Effects of Working Unsociable Hours & UK Law on Pay and Conditions

Unsociable hours are very common across different working industries. Night shifts are a normal routine for many individuals who often work part, or all,  through the night.

Some employees may choose this lifestyle as it suits them. Others may have to do it as part of their contract even though they aren’t keen.

Our guide takes a look at the effects of working unsociable hours. Does it negatively impact health and mental health of workers?

We also go into the regulations on unsocial hours pay, what constitutes such hours and how this affects young workers.

Everyone must know their rights when it comes to working outside of normal hours.

What Are Unsociable Hours or Night Working Hours?

Unsociable hours are any hours worked outside of the company’s normal daytime hours. This is in comparison to night working hours, which are defined as falling between 11pm and 6am.

So, for example, the office hours are 9 am to 5 pm. This means anything beyond 5 pm and before 9 am are considered to be unsocial working hours. In many professions, working evenings is essential as staff are required at all times.

To be classed as a night worker, you must regularly work 3 hours during the workplace’s night period. A night period is anything between the hours of 11 pm and 6am unless your work contract stipulates something different to this.

When an employer wishes to devise their own nighttime hours, this is permissable.

However, 3 conditions must be met:-

  • The working night period must be at least 7 hours long.
  • The nighttime period must include the hours from midnight to 5 am.
  • Anything outside the ordinary should be part of a signed contract.

Unsociable Hours & UK Employment Law

There are UK laws that need to be followed when working and putting staff on a rota which includes unsociable hours.

The Working Time Regulations (1998) stipulate that night working hours are between 11 pm and 6 am. Some people may refer to them as unsociable hours, but this will depend on the company policy too.

There are laws that must be adhered to by all employers regarding employees working night hours.

Unsocial Hours Pay Law

People often assume that one of the benefits of working unsocial hours is the attractive overtime pay that is offered. However, UK law states there is no legal right to be on an enhanced rate for night work.

Whatever is offered though, cannot fall below the national minimum wage once it has been averaged out. You must check your contract before agreeing to unsocial hours in terms of the pay expectations.

Many employers do offer an increase for those working nights, but this is a contractual benefit, not a legal right.

Workers on Sleepover Shifts

Workers on sleepover shifts do not have the right to be paid wages for hours they are asleep. Pay entitlements are based on the employee being awake and performing duties during their shift.

If their shift involves sleeping in a bed then they will not be entitled to the minimum wage for these hours. An example of this is a care worker who offers nighttime support.

However, if an employee must perform duties in between sleep periods then they will still be entitled to the minimum wage.

This should all be set out within the employee’s contract of employment.

Working Hours & Rest Period Laws for Night Workers

Employees who work nights are also subject to legal protection regarding their working hours and rest periods. Their average night shift should be not more than 8 hours in any 24 hours.

This average is usually worked out over 17 weeks but this can vary. Should an employer use a different calculation then this should be made clear and agreed to by all parties. It is important to note that the 8 hour limit cannot be opted out of.

There are some jobs where using an average isn’t acceptable and should be based on actual working hours. This is the case for people who undertake a great deal of physical or mental strain as part of their job role.

The rest periods remain the same as the daytime workers so this means:-

  • Employees should receive one 20 minute uninterrupted break for a 6 hour shift.
  • There should be 11 hours between each shift.
  • There should be a weekly rest of 24 hours or 48 hours per fortnight.

See Also: Employment Law & Night Shifts – a guide on legal protections offered to night workers in the UK.

Young Workers & Unsociable Hours

There is a different set of rules in place for young workers aged 16 and 17 who work unsociable hours. Young workers are not permitted to work between the hours of midnight and 4 am.

They are usually not able to work between 10 pm and 6 am but this can be changed to 11 pm and 7 am, subject to contract.

There are a few exceptions where young workers can work up until midnight or from 4 am but these jobs are listed.

Examples are farming, catering and newspaper deliveries. They can never, under any circumstances, work an entire night shift.

See Also: Under 18 Working Hours in the UK – a full guide on the different rules around working hours and breaks for young workers.

Unsociable Hours and Mental Health

One of the main concerns regarding unsociable hours is the impact they can have on an employee’s mental wellbeing.

This is something that employers should think carefully about as it forms part of their duty of care. Many businesses will insist on doing an assessment on any staff who will be working nights. This is to ensure they understand how it impacts certain aspects of their life.

Stress and Anxiety

Working nights might not be a great move for anyone who struggles with their mental health. Unsociable hours will mean your day to day routine looks different to other people close to you.

It can cause stress if you get tired and rundown. Sleeping patterns have a knock on effect on mental health. This means if you don’t get sufficient sleep, your stress or anxiety levels could increase.

Night shifts can be the root cause of stress and anxiety, particularly if your tasks are stressful in themselves.

Stress is one of the most common reasons for staff absences in the UK so it is a very real problem.

Health Problems

Unsociable hours also have the potential to lead to health problems or worsen existing conditions. It can lead to unhealthy lifestyles such as eating quick and convenient meals.

This will impact negatively on physical health, you may not be getting the nutrients you need. Chronic conditions can be triggered by long term fatigue too.

It is a widely known fact that a lack of proper REM sleep can lead to lower immunity which will result in health problems.

Relationship Problems

It is not difficult to understand why working nights could lead to relationship problems. Relationships are hard at the best of times but with couples working different shifts, it can be even harder.

If your partner works days and they get home and you go to work, there isn’t always a great deal of time for the relationship.

This isn’t to say that cannot work, but there might be some extra effort required to make time for each other.

Tiredness and Fatigue

One of the biggest problems faced by employees who work nights is the tiredness and fatigue that comes with it.

Sleeping during the day isn’t as peaceful as at nighttime as the majority of people are on the go at this point. This means the deep part of your sleep (the REM) is not as long as it should be.

The world is quiet overnight which is conducive to a good night’s sleep. This isn’t the case during the day and is more so the case if you live with other people.

Loneliness and Isolation

Part of working nights is the potential to become isolated from those around you. When you work at night and sleep during the day, it often makes socialising difficult.

This can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation. Such emotions can affect your mental wellbeing if you begin to feel cut off from others. It is important to try and find a healthy balance between rest and seeing friends and family.


Many factors can contribute to feelings of depression, including working unsocial hours.

Tiredness, isolation, struggling to maintain healthy relationships and unhealthy lifestyles can all lead to depression. Unsociable hours can affect your emotional state or worsen already diagnosed depression.

Advantages Of Working Unsociable Hours

It isn’t all doom and gloom if you work nights. If it was, nobody would work them and plenty do. Some workers find working night hours to be advantageous.

There are some advantages of working unsociable hours:-

  • Potential to be on a higher wage (depends on contract).
  • Overnight work is generally quieter (not the case for some places obviously).
  • It can be easier to get a job with unsociable hours as not everyone is willing to work them.
  • No rush hour traffic to contend with.
  • It can help keep childcare costs as low as possible.
  • It offers a more flexible lifestyle.

Managing Unsociable Hours

When you are about to embark on a job involving unsociable hours, it is important to balance this with your own health.

Often, people become stressed because they ignore those first telltale signs. Employees should recognise any decline in their well being and try to make things more manageable.

Some ways of keeping health a priority is to:-

  • Take vitamins daily.
  • Rest as much as possible.
  • Take accrued holidays when feeling burnt out.
  • Tell someone you are feeling a bit low.
  • Make sure you take your break entitlements.

Employers can support night workers by:-

  • Carrying out regular wellbeing assessments
  • Making sure employees know they can reach out if needed.
  • Offer flexible working where necessary.
  • Offer sine benefits to working unsocial hours.

See Also: Changing shifts at work law – a guide for those who may be concerned about a change in their working hours, or being asked to work unsocial hours by their employer.


Can I be forced to work unsociable hours?

You can only be forced to work unsociable hours if it is a clause within your contract. If there is nothing regarding this then you cannot be forced to work them.

Do you get paid more for night shifts?

You may not get paid more for working night shifts as this isn’t a legal requirement. It is important to read your contract so you know what to expect.

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