Finding a work-life balance when you are working on night shifts and weekends is a struggle. It is easy to assume it’s the worst combination for your social life. But is it? Are there ways to make this work?
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When night shift meets weekends we get a weird cocktail of lack of sleep, social events, and perhaps self-discovery. While many of us enjoy the benefits of working nocturnally such as extra money, flexible shifts, and relieving some of the stress from working in an office environment, achieving a work-life balance remains tricky for some. It becomes a struggle to fit in time with friends or family and have a reasonable work-life balance.
Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals know shift work life all too well. And while working nights or weekends isn't new in our society, there are ways of achieving a healthy work-life balance for you and your loved ones.
This article discusses why it is challenging to achieve a work-life balance while working night shifts and weekends. It also focuses on how such challenges, and how to maximize health and wellbeing when working night shifts and on weekends.
Why working night shifts and weekends seems like a challenge to many?
You don't get to see your family often. They don't see you or hear from you because you're sleeping when they wake up and either still sleeping or getting ready for work when they get home from school or work. Trust me, I've been there and done that.
You feel like you are missing out on life when everyone else is out and about enjoying their lives during the weekend and nights. When everyone else is off on vacation, spending time with their family, or doing something fun on the weekends; there you are stuck at work doing a job that no one else wants to do because it's too hard for them to do it or require more hours than they want to put in.
You tend to look at your coworkers as your friends because they are the ones you spend most of your time with. That is until you have to work while they are off having fun. You start to feel like the third wheel or left out of the fun because you are always working.
When you work in retail or hospitality, it is typical to work mornings, afternoons, evenings, nights, and weekends. It’s standard that you will be asked to work different shifts each week so you need to be prepared for that.
How to maintain work-life balance when you work unconventional hours
When it comes to work-life balance, there are two key factors: flexibility and opportunity.
You may have to change your definition of "normal"
If you are working night shifts or weekends, chances are that your schedule doesn't fit into the traditional "9-5" schedule. Either way, the rest of the world is going to be operating on a different schedule than you. As an alternative to trying to figure out how you can make time for everything, it might be easier to just accommodate your life around your schedule instead.
For example, if you work nights, this could mean things like scheduling appointments in the morning so that you don't have to spend your entire day off running errands and going from place to place. This also means that if your friends and family want to see you, they will need to meet you at times that are convenient for both of you.
Be clear about your boundaries
You got to know what you want to be able to get it. This is true for anything in life, including maintaining good relationships and having a healthy work-life balance.
Set clear boundaries with your employer, co-workers, and yourself so you don't lose sight of what matters most to you. This could mean putting serious thought into saying yes or no to a project with a deadline that will interfere with important plans or an event you hope to attend, or deciding upfront that you won't bring your laptop home on nights and weekends so you can spend more time with family or friends, or simply being honest with yourself about what needs your time and energy right now versus later.
Schedule time for yourself
Time management skills are key for anyone with a busy schedule, but it's especially important for those who work unconventional hours because there's a good chance you'll have to schedule time for yourself — whether it means going to the doctor or making dinner plans with friends — during work hours. Treat this time as if you were scheduling an important meeting at work because it can help eliminate any guilt about taking time off from work.
Take advantage of technology
Technology can make it easier to maintain relationships when you have unconventional hours, especially if your friends and family live far away from you. Use apps like Skype, Facebook, or Snapchat so you can stay connected by sharing videos and photos.
Be prepared for those friends and family members who will try to meet up with you when you’re working. Try to arrange things so that they don’t disrupt your sleep pattern — if someone wants to go out on a Friday night and you’re working Saturday morning, either tell them no or suggest meeting up on a Sunday afternoon instead. If you do decide to go out, make sure that your sleep isn’t affected too much. You might want to plan for this by sleeping earlier than usual on Thursday or Friday night.
How to maximize health and wellbeing when working night shifts and weekends
Eating well: Eating well is important when working unsociable hours as it gives you the energy to get things done during the day or before your night shift starts. If you work nights, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables as these contain antioxidants that help improve alertness and concentration during shift work by reducing fatigue related to sleep loss. If you eat before your shift, avoid eating too much because this will make you feel sleepy.
Drink lots of water: Dehydration is a common problem for shift workers whose bodies are under stress from working when they should be sleeping. Aim for three litres per day to keep yourself hydrated. Also avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks before bedtime, as they'll make it harder to fall asleep during the day.
Get enough sleep: You may find it difficult to fall asleep during the day or stay asleep at night when you work nights. But getting enough sleep is essential for good health, so try to create an environment that will.
Takeaway: if you are working night shifts and weekends, develop a plan for re-adapting to have a work-life balance and a healthy social life.