Prevalence of night work among ageing social welfare and health care employees

Night work is most prevalent in social welfare and health care services in Finland. According to the Working time in the social affairs and health care sector data published today, shift workers aged 55–64 have fewer night shifts in the social welfare and health care sector than those aged 25–34. Older employees also had fewer consecutive night shifts. Generally speaking, night work in the social welfare and health care sector is becoming more common even though there have been more opportunities to influence working time, especially at workplaces that use “participative working time scheduling”.

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Working time in the social welfare and health care sector

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Night work

The Y axis represents the average prevalence of a certain stress level among employees. Please note that the base of the axis may not be displayed. Due to the small sample size of the oldest age group (65–74), it is not possible to filter the group by gender.

Night work
Year200820092010201120122013201420152016201720182019202020212022Average prevalence, %3035404550556065707580859095100Number of night shifts(shift work only)0–2/month>2–4/month>4–8/monthover 8/month
Year200820092010201120122013201420152016201720182019202020212022Average prevalence, %3035404550556065707580859095100Number of consecutive night shifts(shift work only)1–23 4–5over 5

Opportunities to influence working time support the work ability of ageing employees

In the COADAPT project co-ordinated by the EU, which ended in May, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health studied ageing in shift work and the effects of “participative working time scheduling” in health care. Employees as young as 40 and above were more likely, for example, to use sleeping pills and have long sickness absences if their shift work involved night shifts than employees in daytime work. As ageing shift workers seem to work fewer night shifts over time, participative work scheduling, where the employee can influence the planning of their shifts better than normally, was of particular interest in the project. The results show that participative working time scheduling increased the opportunities to influence working times, reduced sickness absences, work stress and sleep problems and improved perceived work ability. However, the effects of increased opportunities to influence working time were similar regarding both young and older employees, although older employees experienced more problems related to insomnia and work ability than younger employees. For example, employees aged 55 and older who used participative work scheduling were at a 42% lower risk of decreased work ability compared to those who did not use participative working time scheduling .

Recommendations for supporting the work ability and work careers of ageing shift workers

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has updated the Working time traffic light recommendations related to the Assassment of the stressfulness of working times. For people aged over 50, we recommend:

  • the possibility of having fewer night shifts;
  • the possibility of reduced overall working time and shorter work shifts, if necessary; and
  • avoiding short intervals between shifts to ensure adequate recovery.

Reducing the stressfulness of the work performed by ageing employees and providing more opportunities to influence working hours in the social welfare and health care sector support work participation and longer careers.