A shout-out to my awesome night shift folks

Happy New Year, everybody!

We’re getting a bit of a slow start here, and part of that is because  I’m one of those people who shifted into a delayed sleep phase as a teenager, and then never shifted back… so while most of my peers are in bed by ten or eleven at night, that’s when I’m starting laundry and doing a lot of my creative work.

Fortunately my husband’s as much (or more) of a night owl as I am, and the dogs sleep any time they want, so I’m not really disturbing anyone… especially when we were on vacation for two and a half weeks at the end of the year together and nobody has to get up for work.

Unfortunately, I’m sleeping much closer to “what my body prefers” than I was in, say, November. It’s fine to sleep 2am-11am on the Saturday before New Year’s, and not so much on the Wednesday after. Delayed sleep phase is often described as “social jet lag” because my job, my doctor’s office, my contractors, etc. are all dressed and at work when I’m in my fourth hour of sleep, and they often think I’m lazy or irresponsible for staying up late and sleeping in, as if I had a choice.

Under the category of “health issues that could qualify as disabilities” my husband and I both have bigger fish to fry. At the same time it’s a legitimate problem with a legitimate diagnosis and symptoms and all that. (It might be genetic.)  Severe cases are, in the US, considered a disability.

My sleep proclivities are one of the reasons I work in tech. I’m no nudist on the late shift, but I’m also clearly not cut out for anything that begins “Wake up at 5 am…” and web technology’s overall culture tends to be more forgiving for scheduling oddities than, say, running a daycare. My current schedule allows for a 10ish to 7ish shift, so that’s what I run on. (And even that’s earlier than my body wants me to get up.)

So thanks to good planning and good luck, I work a job that aligns better than most with my sleep schedule. This introduces a different problem: some days, I don’t want to go home at the end of my shift.

For me, the creative “in the zone” “get things done” hours happen sometime after 4pm (and then again around 11pm), and by working 10am-7pm I’m usually getting a good 3 hours of creative desk time without interruption.

If you’ve ever fallen into “the zone” where all the problems seem to be in sharp focus and everything else in the world melts away, you know how easy it can be during that time to lose track of time. At my last job I had to set alarms (multiples, because it’s also really easy to blow off an alarm when one is lost in one’s work) and even have my husband call me to remind me to come home — otherwise I’d suddenly look up at 8:30 and go “oh shit,  not again”.

But in my current position, things are easier because I’m not alone. There are roughly five of us working the 10-7 “night” shift, and we keep an eye on each other (and the clock).  Monday three of them appeared at my desk at 7:05 to remind me it was time to go home, and stayed at my desk until I’d shut down so we could walk out together. Today, I was the one who hit a good spot to break away from my work at 7 and rounded up the others (including a day shift straggler).

We take care of each other because we care about each other and know we all work better when we get away from the office. We take care of each other because we don’t want to work at a place that expects 60-hour weeks. We also take care of each other because it sets a good example for the shorter-tenured or younger members of our teams. We all end up working late occasionally, but it shouldn’t be a daily practice, and if we catch someone working late on a regular basis we start asking questions. (It helps that a couple of us are of the Tech Lead / Team Lead / Principal rank and can ask questions.)

All this to say that, because we’re all working together with the same values, we can both support the profound diversity of our teams and ensure that we’re working healthy hours, which keeps the team happier, healthier, and more efficient.

This isn’t a culture that I set, but it’s one I’m happy to actively participate in and advocate to keep. Having left a job where “do more with less” meant “do more work with a shorter deadline” and where “work/life balance” meant “please work from any part of your life”, I find it amazing  that I can solve complex tricky problems on tight deadlines with people who also believe in the value of going home and playing video games until we’re finally tired around 1am.

So this is a shout-out to Jason, Eric, and the other more-random night-shifters, who for two years now have helped me be a better person, and have endured my somewhat-gentle browbeating when they, too, got caught up in their work.

And it’s a shout out to the rest of the night shifters out there. You’re not alone and you’re not weird, you’re just outnumbered 🙂

Author: Anne Gibson

anne gibson is a Senior Staff Product Designer and General Troublemaker working on design systems from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things. (The terriers are winning.)