How Shift Work Can Impact On Relationships - aifc

Do you ever wonder how shift workers and their families ever manage to get by without seeing each other as often as day time working families do?   Tracey Milson – Counsellor and Family Therapist with aifc sheds some light on the impact shift work is having on marriages & families.

“Phrases such as ‘life seems to be getting busier’, ‘we don’t seem to have any money left over after everyday living costs to buy a home’, ‘we are working longer hours’, ‘weekends and after hours don’t exist anymore’ and ‘business continues around the clock’ are common in our Australian society reflecting an ever increasing pace for work and life that puts massive pressure on the family. The societal norm for a family involves not just a home and provision of food, clothing and security but in addition two cars, one being an SUV for weekend escapes, leisure equipment, plasma TV, multiple computers, mobile phones, investment portfolio, a big home, and the list goes on. The cultural trend is for a society of material wealth, and to have ‘things’ requires more money hence more income and more hours working. The profit driven trend of companies from retail to service industries is to market over extended hours. Generally speaking gone is the nine to five business work day, the Saturday morning for shopping and Sunday for Church, home life and family time.

Counselling Families

shift workers and their families

The family effects the ACTU OHS (2000 n.p.) report highlighted were:

  • Irregular involvement with family activities due to work times clashing with night or weekend functions
  • Inadequate time with spouse or partner especially if they work and days off do not fit with their time off
  • A change in frequency and desire for sex because of fatigue and relational tension
  • Limited time with children especially school age for mentoring and discipline
  • Extra marital stress
  • General relational stress with family and friends
  • Difficulties with maintaining contact with friends
  • Limited commitment to community activities and sporting clubs

Shift work is nothing new and is an important part of our work environment, especially in the essential services arena, however this is changing with more and more young families considering the attractive earning potential of jobs being offered in the mining and resources industries, such as the fly in fly out positions, to obtain and maintain their dream lifestyle. All over Australia this is occurring from capital cities to regional towns, where families are looking at anywhere from seven to twenty one days apart with three to ten days off in blocks. This begs the question of what effect this is having on the family. How does the marriage, couple or family relationship cope with such times apart and changing work hours?  What about the parenting of children and being involved with their sports and activities? …”

From my counselling perspective one of the main contributors to the breakdown of marriage, family and couple relationships is when any of the characteristics of a healthy relationship is neglected. For most this is linked to poor communication that leads to tension, hurt and then resentment. Heiler (2002, p.14) states:

In particular, problems that most families manage to resolve on a day to day basis can escalate where one of the family members is regularly absent or continually tired and emotionally depleted. The risk is that everyday problems that are left unresolved can escalate into more chronic family dysfunction

For a shift worker who is struggling with the turmoil of irregular sleep and work times as well as extended time away it will be much harder to relate to the emotional needs of their partner and family which can easily lead to tension and further difficulties within the relationship. Heiler (2002, p.13) quotes a shift workers dilemma:

I’m not whinging.  I know other people work long hours, but they get a decent break. I have bigger issues with my wife; she doesn’t want me here… it’ll be the finish… I reckon… she’d rather I go on the dole and have me home.

There would seem to be a range of emotions experienced by a shift worker due to tiredness and loneliness that are detrimental to good communication with their partner and children…”


An excerpt – From ‘Shift Work and the 24/7 Phenomenon – An Increasing Social Justice Issue.’

by Tracey Milson

tracey milson cropped

Cred. Dip Bus Mgmt, Cert IV TAE, Cert IV Tel couns, Adv.Dip Couns Fam Ther,
B.Soc.Sc (Couns), Grad Cert Hum Behaviour, Master Couns (process),
CCAA (Clin), PACFA (reg).   Counsellor and Family Therapist



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