Flexibility is often claimed as an advantage to shift work, but a survey from job website Breakroom and software provider Surfboard found most (73%) said they work shifts because the job has to be done in those hours, rather than because it fits their lifestyle.
Half (50%) of shift workers also said they had no input into their schedule, and a third (33%) said they get a maximum of a week's notice of their shifts.
Support for shift workers:
David Frost, people and organisational development director at produce supplier Dole, argued that it is in a business' interest to properly support their shift workers.
He told HR magazine: "An organisation’s productivity and service levels will be negatively impacted if shift workers are not effectively engaged and supported."
Clear communication and an agreed structure are crucial to providing the best support for shift workers, he added.
"Effective employee consultations will help ensure that shift pattern design is as family-friendly as possible.
"Shift workers need visible line management during all shifts, as well as consistent two-way communication for all shifts – irrespective of the time of day.
"Regular employee engagement surveys are important for all employees in order to monitor the effectiveness of line management and communication."
An unreliable schedule is also having a negative impact on the health of shift workers.
Over two thirds (68%) of shift workers said they have felt their physical and mental health deteriorate due to their workload.
The majority (61%) of those surveyed said they don't receive paid breaks either, and almost half (48%) said they have less than a 12-hour break between shifts. The statutory minimum is 11 hours.
Breakroom CEO Anna Maybank suggested that shift workers aren't getting what they signed up for.
She said: "A lot of these workers are parents with children or students looking to work around their studying.
"The people I’ve spoken to often said they took their job as it had been advertised as flexible, but they then discovered that their employers often push them into taking last-minute shifts at inconvenient times.
"Too often, what is ‘flexible’ for an employer isn’t flexible for a worker."
The survey is based on a sample of 5,000 shift workers across the UK, who mainly work outside the traditional 9am-5pm work day.