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On-call work scheduling : a multi-method analysis of psychological effects and moderators

Reid, Tracey


Tracey Reid


Peter (Psychologist) Clough


On-call working is a relatively new form of work scheduling in many occupational settings. For a large proportion of employees, being on-call is not an option but an integral component of the job. Essentially, utilising this type of work scheduling is often far less expensive for employers than providing full shift-work cover during out of hours, even when on-call workers receive recompense for such working (Mabon, 1995).

However, research into the negative outcomes of on-call working is extremely limited, especially in relation to other forms of work scheduling such as shift and night-work. Where research into on-call working has been conducted, it has primarily centred around the medical professions, with such studies predominantly focusing on the areas of stress, sleep deficits and personal safety. Moreover, research into gaining an understanding of operational practices, the effects and personality moderators of on-call working remains sparse. Hence, the aim of this thesis is to further explore the negative effects of working on-call in relation to recovery (or lack of), fatigue and stress. In addition by examining the personality traits of desirability for control, risk taking and trait anxiety it may be possible to establish those for whom this type of work scheduling may be particularly detrimental. Therefore the work presented in this thesis attempts to address these issues to see if there are any effects on on-call worker’s state of well-being, whilst taking into account aspects of personality, uses a multi-method approach in its investigations.

A series of four studies were carried out to investigate these issues. The first examines the operational practices and outcomes of on-call working in a group of medical professionals using a qualitative methodology. The second continues to investigate operational practices across a range of occupations using a survey methodology, which incorporates a series of personality moderators to examine the role of individual differences as mediators of the possible effects of working on-call. The third study begins to investigate the impact of shift type within two distinct on-call working professions. It uses both diary and questionnaire methodology to establish differences across shift type and the mediating role of personality as a predictor of any possible negative effects. The final study continues to investigate the possible consequences of on-call working across shift type using a psychophysiological approach via diaries and saliva cortisol samples.

These studies highlight the complexity and diversity of on-call work schedules and indicates that no two on-call schedules are the same, as each is specific to the requirements of the service. It indicates that there are many areas of concern for the health and well-being of on-call workers, especially in relation to lack of recovery, stress, mental well-being, and burnout particularly when on-call called and when on-call not called. Specifically, nearly all of the ratings for the on-call not called were different to those when at rest.

Moreover, the saliva cortisol results indicate that being on-call and not called out is the most stress provoking shift type, contrary to EU ruling (European Working Time Directive 2004). Analysis of the personality measures also revealed that trait anxiety and coping styles are significant predictors of strain. Similarly, different coping styles and social support are key factors and moderators in the ability to cope with the unpredictable nature of on-call.


Reid, T. (2010). On-call work scheduling : a multi-method analysis of psychological effects and moderators. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 22, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Psychology
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Psychology, The University of Hull
Award Date Oct 1, 2010


Thesis (3.1 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2010 Reid, Tracey. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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