The conclusions in a recent StatsCan report on the work-life balance of shift workers are not earth shattering. Based on a survey of Canadians in 2005, day workers are more likely to be satisfied with their work-life balance.
Not surprisingly, the workers who are least satisfied have the least control of their work schedules, those who tend to work split or irregular shifts or work on an on-call or casual basis. (You can find the full report at www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/75-001-XIE/2008108/pdf/10677-en.pdf).
Among Canadian Media Guild members, shift work has only grown in the last few years. For the most part, CMG collective agreements outlaw split shifts and we have tried to avoid provisions that allow for on-call. But our members work for 24-7 operations and night, evening and weekend shifts are the norm.
And it’s unlikely that shift work is going away. As ergonomist Jonathan Tyson wrote in the Pulp and Paper Health and Safety Association publication Guardian in 2002, “you would think that with centuries of experience we would have either figured out how to deal with the health and safety issues that surround shift work, or we would have realized that it just isn’t a good thing and abandoned it altogether. Unfortunately, neither of these is true.”
Sleep is the biggest issue, since human beings tend to prefer to sleep during the dark hours and be active during the light ones. Sleep experts provide advice to managers and employees about adjusting to shifts that involve working outside the daytime hours. For the employees, this includes apple-a-day tips such as don’t smoke, participate in wellness programs, get plenty of exercise and avoid overtime.
But a sense of control is also important for peoples’ well-being. That’s why the BC nurses’ union negotiated “responsive shift scheduling,” which allows the nurses themselves to design their rotations to meet their own needs and those of their employer.
Because some workers actually prefer night or evening shifts, including women with family responsibilities, it’s not as unlikely as it may seem to develop shift schedules where employees’ requests can be accommodated. And the very process of being involved in developing a rotation provides a sense of control that is destructively lacking when schedules are imposed from on high.
CMG members at cable broadcaster S-VOX have just negotiated a new scheduling regime for master control that was developed by members themselves to meet their needs, after management announced changes to the shifts that rankled with employees.
“This is exactly the kind of thing that the union can help employees do to take back some control over their day-to-day lives,” says Rob VanSickle, the president of CMG’s S-VOX branch. “We do the work every day and have a very good sense of how to organize it so that it works for us and the organization.”