Shift Work Related Theories


Shift work refers to a type of employment practice that incorporates the 24-hour system as part of its work structure and design. Shift work refers to how employees within an organization work for two shifts that are usually scheduled to occur in one day. According to statistics released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people who are engaged in shift work is approximately 3.2 million employees who work in the various industries and sectors of the country. This dynamic change from the full workday demonstrates that the workplace is experiencing rapid changes which have mostly been influenced by the information technology economy, the introduction of new technological innovation, and globalization. Because of such environmental factors, work tasks have become fast-paced and more involving requiring employees to work for longer hours so that they can be able to achieve their personal and organizational objectives (Violanti et al, 2008)

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Shift work was therefore introduced to provide a meaningful balance that would allow employees to finish their work tasks within the allocated time through the proper utilization of optimized company resources. The most common examples of shift work include the morning and night shifts where some employees might be allocated work within the morning shift while the rest are required to work during the night shift, short term and long term shifts, hourly shifts, two to four-day shifts, continental shifts, split shifts, seven day-eight hour shifts to mention a few (Vila, 2006). The purpose of shift work is to basically increase the overall production capacity of a company to be three times more than the current production rate. Shift work aims to increase the production margins of a company without necessarily involving the use of overtime work to achieve profitability margins. The industries and sectors where shift work is a common occurrence include the manufacturing industry, law enforcement agencies, and service industries such as hotels, restaurants, call centers, customer care desks, and the health care industry.

The area of shift work is of great interest especially for this essay because it represents various health consequences that arise from occupational stress that is brought about by shift work. Based on various research studies conducted by Brugere et al, Smith et al, and Colligan and Rosa, the health complications that arise from shift work include digestive complications, migraines, headaches, physiological problems, body injuries, heart problems and mental disorders (Violanti et al, 2008). Shift work has been termed by various researchers and medical practitioners to be the major work stressor when it comes to the psychological well being of an employee because most workers are usually stressed and fatigued at the end of their shifts. Such complications are mostly attributed to the demanding nature of the job which requires employees to complete a set of tasks before their work shift ends. Health complications also arise as a result of the exposure to artificial lighting especially for those employees who work during the night shift and were accustomed to working during the day (Shields, 2002).

This study will focus on shift work in the law enforcement industry where all law enforcement officers are required to work for a certain shift during the day or night. According to Violanti (2004), policing is an occupation that requires police officers, the armed forces and firefighters to work round the clock 24 hours a day which in a way forces them to rearrange their sleeping patterns to ensure that they are at their maximum potential when performing their jobs. While all average citizens around the world are guaranteed of security and safety when they sleep at night, police officers face the challenge of performing properly in their jobs because they are faced with the harsh reality of sleep which impedes the proper functioning of an individual at night. Shift work basically affects the intricate network of the body’s functions making it difficult for an individual to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. Research has shown that the average person requires eight hours of sleep and rest for them to function properly for the eight hours they are required to be at work (Swenson et al, 2008). Depriving the body of this much needed rest might mean that an individual interferes with their internal network of body clocks and schedules. Law enforcement officers therefore face various health complications (insomnia, heart problems) since most of their shift work requires them to work during the night. Shift work therefore becomes an area of interest because of the health complications that arise from this type of work (Karlson et al, 2009).

Theories of Shift Work

The burnout interactional theory will be used in this essay to explain the effects that shift work has on the overall health and well being of an individual. This study seeks to address the health implications of shift work on the physical and mental activities of police officers. As mentioned earlier in the discussion, shift work leads to various health complication which might be detrimental to the overall work performance of an employee. In the case of police officers, sleep deprivation plays a great role in limiting their capacity to perform their jobs adequately as they lack the proper amount of sleep that is needed by the average human being to perform their work properly. Lack of adequate sleep and the complex or abnormal work hours they are subjected to might lead to various other health complications that are serious or detrimental to the overall well being of the police officer (Maslach, 2003).

According to the burnout interactional theory, the social work environment of an individual is usually the foundational basis of the theory. Emotional exhaustion, work overload and a lack of control over work duties and responsibilities are some of the major factors that lead employees to experience heightened levels of stress and burnout which if not checked lead to serious health complications (Maslach, 2003). This type of interactional theory is mostly relevant in explaining the type strain people in service oriented professions go through while performing their work duties. Burnout is thought to arise from the prolonged exposure to certain stressors that arise during job performance. In the case of law enforcement officers, burnout arises from handling violent criminals or dealing with dangerous situations which mostly occur during the night shift (Schaufeli et al, 2008)

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The theory of burnout basically conceptualizes the work experiences of an individual to be embedded in the context that is made up of complex social relationships where the individual has to be involved. The amount of empirical research that has been conducted on the theory of employee burnout has shown that the factors or characteristics of a job are directly related to burnout. The process of burning out amongst employees usually begins when they start to experience some sort of frustration or loss of autonomy which limits their ability to cope with their jobs. Certain aspects of the job become overwhelming to the employee making it difficult to respond to any challenges or adversities that might arise during the execution of duties. This lack of control eventually means that the employee will not be able to perform their work in an effective and efficient manner (Schaufeli et al 2008). In the case of police officers, the lack of adequate sleep determines whether they will have proper motor functionality that will allow them to respond to any cases of unrest especially during the night shift. Because police officers are required to work in both the day and night shifts, they are more than likely to experience a certain degree of burnout because of the amount of strain that the job is placing on their personal health.

Burnout has been termed by many researchers to be the major contributor of job-related stress mostly because it affects the operational and structural composition of work especially work that has been organized into shifts. Work shifts force employees to complete certain duties within a specific time frame which might increase the level of pressure placed on the employee as well as place additional strain on the already stressed employee eventually leading to employee burnout. Police officers who have to be alert throughout the night might experience some level of burnout as they are depriving their bodies of much needed rest and sleep which is usually vital for them to perform their work duties effectively (Schaefeli et al, 2008).

According to Maslach and Leiter (2008), there are six factors that contribute to burnout where employees go through periods of exhaustion, sleep deprivation, inefficacy and ineffectiveness as a result of poor job synchronization which usually arises as a result of shift work. The first factor is described as work overload where the demands of the job exceed the limits of the employee to perform the job effectively and efficiently. When the work load becomes too much, the probability of an employee experiencing a burnout becomes high as they are unable to deal with multiple tasks at once. The workload in shift work is usually high as employees have to complete various work targets before the end of their shift. This means that they are more prone to burnouts when compared to their counterparts who work for a full day. Police officers who work in high crime areas experience work overload in the event there is pressure to reduce the rate of crime in the various jurisdictions they work in (Maslach & Leiter, 2008).

The second factor that leads to employee burnout is the lack of control that some employees have over the type of work they do which is mostly attributed to poor management practices, rigid policies and poor work environments. Most police officers who work during the night shift lack control over whether crime will take place within their jurisdiction or not. Their work duties are limited to responding to criminal activities and violent situations in the event they occur during their shifts which points to the fact that they lack control over any criminal, violent or dangerous situations. The third factor according to Maslach and Leiter (2008) is that employees who are insufficiently rewarded are more than likely to experience some form of burnout making it difficult for them to perform their jobs.

Many law enforcement officers are compensated poorly for their jobs with world wide statistics estimating the average salary of a police officer to be between $ 30,000 to $40,000 dollars annually. Because most employees base their job performance on the amount of money they are receiving, they are likely to experience burnout if their workloads are not commensurate to the amount of money they are earning. The fourth factor deals with breakdowns in the work place or communities in which the employee operates in. When people within the society lose the positive relationships and connections they had with other people, conflicts arise which make it difficult to perform work duties. Employees who work in organizations that constantly go through periods of breakdown between managers and employees, managers and managers or employees and employees are likely to go through a period of burnout because of the emotional strain such encounters place on the psychological well being of an individual (Maslach & Leiter, 2008).

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The absence of fairness within the workplace is also a contributing factor to employee burnout especially when if there is the lack of just and fair systems and procedures that can be used to govern work relationships in the organization. The lack of suitable mechanisms that can be used to adequately address the problems of night shift work among police officers demonstrates that there is the absence of fairness when it comes to shift work (Vila, 2006). Value conflict is the final factor which is used to explain the mismatch that occurs between the work principles, values of an employee and the requirements of the job. Because police officers have curved a bad reputation for themselves the world over, they experience higher levels of value conflict because their corrupt work ethic clashes with the requirements of the job which is to maintain law and order within the society (Maslach & Leiter, 2008).

Application of Shift Work Theories

As mentioned earlier, this essay seeks to address shift work for law enforcement officers by focusing on the health implications that arise as a result of working for prolonged complex and abnormal hours. The various perspectives of work shifts need to be considered by all law enforcement agencies as shifts are important in ensuring that the work of a police officer remains relevant in today’s changing society. Shift work is an integral part of any law enforcer’s job and it requires police officers to work overtime to ensure that security standards and order has been maintained within their jurisdiction. Based on studies conducted by Vila in 2000 and Charles et al in 2007 on shift work and police officers, the studies revealed that police officers found shift work to be one of the most difficult requirements of their job (Voilanti et al, 2009).

This was mostly attributed to the fact that it deprived the police officers of sleep which was necessary for their bodies to function properly during the hours they were at work. The officers were also prone to other health problems such as cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndromes because their bodies were experiencing a lot of psychosocial and psychological stress (Violanti et al, 2009). Other studies conducted on the health implications that affect police officers who work in shifts revealed that sleep deprivation or insomnia was of a major contributor to poor performance in policing work Research work has shown that continued reduction of sleep usually affects the motor performance and cognitive ability of people especially police officers who require the use of their motor skills to conduct surveillance work (Karlson et al, 2009).

Based on Maslach and Leiter’s study, the six factors that lead to employee burnout can be used in formulating suitable interventions that would be beneficial in reducing the amount of psychological strain employees go through during the performance of their work. In the case of police officers, the stressors that come with their job duties can be reduced if their workloads are properly assessed to ensure they do not experience any burnout when performing policing duties. This means that their superiors or immediate supervisors have to allocate shift works based on the mental dexterity of police officers who can be able to handle the challenges of working at night. In the case of lack of control, the policies that are used to develop shift work for the night duty or graveyard shift workers should offer more flexibility to police officers despite the fact that the occurrence of crime is unpredictable. Offering police officers a form of reprieve during their nightly rounds in dangerous neighborhoods will ensure that they will be able to respond to criminal activities in a fast and efficient way. The factor of insufficient rewards is one that has been constantly debated on by many governments around the world. While some countries are trying to institute compensation packages that will ensure police officers are paid properly, others have failed to develop sufficient rewards systems that are commensurate to the workload most police officers do (Swenson et al, 2008).

Breakdowns in the work place and the society can influence work shifts where employees avoid units that myrred with confrontations and conflicts. This factor can be applied to work shifts where police captains and officers who are good with interpersonal skills are dispatched to handle any confrontations that might arise within the police station and in the community at large. The absence of fair and just systems can be applied to work shifts for police officers who perceive that the lack of fair systems leads to general decadence in the police force. Such perceptions might prove to be important especially if their superiors are compelled to review the health implications of night shifts on police officers (Vila, 2006).

The factor of value conflict can be applied in work shifts for police officers who clearly demonstrate a mismatch between the requirements of policing and their work ethics or values. Police officers who are slow in reacting to dangerous situations could be placed in the day work shift that requires less response rates because of the low rates of crime when compared to the night shift which has a higher incidence rate of crime. Officers who respond fast to risky situation should therefore work in the night shift because their work capabilities and ethics fit the requirements of the graveyard shift.

Changes to the Theory

A major flaw of the burnout theory is that it reframes certain phenomenon that other occupational groups within the service industry go through meaning that it does not offer any variable solutions to the different job categories that fall under the service industry. The theory also focuses attention on the relationships that exist between an employee and a certain situation which in the case of the theory is burnout instead of examining each aspect as an isolated case. This is a flaw since most studies have focused on how the relationship between job factors and burnout instead of employee characteristics when explaining burnout. The changes to theory would therefore involve focusing diversifying the scope of the factors that explain employee burnout so that they can be able to address specific jobs rather than the service industry as a whole and focusing on more on the relationship between job factors and employee burnout so as to achieve a suitable explanation.


This study has been able to address shift work by focusing on the law enforcement industry in particular police officers and how work shifts affect their overall work performance. The study identified a theory that explained work shift in law enforcement and how the theory could be applied to the work shift duties of police officers. The research was able to highlight the fact that shift work presented a lot of health and psychological problems to police officers and it therefore needed to be managed properly to reduce health complications.


Karlson, B., Eek, F., Orbaek, P., & Osterberg, K. (2009). Effects on sleep-related problems and self-reported health after a change of shift schedule. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14(2):97-109.

Shields, M., (2002). Shift-work and health. Health Representatives, 13:11-31.

Maslach, C., (2003). Job burnout: new directions in research and intervention. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12(5):189-192.

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M.P., (2008). Early predictors of job burnout and engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(3): 498-512.

Schaufeli, W.B., Taris, T.W., & Rhenen, W., (2008). Workaholism, burnout and work engagement: three of a kind or three different kinds of employee well-being? Applied Psychology, 57(2):173-203.

Swenson, D.X., Waseleski, D., & Hartl, R., (2008). Shift work and correctional officers: effects and strategies for adjustment. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 14(4): 299-310.

Vila, B., (2006). Impact of long work hours on police officers and the communities they serve. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 49:972-980.

Violanti, J.M., (2004). Predictor of police suicide ideation. Suicide Life Threatening Behaviour, 4: 277-283.

Violanti, J.M., Charles, L.E., Hartley, T.A., Andrew, M.E., Fekedulegn, D., Vila, B., & Burchfiel, C.M., (2008). Shift-work and suicide ideation among police officers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 51:758-768.

Violanti, J.M., Burchfiel, C.M., Hartley, T.A., Fekedulegn, D., Andrew, M.E., Charles, L.E., & Vila, B.J., (2009). A typical work hours and metabolic syndrome among police officers. Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, 64(3):194-202.

Shift Work Related Theories
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