After dark: Northwestern campus and student night shift workers discuss late-night rushes, health impacts


Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern

Students and employees work late into the night inside Norris University Center’s Starbucks.

Brigid Reilly, Reporter

As the sun sets over the Northwestern Lakefill and classes wind down for the evening, the bustle inside Norris University Center remains long into the night. 

Overnight employees across campus prepare for the night shift as early as 5 p.m. each evening. From the Norris Center Desk to the University’s late-night dining services, staff work through the night to prepare and serve food and maintain amenities for students. 

“Usually, I’m here from 5 p.m. to 1:30 at night,” said a Compass Group retail supervisor, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. “Not necessarily at Norris, but I’m here at Lisa’s and Fran’s. We get here and it’s pretty calm, but after 9 p.m. it gets a little crazy.” 

He said the night shift starts with a rush of students. As dining halls close for the evening, they often rely on Lisa’s Cafe, Fran’s Cafe and various options at Norris for late-night snacks or meals. Consequently, the overnight employees face a sudden influx of customers.

With long hours and frequent customer traffic, the night shifts can become arduous for campus workers. The supervisor said the job consists of repetitive tasks late into the night and the work is sometimes mentally taxing.

“Usually, it’s just a very active shift,” he said. “(There is) lots of movement and a lot of interactions with students.” 

He said his experience at Norris has been pleasant, but it can be disruptive to his sleep schedule because working late into the night requires him to sleep throughout the day. A U.S. Health and Human Services Department report found night shift work disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms and increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and obesity. 

Norris Center Desk Attendant and McCormick freshman Justin Dong, who works a night shift at least once a week, said he tends to be a night owl, but also finds the shift taxing some nights. 

“I’m more of a night person,” Dong said, “(but) some nights I want to go home early.” 

When Dong works a closing shift at Norris, he stays until midnight. 

Although the time commitment can be strenuous, Dong said he makes the most of the late hours and often finds time to do homework. 

Along with working night shifts, Norris employee Yesica Rico is also a local college student. When she arrives for her shift, Rico begins cleaning, checking in on team members or making sure she has all of the food and equipment needed. She said working the evening hours can be mentally taxing and disruptive to her sleep schedule. 

“It’s really hard to keep up with school and keep up with work,” Rico said. “Especially when you work a nine hour shift and you go to school for five days.”

One unique challenge of the night shift is that she spends the later hours mostly alone, she said.

“The hardest part doesn’t really involve work or the people, it involves ourselves,” Rico said. “When we’re sick, or sad or in a bad mood we just have to deal with it, keep it to ourselves and just keep moving.”

Email: @[email protected]

Twitter:  @brigid_reilly_

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