where one or both parents are shift workers, it is not uncommon for a feeling that they are unable to work together as a team. Due to continuing absence. This can lead to conflicting parenting styles. In fact, the not only are the couple working shifts, but also parenting in shifts as well. The result is that it becomes increasingly difficult to coordinate or be part of family routines that unify child behaviours and family activity. It also become increasingly difficult to present a united front for any discipline or routine. 

5. Sleep deprivation for one or both partners

The need to spend time with a partner often leads to shift workers staying up/awake and engaging in family activity, instead of sleeping, during “off-hours”. This can lead to both partners becoming immensely tired. Adding  additional stress to the relationship.

6. Social plans pass by

Because there is a perception amongst family or social groups that shift workers are “always working” when everyone else is playing, it becomes more and more difficult to include them into social or family plans. The result is that events get planned without the shift worker, who then feels isolated and left behind. 

How to maintain your social life and shift work

Despite these issues, there are ways that can help shift workers and their families overcome some of the effects on families of with working unsociable hours on. These can help shift workers better manage their shift work and social and family life.

1. Sharing calendars

By creating a visual calendar that sits in a prominent position in the family home, children and partners can know what to expect, when the shift workers will be available and how they can plan ahead to include them. This can be tremendously helpful for planning, but it can also help explain clearly to children, when they will see their shift working parent and when they might be able to engage in family activities (family time) together. The sharing facility in the MyShiftPlanner app was designed precisely for the function of sharing a work calendar with family and loved ones to help with this issue. 

2. Plan ahead

Planning a weekly activity of special (or routine) activities that children can rely on and look forward to, makes a vast difference for both family and shift worker. This includes planning and sharing holiday time well in advance. By making social and family plans a priority, and picking a few important dates rather than overcommitting too many events, everyone can look forward to social and family time together without over stressing the shift workers need for adequate rest time. 

3. Plan work breaks

Planning work breaks strategically, can mean that the shift worker is able to talk to their children after school or before bedtime. As well as making time to talk to a partner after they have finished work. Most phones are enabled to support live video calls, which greatly enhances the experience. Allowing children to have more contact with a working parent, and giving the shift worker a sense of connection with family, even though they are working.

4. Keep up the small thing

Small rituals make a great difference to relationships with children and partners. Examples include, handwritten notes in child’s a lunchbox each day or left by the bed for a partner. Maintaining family and relationship rituals as much as possible can help keep a sense of togetherness and solidarity.

5. Wind down time

It is not uncommon for shift workers to feel pressure to rush from a shift directly to the social activity they are missing. It is also not uncommon for the shift worker to then not enjoy the social activity as much as they feel they should. By allowing for a transition time or time to wind down after getting off a shift, the shift worker can have space to relax and prepare themselves. Shift workers feel that they need to be their best possible self for any family or social activity that is planned. Rushing straight from shifts, still with work stress, does not allow this to happen.

6. The importance of saying no

Shift workers need to feel that they can tell friends and family that they need rest or sleep.  This also requires understanding and acceptance from family members and social circles. Sometimes that means that passing on social gatherings. If that is the case, though, it is important that the shift worker is able to make plans to spend quality time with them, when they are well rested.

7. Talk to loved ones

Open communication with partners and children about their feelings around absences will open up new avenues for getting over the problems. Even small conversations can help. These are best conducted without distractions  from TVs, smartphones or other devices.

8. Get advice from those who know best – your colleagues

It is vital that shift workers in all industries realise that they are not alone. Shift work is undertaken by nearly 12% of the working population in one form or other. This means that there is advice, help and support available. Talking to other, experienced shift workers about their experience of managing social and family life can help newer shift workers find the right balance. Sharing ideas can help the shift worker and their family come up with the best solutions for them, to keep their shift work and social life together.

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