It's been a hard day's night – for over 3m UK workers

According to new TUC report A Hard Day’s Night, the number of nightworkers in Britain has been going up steadily since the recession, and looks set to grow further:

  • Over three million UK employees now regularly work nights.
  • Proposals for more public transport at night and a seven-day NHS will see nightshifts nationwide go up.
  • Through-the-night transport may tempt more retailers to adopt 24-hour opening.

There’s nothing wrong with occasional nightwork and plenty of people welcome it. It might offer, for instance, quiet-time to get things done, better pay than daytime shifts, an exciting first job, or a chance for students to earn around study time. 

Know what you’re getting into

Longer term however, it comes with a health warning. Your body’s sleep cycle is hardwired and never adjusts to nightwork, no matter how long you have been doing it. Studies have shown that this can eventually raise your risk of serious conditions including cancer, depression, type 2 diabetes, stomach ulcers and heart problems. Sleepiness among night staff also raises the risk of accidents on the job.

Now, the new report has delved a bit deeper into the potential effects of nightworking on family life, finding that long-term nightworkers are more likely to suffer divorce or the breakdown of relationships, and an increased risk of behavioural and emotional difficulties among their children. That said, some people and their family circumstances are better suited than others to cope with – and even thrive on – nightwork.

The TUC doesn’t oppose night work in principle, but if we are moving inexorably towards a 24-hour society, we want employers to act in the best interests of their employees. In view of the potential health risks, we don’t believe any worker should be forced on to nights, and for night working to be introduced only where necessary, and in detailed negotiation with a trade union. 

If you are being offered or applying for night work, it’s worth checking out workSMART’s advice on what your rights around night work are before you jump in. And our new report may help you weigh the benefits against the sacrifice. 

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