We are creeping towards a continuous working week

Decline of ‘9-5’ has been under way for decades — but now it’s creating workplace winners and losers

One common shift pattern for  warehouse workers  is to work four 12-hour days, have four days off, then work four nights, then have another four days off. Photograph: iStock

One common shift pattern for warehouse workers is to work four 12-hour days, have four days off, then work four nights, then have another four days off. Photograph: iStock

 

In 1929, the Soviet Union replaced the seven day week with the or “continuous working week”. Workers were split into five groups on five-day cycles with staggered rest days so that production never stopped. It became common for people to colour-code their friends in their address books according to which day they had off.

It wasn’t popular. “What is there for us to do at home, if our wives are in the factory, our children are at school and nobody can visit us?” one worker complained in a letter to a newspaper. As Oliver Burkeman, who writes about the nepreryvka in his new book , observes: “The value of time comes not from the sheer quantity you have, but from whether you’re in sync with the people you care about most.”

The Soviet Union abandoned its vast experiment after 11 years. But today’s economy is moving back towards a sort of “continuous working week”. Society’s shared rhythms of daytime work and weekend rest are disintegrating before our eyes.

The decline of the “9 to 5” has been under way for decades. In 2010-11, 20 per cent of employees in the US worked more than half their hours outside the standard hours of 6am to 6pm or on weekends. A vast survey of workers across the EU in 2015 found about half worked at least one Saturday a month, almost a third worked at least one Sunday, and roughly a fifth worked at night.

Shift work

As in the Soviet Union, one driver of these working patterns has been the desire of manufacturers to run plants 24/7 to maximise the use of machines and minimise the cost of interrupted production. One common shift pattern for production and warehouse workers today is to work four 12-hour days, have four days off, then work four nights, then have another four days off. Another is to work eight-hour shifts on rotation. As one current UK job advert for a warehouse job explains: “The hours of work are: 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm, 10pm to 6am. You will work one week on one shift and then rotate, therefore flexibility to cover all shifts is required.”

Factories and warehouses aren’t the only workplaces that run around the clock. Shift work is common for doctors, nurses, carers, drivers and security guards, among others. It appears to be on the rise. In 2015, 21 per cent of workers in the EU reported doing shift work, up from 17 per cent a decade earlier.

While shift work suits some people, the evidence suggests it damages their health, especially if they rotate between days and nights. Twelve-hour shifts, rotating shifts and unpredictable schedules are associated with higher risk of mental illness, cardiovascular problems and gastrointestinal problems.

Shift work can also harm family life. “Divorce is pretty bad. We see a lot of divorce, just due to the fact that families, especially young couples, you’re away from your family [FOR]12 hours, and then when you go home after a 12-hour shift, you just want to sleep,” one manager in a US manufacturing plant told academics studying the impact of shift work. A worker in the same study said: “It changes our time with our family. It changes our time with our social life and church and community groups. All those things that you would like to be involved with.”– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.