Shifting schedules: the health effects of reorganizing shift work

Am J Prev Med. 2008 May;34(5):427-434. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2007.12.023.


Background: Approximately one fifth of workers are engaged in some kind of shift work. The harmful effects of shift work on the health and work-life balance of employees are well known. A range of organizational interventions has been suggested to address these negative effects.

Methods: This study undertook the systematic review (following Quality Of Reporting Of Meta [QUORUM] analyses guidelines) of experimental and quasi-experimental studies, from any country (in any language) that evaluated the effects on health and work-life balance of organizational-level interventions that redesign shift work schedules. Twenty-seven electronic databases (medical, social science, economic) were searched. Data extraction and quality appraisal were carried out by two independent reviewers. Narrative synthesis was performed. The review was conducted between October 2005 and November 2006.

Results: Twenty-six studies were found relating to a variety of organizational interventions. No one type of intervention was found to be consistently harmful to workers. However, three types were found to have beneficial effects on health and work-life balance: (1) switching from slow to fast rotation, (2) changing from backward to forward rotation, and (3) self-scheduling of shifts. Improvements were usually at little or no direct organizational cost. However, there were concerns about the generalizability of the evidence, and no studies reported on impacts on health inequalities.

Conclusions: This review reinforces the findings of epidemiologic and laboratory-based research by suggesting that certain organizational-level interventions can improve the health of shift workers, their work-life balance, or both. This evidence could be useful when designing interventions to improve the experience of shift work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Personnel Management / methods
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Work Schedule Tolerance* / physiology
  • Work Schedule Tolerance* / psychology