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Guest AuthorPrarthana Sethumadhavan
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THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT

By | Prarthana Sethumadhavan | Founder & Director – Sakalya Holistic HR Solutions

Annika looked at the recruiter as he proposed the final terms of the offer. She was to join the company, and work in the night shift. Amma and Appa would be happy she had landed the job, but she could visualize their apprehensions and scepticisms when she would tell them about her work timings. Her mother would have a fit of vapours, and her father would sink into the newspaper. The family deadlock would continue. But what to do?– She had applied everywhere, and despite her qualifications, her job of choice eluded her. She would accept the offer and see how to go forward from there. Back in the present, Rohit, the recruiter was shaking hands, welcoming her to work for his organization with many told and untold virtues, and promising her that she had indeed done well to accept the offer. The dye was cast. She thanked her new employer, and got into the auto and headed back home, to break the news (literally!). 

Her mother opened the door as she clanged the bell. Eager anticipation and expectation written large on her face. Her father was sitting at the dining table, drinking his filter coffee. “ Amma, Appa, I have got the job’’, Annika said. Her mother rushed to the God’s room and fell at the Divine’s Feet. She always knew that her lord would never fail her. She decided to make a sweet (payasam) – sweetened rice pudding and serve for dinner.. Annika was sure that the sweet would not sweeten the shock of what was to follow – the latter part of her news ( the night shift). She let them bask in their glow of happiness, their parental pride that their offspring, now being educated had landed herself a job. Their parenting and parenting skills had now been validated.

Dinner time – Amma had cooked a special dinner, and the family were discussing work, the next door Mrs. Malathi’s daughters engagement, when finally Annika was forced to burst their bubble.` Amma, I am going to work the graveyard shift. My timings would be 11.30pm to morning 7.30am’’. she blurted.

The silence was deafening. Both her parents had a look of comic stupefaction on them. “ How could you accept the night shift’’ her mom thundered., “ this is not done in our family’’ . “We don’t allow our girls to work late night shifts’’. What will people say.?!! Annika silently wondered what people would say should she have been a doctor working the graveyard shift. Her mother started sobbing. She was living a nightmare. Her daughter was going to work a late night shift! She was immediately asked to decline the offer by both her parents. Her mother was muttering to herself, “ Imagine coming back at 7.30am in the morning and sleeping throughout the day” God knows when you will get up, when you will eat. Eating junk throughout the night in office, drinking uncounted cups of coffee , this is all very bad for health’’.

“Beta, night shifts will play havoc with your circadian rhythms.’’ her father interjected unexpectedly.”  Continuous night shifts are said to cause in women diseases like breast cancer as there is a reduced level of melatonin, that causes sleep disorders. Night shifts are also said to impair the fertility in women. Beta, you have to get married, and have a long life ahead. Why do you want to take this risk? Annika had read about circadian rhythms in her science class. The most important was the sleep-wake cycle. This helped to control the production of both melatonin and cortisol via the information it received about incoming light. When this cycle was properly regulated, humans slept well, had consistent energy throughout the day, and maintained normal hunger-satiety homeostasis.

Amma, however was still on auto pilot – “ Vinayak , along with his parents is coming next month from the US to see Annika and decide the date for marriage What will I say?! When will he come to see Annika, if she will be sleeping throughout the day??! How will they receive the news that she is now working in the night shift’’ This is all too much’’. Her mother was ranting. She was a possessed of a situation that was every parent’s nightmare – Balancing the delicate thread of their daughter’s betrothal with an NRI groom. The situation was akin to quicksilver – could get out of one’s hand and reach, without much ado!

The drama at home was escalating at alarming levels. Annika locked herself in her room, and called Aryan, her brother in the USA. She would anyway be in his time zones next week onwards. How crazy and ironic was that ! Aryan was the family nerd. He had all the facts and figures ready for instantaneous recitals. Getting a perspective from him might help. As soon as she heard the deep baritone, she narrated the pantomime that was ongoing at home owing to her night shift. Mom decrying marriage prospects, dad citing health disorders, her own fears regarding safety, adaptability to a night time work environment, ability to fall into the rhythm and cycle ( in more ways than one).

Aryan the nerd citied -“ In women, night shifts are closely related to disorders which are related to infertility and include uterine fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome ,endometriosis, and primary ovarian insufficiency. He added, “Those working regularly in night shifts suffer from lack of proper sleep and night-time wakefulness which can cause damage to the structure of the human DNA and lead to many diseases, including cancer and diabetes, as well as cardiovascular, neurological and pulmonary diseases’’ The doctor in him had taken over completely.

He further added quoting various studies and research:

Cancer in women: Night shifts significantly increased women’s chances of getting cancer .Overall, long-term night shift work among women increased the risk of cancer by 19 per cent. When analysing specific cancers, he said that the researchers found that this population had an increased risk of skin (41 per cent), breast (32 per cent), and gastrointestinal cancer (18 per cent) compared with women who did not perform long-term night shift work. The researchers also found that the risk of breast cancer increased by 3.3 per cent for every five years of night shift work.

The findings have been published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Obesity: Night shift workers had a higher frequency of developing abdominal obesity than other obesity types. Permanent night workers demonstrated a higher risk than rotating shift workers.

A study published in Obesity Reviews 

Heart disease: Rotating night shifts might slightly increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, and showed that women who worked more than 10 years of rotating night shifts had a 15 to 18 per cent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD)

The study, published in the US journal JAMA

Cognitive impairment in women: This said that night shifts affect women’s brain more than men’s. The study found that the changes in the circadian rhythm had a stronger effect on the brain performance of women than men. It found that women were cognitively impaired after working night shifts.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 

Car crashes: Night shifts put those who drive home after their shift at significantly high risk of car crashes, according to a study published in the US journal 

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Annika reeled under the statistics. Thanking Aryan for his recitation of facts and findings, Annika said she loved him and would call him again soon. She called Sheela, her friend working the graveyard shift in a BPO. Sheela was just getting ready, her cab was coming to pick her up. She had to leave at least 2 hours before the shift to navigate the thickly congested traffic in Bangalore. Her son, Rajiv had to be disciplined before she left , so he could finish his homework and project and not be glued to Instagram and Facebook, and she had to put her little daughter to bed along with diaper change, and leave a list of instructions for feeding her milk – for her husband. She had to prepare breakfast for the next day morning, prepare meals for Rajiv’s lunchbox and Anita’s playschool. She had packed their bags. Her cook had taken an extended vacation and was AWOL. Substitute maid scouting was in doldrums. Many a maids had refused to work in her house and come to cook in the evening, since she was on a night shift. They had reservations in coming, when only the man of the house was at home. So she was left to toil away. Anant, her husband had an equally demanding career, and years ago, had got into (w)holly matrimony with his laptop and there was nothing much she could do about it. She was grateful he was home at night, but when he was travelling, and kids were sick, she had to ask her mother in law to pitch in. Her mother in law had made it clear to her that she did not approve of her career. What is this career vareer,?,she had often asked her, as well as floated it as a topic of discussion to her other cronies at kitty parties;  and what night time work is necessary?! Go get a regular day job, keep cook, full time maid in the house. Why was she expected to disrupt her home and her bhajan mandala gatherings to play nursemaid to her career??? This she never understood – the mother in law i.e.

Sheela droned on, maid servant supervision was an issue. She could not sleep because the maid servant came at 9 in the morning, and given her propensity towards sincerity of work, she needed constant supervision, else she could expect a less than clean home, and pilferage from the kitchens would up her grocery bill, with constant refills. Thankfully grocery shopping and veggie shopping became online. Big Basket and Groffers were her new BFF’s , but negotiating a delivery time was tough. Anytime was a time to disturb her sleep cycle. Then came the school requirements – Parent Teacher meetings, orientation programmes, parent workshops –she had to attend those –during day time only!, and then catch quick forty winks. She also had to go to the chiropractor ( courtesy back pain owing to long travel and sitting hours), bank, shop, pay periodic respect to her in laws functions, religious festivals, get togethers. Where was the time??? But was she ready to give it all up for a more peaceful life—Sheela did not know the answer. Some days were more trying than the others, but there was hope things would streamline. Kids were growing up. Additional income was always welcome. Inflation had hit. Maids, car cleaners all demanded increments, bonuses and Cost of living allowance .. as if they were working in multinationals! Weekends off, tea and coffee as perks indeed!

Annika disconnected and felt a bit disconnected herself. Life and the job did not look so rosy. She knew her parents wanted her to refuse. Aryan had recited the health hazards; Sheela was a living example of a graveyard shift. What should she do? The job market was depressed. Night shift jobs were the ones that were available currently. Maybe it had lesser competition. She thought of herself, sleeping most of her life away… Life away from friends, family, movies, masti. She would be working so different hours from them. Did she really want it?? Tomorrow she would pick up the phone and call Rohit the recruiter…..

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Prarthana Sethumadhavan

The writer is a Certified NLP Practitioner (SNLP) , Leadership & Transformation Coach, Corporate Trainer in Leadership Development as also a POSH trainer and Consultant. Please connect withSakalyahr@gmail.com for Executive Coaching/ Leadership Training Solutions. 

 

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