Night shift numbers up by more than 250,000 since 2011

By agency reporter
October 29, 2016

As the clocks go back to mark the beginning of British Winter time, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) today (29 October 2016) urged people to spare a thought for the millions of UK workers who regularly work through the night.

New analysis published by the TUC shows that the number of people who work night shifts increased by 275,000 (nine per cent) between 2011 and 2016 to 3,135,000.

Britain’s large army of night-workers now accounts for one in eight (12 per cent) employees.

Women are fuelling the growth in night work

It used to be that most night-workers were men working in manufacturing plants but this has changed. In 2016 one in seven male employees (14 per cent) were night-workers, compared to one in 11 (nine per cent) female employees. However, women account for more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of the growth in night-working over the past five years.

Between 2011 and 2016 the number of women regularly doing night work increased by 190,000, while for men it increased by 86,000.

Clear gender split in night-working

There is a clear gender split in the kind of jobs male and female night-workers do.

The two most common professions for female night-workers are care-working and nursing. The number of women doing night shifts in these professions increased by 15 per cent and four per cent respectively over the past five years.

Male night workers are most likely to work in protective service occupations (military, security, policing) and road transport. However, the number of men doing night shifts in these professions fell by 26 per cent and 12 per cent respectively over the past five years.

People in the mid-40s are most likely to be night-workers

Night work can begin as young as 16. More than 80,000 workers aged 16-20 regularly work nights. And there are nearly 150,000 people still working night shifts in their sixties.

But the age group with the highest proportion of night-workers is 45-49. They account for one in eight of those who usually work nights.

Male night-workers are most likely to be aged between 45–49. However, the most common age group for women night-workers is 25–29. 

London has seen the largest growth in night work

London has seen the largest growth in night-workers over the past five years (+98,000), followed by the South West (+50,000) and Wales (+40,000).

The TUC says the introduction of the Night Tube in London, and proposals for a seven-day NHS, are likely to lead to further increases in night work in coming years.

However, across all parts of the UK night-working has increased fastest in Northern Ireland (+58 per cent), followed by London (+30 per cent) and Wales (+29 per cent).

Commenting on the analysis, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Tonight most of us can look forward to an extra hour in bed. But as we sleep, millions of workers will be busy keeping the UK ticking over.

“Whether it's nurses looking after patients, or police officers keeping our streets safe, we all depend on Britain’s army of night-workers.

“Night work is hard and can disrupt family life. So we must show our appreciation for the sacrifices night-workers make by ensuring they have good rights and protections at work.

“Employers must play fair and play safe, or public safety will be put at risk and the families of night workers will suffer.”

The work-life balance impacts of night-working

The negative health impacts of night work are already well-documented, such as heightened risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. However, less attention has been given to the impacts on home life and relationships.

The TUC does not oppose night-working, but argues that employers must properly consider and address its impact on staff. Decisions to extend night working should always involve talks with unions.

Fairness and safety for night-workers

The TUC recommends that:

  • Employers and unions should ensure that night-working is only introduced where necessary.
  • Where night working is introduced into a workplace, no existing workers should be forced to work nights.
  • Shift patterns should be negotiated between unions and employers.
  • Workers should have some element of control over their rotas, so that they can ensure that the shifts they work are best suited to their individual circumstances.
  • Workers should always have sufficient notice of their shift patterns so they can make arrangements well in advance. Changes at short notice should be avoided.
  • The remuneration paid to those working nights should properly reflect the likely additional costs of childcare and inconvenience that night shifts can entail.



Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.