Night shift: The perks and pitfalls

Twenty-four-hour economy. You have probably heard or read about this. And you know it refers to an ecosystem where production and consumption of goods and services happens nonstop, both day and night. This means that in some industries, work goes on while the majority of the general population is asleep. Studies show that although people who consistently work at night often suffer health challenges due to the interruption of the circadian rhythm, the number of night shift workers across the globe has been increasing steadily over the decades.

In Europe, research shows that at least 19 per cent of the working population works during the night at least once a month. This is according to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Additionally, according to data from the US Census Bureau, about six per cent of all American workers work regular night shifts. Data on night shift workers in Africa is scanty and anecdotal.

Other factors have also exacerbated the need and opportunity for people to work at night.

For example, experts credit the pandemic for changing work processes and normalising concepts such as working from home. Companies have had to craft new work schedules for their employees, with many seeing past the traditional 9am to 5pm. And now that the world is a global village, more individuals find themselves working for companies that are headquartered in different time zones. Take Domitila Mutende for example. She is a 26-year-old administrative processor and personal assistant in a US based organisation. Her typical work day starts at 3pm and ends at 3am. She has just completed the first year at this job.


“Adapting to working at night was not a challenge for me. Since my university days, I have always been a night bird which is why I even opted for evening classes. As a child, I enjoyed staying up late into the night, watching movies and preferred to sleep during the day. So, getting a job where I work at night is a dream come true for me,” she says.

According to her, working odd hours is preferable because night times are typically quieter, with fewer distractions. She is able devote more attention to her job, which makes her more efficient and productive.

“The weird timeline is also great for my mood and productivity and leads to increased pay. I get bonuses because my office is aware that because of the time zone difference, I always work late into the night,” she says.

Today, it is no longer only workers in the healthcare or security industries that are routinely expected to work night shifts. Other professionals who work at night include fire fighters, hotel and resort front desk operators, and bar attendants. Expectedly, working outside normal working hours does not come without its challenges.

“Working at night has caused significant disruption to my social life. I spend most of my day time sleeping, and I get just a little time to catch up with my friends and family during the afternoon before I start working. I work six days a week, and this makes it difficult for me to attend social engagements,” she says.

While Domitila lives in a gated community with strict regulations on noise levels, she has no control over power outages and internet failure which are quite common during rainy seasons. Unlike working during the day when it is easy to find an alternative place where there is power to work from, at night, this is not an option. So besides a desktop, she also owns two laptops which are always fully charged. These act as her back up in case of power failure.

“Power outages and internet failures can be a nightmare, especially during late hours. Most service providers have very lean staff working during that time so it may take longer to get customer care agents to resolve an issue. I have a backup plan for both power and the internet to make sure I can keep working because again, it would be wrong to keep explaining to your boss that you are not working because of a power outage,” she says.

The idea of working at night is adventurous and inspiringly different. For younger millennials and older Gen-Zs, this fits well with their aspirations of rewriting the rule book. But for Duncan Ng’eno, 28, a cyber-security professional, the six months he worked at night came with many challenges. He had to call it quits.

“I worked as a Security Operation Centre analyst. My work was to monitor the security activity or activities within our clients’ networks. This is a 24/7 service where you monitor any malicious activity or intrusion in your client’s premises or networks,” he says.


He was not a night worker when he joined the company. But changes within the organisation (which introduced the new service that needed 24/7 monitoring) and the leanness of the team meant that the few available employees were deployed to work on the needed night shifts. The adaptation process wasn’t easy but he had to adapt because it was his job and he had to deliver.

“I used to work four days a week from 6pm to 6am and then submit my report by 7am,” he says.

He had three off days which he took on a rolling basis, meaning he did not have any fixed rest days. This further complicated his social life because it was harder to plan for his days off work.

Because of the nature of Duncan’s work, working from home was not an option. He had to be at a place where there was no risk of power outage since he had to be constantly alert, and connected to power and the internet.

“It is not possible to predict a power outage. But at least in the office, there was a generator in case of a problem with power,” he says.

He found working at night more tiresome than working during the day, and this mode of work also affected his social life. He found it difficult to meet and interact with his peers, and to regularly participate in church activities.

“Sleeping during the day was difficult for me because there are many disruptions, so I found myself unable to actually take a rest. The most I could sleep was three hours which meant I was constantly tired,” he says and adds, “The advantage was I could really focus on my work because there were minimal disruptions at night. My company also gave bonuses to staff on night shift.”


This experience taught him that working at night calls for passion.

“Eventually I had to admit that I was interested in a different specialisation of cybersecurity than the one I was working in. I talked to my boss, explained that my passions lay elsewhere, and requested that he finds someone else to take up my role,” he says.

Another example is Victor Mwendwa. Like Duncan, he works in cybersecurity but unlike Duncan, his preferred time for work is at night because there are less disruptions, and so he is able to learn and do research. On top of that, he gets extra days off and night shift bonuses. Research concurs with Victor. Motivators for working at night, besides the possibility of better perks and benefits, include reduced competition on the job, more autonomy, less distractions and greater vacation flexibility.

“I have two night shifts every week and each shift lasts 12 hours. It was challenging to adapt at the beginning due to changes in my sleep schedule but with time I learnt to sleep during the day,” says Victor.

His social life has also been disrupted by his work schedule.

“Meet ups and other activities mostly happen during the day, which is when I am resting. While my friends and family would like me to join them, I am usually unable because of exhaustion. Some do not understand and feel I am just avoiding them,” he says.

Rita Jaoko, a customer care representative at Mkopa Limited, is also in the league of young professionals whose preferred time for work is night.

“I assist customers who have issues with their phones such as if the phones are blocked or if payments are not going through,” she says. She works night shifts, five days a week, from 11pm to 8am, with an hour long break, depending on the workload.

“My off days differ depending on the schedule. While I have two off days, I don’t have weekends or specific rest days. The two rest days can come at any time of the week, not necessarily on weekends,” she says. Rita works from home so the issue of power and internet failure is a real one for her.

“When there is a power outage, I obviously can’t work. In such situations, there is a form I have to fill to inform the company that I was not able to work that day. I have to be accountable,” she says.

All her tasks count towards her performance, so a power outage puts her at a disadvantage because it means her co-worker gets to handle all the work for that day.

“Targets are achieved every time one resolves a challenge raised by a caller. My inability to log in means my coworker will have more tickets to resolve. We always work towards being the best performer of the month because winners get attractive tokens. The more tickets one resolves the higher their chances of becoming a top performer. So basically, if I can’t work, I lose and my colleagues win,” she says.

There are periods she works during the day and times when she works at night. Her preferred working time is night. She says the recommended eight-hour sleep schedule simply doesn’t work for her and she is OK with two to three hours of sleep every day.

“I have terrible insomnia so I hardly sleep. Instead of watching movies all night, I keep my mind occupied with work. This way I don’t even notice when I have not slept. Working at night is also more peaceful because I like to work with minimum supervision. This way I am able to focus and work towards my targets,” she says.

Credit: Source link