Night work and working conditions in 2009

A recent study by the French government’s statistics body, Dares, found that night work in France has become more prevalent over the past 20 years, with some 3.5 million people working at night either regularly or from time to time. Women are more affected than men by this increase. Public sector employees are more likely to work at night than those in the private sector. The more physical and mentally strenuous working conditions at night are compensated for by higher pay.

In February 2011, the French Agency for Studies, Research and Statistics (Dares, part of the Ministry of Work, Employment and Health) published the results of a study (in French, 187Kb PDF) on night work in France in 2009, including a comparison with the extent of night work in 1991 and 2002. The study was based on data taken from three employment surveys carried out by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee) in 1991, 2002 and 2009. The definition of ‘night work’ used by Insee and Dares is when someone’s working hours are between midnight and 5 am.

Steady rise in night work over the past 20 years

In 2009, 15.2% of the French working population worked at night, with 7.2% doing so on a regular basis and 8.0% from time to time (see figure). On the whole this represents abut 3.5 million workers.

A steady rise in the share of workers working at night was observed compared with 1991 and 2002 (13.3% in 1991 and 14.3% in 2002), with a significant increase in night work on a regular basis (3.5% in 1991 and 5.1% in 2002) and a slight decrease in night work on an occasional basis (9.5% in 1991 and 9.2% in 2002). The trend is therefore for workers to work more frequently at night and do so more frequently on a regular basis.

Trends in night work among the working population

Figure 1: Trends in night work among the working population

Source: Insee, Employment surveys, 1991, 2002, 2009

Men are more likely than women to work at night, but the number of women working at night has increased to a greater extent and, as a result, the share of women among night workers has increased. In 1991, 20% of workers at night were women, but in 2009, they represented 29% of night workers (Figure 1).

Public sector has higher share of night work

Regardless of whether people work in the private or the public sector, a key determinant of night work is their occupation. Employees in the public sector are more affected by night work than employees in the private sector. This is mainly because many public occupations traditionally work at night such as the police, fire-fighters and nurses in state-owned hospitals. Nevertheless, night work is common within industry, particularly the food processing and the automotive sectors. Table 1 lists the main occupations working at night in 2009.

Table 1: Main occupations performing night work, 2009
  Number of night workers Share of night workers
Drivers 279,000 40%
Army, police, firefighters 268,000 71%
Nurses, midwives 211,000 44%
Qualified workers in the process industries 143,000 46%
Auxiliary nurses 140,000 27%
Cleaners 115,000 9%

Source: Insee, Employment survey, 2009

Employment status

Women who are temporary agency workers tend to work more often at night (17%) than other private sector female employees (8%). Male temporary agency workers are no more likely than other men from across the private sector to work at night.

Working conditions

The working conditions for night workers differ from those of day workers (Table 2). Night workers are more likely to have unpredictable working hours (for example, changing times between weeks, not knowing their working hours from one day to another) and tend to work to tighter deadlines. They feel greater responsibility and at risk of making mistakes, causing accidents or being subject to aggression. Night workers are more likely than day workers to report that they expect not to be able to work up to the age of 60. However, night workers tend to benefit more from support from colleagues and seem more informed about occupational risks and health at work.

On the whole, night work appears to be more strenuous than day work and has a detrimental effect on workers’ health on the long run (Wedderburn, 2000; Erren et al, 2008; Coutrot and Rouxel, 2011). But because night work implies negative aspects such as a negative impact on health and unsocial working hours, it is better paid. It is estimated that a regular night worker is paid 7.9% more than someone who never works at night.

Table 2: Working conditions
  Night workers (%) Day workers (%)
Time pressure    
To be always or often in a hurry 52.4 47.1
To have fixed deadlines and not be able to change them 37.9 30.5
At least three rhythm constraints among height1 50.2 33.1
Task frequently interrupted for another 58.7 59.6
Tasks: variety and leeway    
Work permits to learn new things 73.3 76.0
Polyvalence 34.5 23.1
As a positive aspect 67 73.3
As a source of mistake 21.9 18
Monotonous tasks (always or often) 16.8 14.8
Complex tasks (always or often) 33.4 28.0
Strict application of instructions 40.7 34.2
Left to cope with incidents 48.1 52.0
Feeling of being responsible    
A mistake could lead to:    
Serious consequences for quality of service or product 77.8 60.0
High financial costs for the enterprise 63.6 48.2
Serious consequences for own or someone else’s health 67.6 37.1
Disciplinary measures 77.3 57.3
Support and help    
Possibility of cooperating with colleagues 91.2 88.6
Help from colleagues 79.4 72.5
Tensions with hierarchy 32.1 25.4
Collective discussions on organisation 79.7 70.9
In contact with people in distress 47.9 36.1
Must calm down people 55.7 45.0
Tensions with customers (patients) 51.5 40.4
Verbal aggression 11.5 6.1
Strenuous work, exposure to risks    
At least one physical strain2 82.7 66.7
At least one vigilance constrain3 70.1 55.4
Exposure to toxic products 43.6 25.5
At risk of injury or occupational accident 71.3 44.0
At risk of road accident 42.8 27.8
Received information about risks 30.8 17.3
Received information about security 34.7 17.2
Received security instructions 63 38.9
Fear of losing job 18.9 17.2
Did not expect to able to work until 60 48.9 37.7


1Including automatic moving of product, automatic rhythm of a machine, other technical constraints, depending on one or several colleague(s), work to be completed in one day at most, immediate response needed, always hierarchical control and computer control.

2Including having to stand up or work in a strenuous position, frequent or long walking distances, heavy loads, painful or exhausting movements, exposure to vibrations.

3Not to be able to stop paying attention to work, required to read tiny numbers or letters, required to pay attention to tiny objects, required to pay attention to short visual signals or sounds.

Source: Source: Insee, Employment survey, 2009


Algava, E., Le travail de nuit des salaries en 2009 (187Kb PDF), Dares Analyses, No. 009, February 2011.

Courtot, T. and Rouxel, C., Emploi et santé des séniors durablement exposés à des pénibilités au cours de leur carriere (642Kb PDF), Dares Analyses, No. 020, March 2011.

Erren, T.C., Pape, H.G., Reiter, R.J. and Piekarski, C., ‘Chronodisruption and cancer’, Naturwissenschaften, Vol. 95, No. 5, 2008, pp. 367–382.

Wedderburn, A., 2000, Shiftwork and health (304Kb PDF), BEST European Studies on Time, Luxembourg, Phlications Office of the European Union.

Sarah Mongourdin-Denoix, HERA

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