Work That Kills

This graph shows nonstandard work schedules (% of workers, ESS, 2011).

More than 64% of employed Russians work evenings, nights or weekends, and this is one of the highest figures among European countries. Andrei Shevchuk and Anna Krasilnikova from HSE University were the first to study the extent of nonstandard working hours in Russia and its impact on work-life balance.

Departure from Traditions

A five-day week of eight-hour workdays, with two days off, is the generally accepted standard of employment. But deviations from this schedule are not uncommon, and emergency services are not the only ones operating 24/7.

The negative effects of unconventional working schedules are well known and include disruption of biological and social rhythms and damage to health and subjective wellbeing.

Interference with circadian rhythms has been found to cause depression, headaches and burnout as well as limiting one’s quality time with loved ones and eroding family relations and social life. Chronic fatigue and sleepiness can lead to workplace accidents and injuries.

These are the findings of international researchers. Similar studies in Russia have been limited to specific groups such as freelancers and employees of certain services and call centres, but no general conclusions or quantitative assessments have been published so far.

Night Shift Majority

The first attempt to assess the scale of the problem was based on data from the European Social Survey Round 5 (ESS, 2011), which included questions about working evenings, nights and weekends.

The findings were startling. According to the study authors,

    • only 41% of employed Russians do not work evenings and nights, and only 23% do not work at weekends;

one in two employees works evening/night shifts at least a few times each month, and one in four works evenings or nights several times a week or every day;

some 60% work on Saturdays and Sundays at least once every month, and about one-half work at weekends several times a month or every week;

36% of employees face both types of work schedules, i.e. evening/night shifts as well as working weekends.

Overall, slightly more than 64% of Russian employees are engaged in nonstandard work schedules on a consistent basis. These are primarily men, top and middle managers, highly-skilled industrial personnel, as well as those employed in agriculture, retail and service sectors.

Ahead of Other Countries

Conducted in 27 countries, the ESS found that countries with the highest rates of nonstandard working hours included Croatia (71%), Greece (70%) and Poland (65%), while those where nonstandard schedules were less common included Denmark, France and Portugal (51% each), Bulgaria (50%), the Netherlands (49%), and Israel (44%).

Russia ranked in the top four countries in terms of all types of nonstandard working schedules combined and also showed a high rate (36%) of dual nighttime and weekend work (30% average across countries).

But according to the researchers, the actual prevalence of nonstandard working hours may be even greater, since an estimated one-third of working Russians have additional employment, whereas ESS questions focused on respondents’ main place of work only.

Disrupted Balance

In terms of subjective wellbeing and self-esteem, one’s perception of work-life balance (family/ partnership, household work, cultural development, hobbies, sports, recreation and entertainment) is particularly affected by nonstandard working hours.

The researchers applied regression analysis using a specially constructed index – the average value of three variables (based on responses to three ESS questions) – to measure the deviation from the equilibrium:

    • How often does a person feel too tired after work to enjoy the things they would like to do at home?

How satisfied are they with the balance between the time they spend on their paid work and the time they spend on other aspects of life?

How often do they find that their job prevents them from giving the time they want to their partner or family?

The lower the index, the harder it is for the subject to maintain work-life balance, and all types of nonstandard working schedules have been found to play a role.

According to the study authors, ‘Someone can feel a deterioration of their work-life balance just by working evenings/nights a few times a month or weekends once a month’.

The negative impact of night shifts grows with increasing frequency: the more often one is required to work nights, the lower the chances of a balanced life. In contrast, the frequency of weekend work does not seem to make a difference: no matter whether one has to work weekends once a month or once a week, the negative effect is the same.

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