Complications Working Night Shift

Since I’ve started working nights, I’ve noticed there’s definitely a hierarchy-and night shift workers are treated differently, much like part-timers are treated differently than full-timers. It’s not just in the workplace-it’s outside of it as well.

We privilege the day over the night–businesses are open during the day, though they may or may not be open at night (or overnight). Now, before you accuse me of being all PC-happy, let me explain. Daytime is just dandy. We have all this natural light to see and shit. But there’s this attitude that nighttime activity is shady, because it’s dark outside, you see, and dark = bad.

So. I work at night. I work well past “bed time.” When I get off work, I don’t usually go immediately to bed. Why would I? When the day shift goes home, do they go to bed? Ha! No! There are things to be done, not the least of all, winding down from hours of workworkworkworkOMGYOU’RECHATTINGworkworkGODYOUHAVETOPEEALOTWHATISWRONGWITHYOU

So. Bed time for night-shift is very late. We are, however, still human (though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way) and so, we need to sleep. Logically, go to sleep later, sleep later, right? You’re not going to wake at the same time as your day-shift comrades, duh. Except…many don’t see it that way. There’s this idea that’s fixed in our collective mind, that those who sleep “late” are lazy. The cutoff for just sleeping, and sleeping “late” have been determined by our daytime compatriots, however.

Needless to say, I’ve been treated as or called lazy quite a bit since I’ve started the night shift. Frustrating? Oh yes. Compounded by the fact that I’ve always been treated as lazy for sleeping the 9-10 hours (when I can) to avoid seizures, the frustration is doubled. Night shift works the same eight hours that day shift does, but for this reason, we’re treated as if we’re lazy. In the workplace, that means management (who all work 1st shift, naturally) blames us for errors, malfunctions, and other setbacks, regardless of when they occur. It also means if we’re busy, we’re the ones to take on the extra work. Outside the workplace, we’re met with condescension and/or contempt. This is if it’s not assumed we’re unemployed. Then, well, a good many of you know how the unemployed are treated.

Sleep isn’t a very valued activity in work-centered cultures. We’ve created entire industries out of helping people avoid sleep. Because business is conducted in the daytime, many night shift workers must forgo sleep to maintain households, further careers, or take care of other things. Sometimes the ability is taken away if a night shift worker lives in a household of day-shift workers. After all, if the day shift workers are awake, you’re just being lazy if you sleep, so you’re not entitled to the consideration of quietness that you give to the day shift workers when you return home from work, right?

Am I complaining? You bet your ass I am. I’m grouchy for lack of sleep. I notice the suspicion in the looks I get when I do my grocery shopping at o’dark-thirty at 24-hour grocery stores. I see the resentment in the clerk’s eyes, at my “making” them be there. I hear all the underlying messages when others ask, “why haven’t you done _____ yet?” or “Oh, you just now woke up?” I catch the eye rolls and the dismissive tones when I ask for quiet while I sleep.

But I’m also asking you to think.


About Brittany-Ann
Brittany-Ann is a proud, self-identified feminist with fictional tendencies. She currently writes for and moderates at My Fault I'm Female. She smokes camels, reads Dumas, and navigates a conservative state as "one of them darn liberals."

2 Responses to Complications Working Night Shift

  1. D W says:

    I’d like to second everything you said! Seriously, it so described years of my experiences. In my youth it was my father who at least daily said I was a lazy person because I slept in. My first post-college jobs were later shifts. I kept a schedule like you mention and kept my phone ringer off for weeks at a time (an option that worked in my life then but would not today) because so many relatives and acquaintances would feel entitled to my time then. Often it was wanting me to run errands for them “since you’re free…” I’m sure everyone is simply shocked to know they never reciprocated.

    In mid-2010 I had another illustration of this. The short form is that I do IT work for a public university and my position is salaried and exempt, and that my job includes on-call rotation and off-hours work. For some months I started my in-office shift at 9:30 A.M. and typically put at least sixty hours per week in at the office. Then I switched to a 7 A.M. start and strictly did only forty hours per week. Both schedule start time changes were with the prior approval of my manager.

    When I worked the longer hours but later start my manager’s stated perception was that I was short-changing work; not working my “proper” amount of in-office hours. Now his perception is that I’m an altogether dedicated worker and that view has vanished in spite of the fact that I actually work at least one third fewer hours. I also feel I’m less effective on this schedule as it isn’t until the early afternoon, between 1 and 2, that I really reach the point where I feel the most mentally able to deal with my work. That state lasts well into the night for me.

  2. Pingback: Tales of Epilepsy: Internalized Ableism « A Bookish Beemer

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