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What Is Shift Work?

Updated on May 7, 2017
davidlivermore profile image

David has over 10 years supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge in how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

At all times someone is working shift work hours.
At all times someone is working shift work hours. | Source

Author's Experience

For over 14 years I worked in a job that required shift work. I have worked different kinds of shifts, with different kinds of days off. I have supervised a 24/7 operation, requiring me to determine and work with a schedule that has staff working at all times.

Definition of Shift Work

Shift work is having a workplace that has staffing coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This can include weekends and holidays. This results in employees being expected to work any shift, at any time, and may require overtime to cover any vacant shifts that require coverage.

There are also some organizations that have shifts that don't need round the clock coverage. Even though there is shift work, it's not as demanding as full 24/7 coverage.

This article will cover:

  • The various types of shift work, including examples of schedules.
  • The pros and cons of working shift work.
  • The difficulties a supervisor has to contend with when managing a 24/7 operation.
  • Shift work sleep disorder and other conditions affected by shift work.
  • My own personal experiences in dealing with shift work.

Jobs that Require Shift Work

 
 
 
Military
Law Enforcement
Gambling
Fast Food
Convenience Store
Security
Media
Utilities
Transportation
Hotels
Hospitals
Fire Department
Adult Entertainment
Bars
Industry
With shift work, you never know what hours or days you are going to be working.
With shift work, you never know what hours or days you are going to be working. | Source

What is your favorite type of shift to work?

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Types of Shift Work

Typically, most workplaces have a schedule that requires the employee to work five days a week. There can be four types of shifts:

  • Day Shift - This involves working hours during the day, this being considered a "normal" schedule.
  • Swing Shift - After everyone leaves for the day, the afternoon shift comes on duty, and typically is off just in time for bed at night.
  • Graveyard Shift - The name is a dead giveaway. This shift involves working at night, forgoing sleep to cover what can be considered a hard shift.
  • Split Shift - This shift can consist of working a split between two of the shifts stated above.

There can be other types of shifts, depending on the workplace. You could be at a job that requires four, 10-hour shifts. Or a job that has two, 12-hour shifts followed by having two days off. Some professions, such as the military, may not even use the 24-hour period to determine a schedule.

Below are some examples of what some of these schedules can look like. These examples just require one person working at a time. In larger organizations, a more diverse schedule may be necessary if two or more people have to be working at a time.

8-Hour Shift Schedule

 
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thur
Fri
Sat
Sun
Shift 1
Day Off
Day Off
0800-1600
0800-1600
0800-1600
0800-1600
0800-1600
Shift 2
0800-1600
0800-1600
0800-1600
0800-1600
0800-1600
Day Off
Day Off
Shift 3
1600-0000
1600-0000
Day Off
Day Off
1600-0000
1600-0000
1600-0000
Shift 4
1600-0000
1600-0000
1600-0000
1600-0000
Day Off
Day Off
1600-0000
Shift 5
0000-0800
0000-0800
0000-0800
Day Off
Day Off
0000-0800
0000-0800
Shift 6
Day Off
0000-0800
0000-0800
0000-0800
0000-0800
0000-0800
Day Off
An example of a schedule ensuring 24/7 coverage, using 8-hour shifts. Shift hours often work in military time.

10-Hour Shift Schedule

 
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thur
Fri
Sat
Sun
Shift 1
0700-1700
0700-1700
0700-1700
0700-1700
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
Shift 2
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
0700-1700
0700-1700
0700-1700
0700-1700
Shift 3
1500-0100
1500-0100
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
1500-0100
1500-0100
Shift 4
Day Off
Day Off
1500-0100
1500-0100
1500-0100
1500-0100
Day Off
Shift 5
2300-0900
2300-0900
2300-0900
2300-0900
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
Shift 6
2300-0900
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
2300-0900
2300-0900
2300-0900
An example of a schedule ensuring 24/7 coverage, using 10-hour shifts. It also has overlapping coverage.

12-Hour Shift Schedule

 
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thur
Fri
Sat
Sun
Shift 1
0700-1900
0700-1900
0700-1900
0700-1900
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
Shift 2
0700-1900
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
0700-1900
0700-1900
0700-1900
Shift 3
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
1900-0700
1900-0700
1900-0700
1900-0700
Shift 4
1900-0700
1900-0700
1900-0700
1900-0700
Day Off
Day Off
Day Off
An example of a schedule ensuring 24/7 coverage, using 12-hour shifts. It also has overlapping coverage and built in overtime.
With shift work, you could be constantly looking at a clock to see when you come in and when you leave at the end of the day.
With shift work, you could be constantly looking at a clock to see when you come in and when you leave at the end of the day. | Source

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The Pros and Cons of Shift Work

There are various pros to working in a profession that has shift work:

  • Overtime. If a profession requires shift work, then more than likely there are shifts that always have to be covered. You can earn a lot of money working overtime.
  • Variety. Depending how your profession handles assigning shifts, you could find variety in working different days, hours, and work assignments.
  • Pay. Some professions give more pay for those willing to work different shifts.

There are also cons to consider:

  • Overtime. For those who don't want to work more than they have to, overtime would be a bane of shift work. Especially if your employer requires it.
  • Family. When you have to work shift work, your family life can suffer, especially if your work hours conflict with the time with your family.
  • Shift. Depending how your workplace does things, you could get moved around to shifts you don't want, with little or no warning.

I got married when I was 16 so I had to do shift-work to make ends meet.

— Tom Jones
Supervising those in a unit that has shift work can be a difficult task.
Supervising those in a unit that has shift work can be a difficult task. | Source

Pros and Cons

Supervisors are not immune to the pros and cons of shift work. They may be required to work other shifts, work overtime, and have their family life suffer. Their job can even be more stressful, as they have to attend to their supervisory duties as well.

Supervisors are always racing against the clock when it comes to shift work.
Supervisors are always racing against the clock when it comes to shift work. | Source

Supervising those in Shift Work

There are difficulties in supervising a workplace that requires shift work, such as:

  • Not seeing your staff. Sometimes you can't interact with your staff. There are times when you see them when you are starting your shift and they are leaving. A solution to that is to flex your hours or work overtime to work with them.
  • Passing on information. It is easy to hold meetings when everyone is working all at the same time, but with shift work that isn't possible. Fortunately, e-mails, memos, and word of mouth can make up for that.
  • Discipline. It can be hard to discipline an employee if you can't see them doing anything wrong. You have to rely on their co-workers to tell you of problems and the quality of their work.
  • Shift coverage. When staff call in sick, want vacation, etc. finding coverage for their shift can be difficult. It results in hard decisions and sometimes upsetting employees if you have to deny time off requests or require mandatory overtime.
  • Always on duty. When you are a supervisor over an office that has staff on at all times, you can expect to receive calls at home with questions, reading your e-mail during your off hours, etc.

With shift work, it often feels like time is spiraling out of control.
With shift work, it often feels like time is spiraling out of control. | Source

Has shift work affected your life in a negative way?

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Medical Problems Due to Shift Work

Working shift work can affect the body and mind over a period of time. There are considitions that should be dealt with appropriately and immediately, even finding non-shift work if it helps improve the health of the employee. Such conditions are:

  • Shift work sleep disorder. This condition is a result of working shift work, and one I have experienced myself. The person will find themselves excessively tired, wanting to sleep, yet experiencing insomnia. Some people just can't handle shift work.
  • Stress. Stress increases when you have to work shift work, since you never know what schedule you will be on, a difficult family life, etc.
  • Obesity. With shift work, you can find yourself snacking more since you won't be eating regular meals throughout the day.
  • Diseases and cancer. Studies have shown that working shift work can contribute to the chance of various diseases and cancer.
  • Drug abuse. Substance abuse can increase when working shift work. Either from illegal drugs, or abusing medications such as sleeping pills.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift work can be a bad experience if you let it.
Shift work can be a bad experience if you let it. | Source

Personal Experiences of Working Shift Work

For over 15 years I worked at a job that required shift work. During that time I have amassed many experiences on how shift work has positively and negatively affected my life. Here are a few of those stories:

  • I was working the swing shift, but due to staffing shortages, we had no staffing on our graveyard shift. This required mandatory overtime each and every day. At the time this wasn't an issue for me, so I was working two overtime shifts a week. The pay was nice, and I was working alone. It was easy overtime.
  • At another office I was working the afternoon shift. Unfortunately, I was due to start the graveyard shift. I had worked it before and it adversely affected my life. So I did what I needed to do to survive - I transferred to another department and maintained my swing shift hours.
  • I was working an overtime shift from 2300 to 0300, and this was after my regular shift of 1500 to 2300. My relief never showed up at 0300. I attempted to call the person, but received no answer. I could have called my supervisor, but not much could have been done at that time to get someone in, since my job involved a small bit of travel. I had no choice but to stay until 0700, thus working a 16 hour shift. I had to make it back in by 1500 the same day, so I had only eight hours off between shifts.

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    • Morbid Solutions profile image

      Morbid Solutions 11 months ago from USA

      Awesome article. I really dislike swing shifts and graveyard shifts. If you are a private duty CNA your hours are often crazy because you do not go home. I used to do 36 hour shift and 72 hour shifts. It messed my sleep up big time. I did make a lot of money doing it. Pros you make some awesome pay and the con it will take a toll on your health. I did do a call center working ten hour shifts. I got three days off and doing tens were actually better than doing a normal eight hour shift. My husband on the other hand did twelve hour shifts working at the prison. It was nice but it did take its toll on him too. He did that schedule for seven years! The money he made was also good, but it did mess up his sleep.

    • KenWu profile image

      KenWu 4 years ago from Malaysia

      I deeply love this article, nicely done with adequate info. The writer knows what he is writing cause he is in the field himself.

      Great job David!

      Voted UP, awesome, interesting, beautiful and useful. Shared it with other hubbers too.

    • skgrao profile image

      S K G Rao. 4 years ago from Bangalore City - INDIA.

      Sir,

      I have mentioned that no shift work other than essential work.

      I have worked in textile industry and I have seen how managements exploit workmen and enjoy the benefits of hard work of their own men and deny it to the workers like,by not providing drinking water or a cup of Tea free it is now in Garment Industry existing now in Bangalore where 99% are Lady's.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      skgrao, what you propose is near impossible. In many organizations like the military or law enforcement, 12 hour shifts are necessary and not a lot of what you stated can be provided. While extra pay can be given to those who work shift, the percentage can't be that high, it would bankrupt most organizations.

    • skgrao profile image

      S K G Rao. 4 years ago from Bangalore City - INDIA.

      There should be no shift work other than essential woks.Those who work shifts must get must get shift allowance of 33% of their salary extra for the days they work after sunset.No work for more than 8 hours and breaking shifts as told in this hub is unnecessary as there is tension of reporting for work twice. If there is shift it should be only 8 hour shifts from 7 to 3,3 to 11,11 to 7 and it must be only for 7 days ( 6 days work one day rest after rest he can go to next shift, shift workers must have option for change in work,that is if he is on table work and gets fed up he should be provided the work that does not involve table work is available as mutual exchange or compulsary. ).There should be food served in all sh ifts,Milk for people who work in 11 to 7 shift.Lunch break 30 minutes in all shifts.

    • profile image

      Joanne M Olivieri 4 years ago

      I have worked and am currently working shift hours. This is a very useful hub full of information and is a huge help to anyone who is working shift hours or even considering working shifts. It's not for everyone so this article is very helpful.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Congratulations on Hub of the Day! Nicely done.

      Shift work has its rewards and deficits, as you've so aptly covered here. For people who have never worked 3rd shift, it is difficult for them to appreciate how grueling it can be lifestyle-wise. My hat is off to any and all who successfully navigate shift work.

      Voted up and Shared.

    • profile image

      Deb Welch 4 years ago

      Great useful Hub. I have worked shift work practically all of my working life - I know the information is right-on-the-money. Yes it is stressful and I have problems with sleep. I only worked the graveyard shift in the Navy with Communications, 56 hr. rotating watch bill - all 3 shifts - 3 days on and 3 days off. I was young then couldn't do that now. Good charts. Congrats - as well.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 4 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      You did your homework on this one. Congratulations on a fine piece of writing. In my near 30 years working in and industrial plant I worked various shifts. I always hate the evening shift (3pm until 11pm) We received a 5% premium for the shift. I also worked the 3rd shift (11pm until 7am) which I hated. Thankfully for the most part I worked days. Some facilities here in WNC work an alternating shift with days and nights included on a rotating basis. I have always thought sleeping was for the nighttime and working during the day but I have know folks who wouldn't want to work any other shift than one at night. Certain the disruption to the biological clock can only be detrimental to ones health.

    • Night Magic profile image

      Night Magic 4 years ago from Canada

      Very Informative. I'm glad you included health issues that can be caused from working shift work. Congrats on LotD. Voting up

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 4 years ago from Malaysia

      This is a very informative hub and congrats on your HOTD award. I didn't know that working shift might give you diseases such as cancer, probably due to stress.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      I have worked in a variety of careers. The advantage to being a caregiver is that you can work virtually any shift you want, including graveyard and split. I once worked a private duty case in Seattle that ended at 1 o'clock in the morning. As I was driving home, I was treated to a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis. How many people get that as an after-work treat???

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Thank you everyone for the wonderful comments. I am quite surprised as well that this hub made HOTD, but I am very pleased about it. Not many know the burdens of shift work, so I hoped I opened some eyes.

    • moronkee profile image

      Moronke Odugbesan 4 years ago

      I appreciate the information on shift work.I'm a teacher and I don't have

      any problem with shift work.

    • profile image

      yamm 4 years ago

      Ya i loved how it created a nice image of clockes ;0

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 4 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      Nice hub indeed. Almost forgot what shift work is all about being here on HP all the time. Congrats! On your HOTD, that is.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I read this hub because I thought, really? HOD? For this? But as I read I saw a welll-constructed hub that would deserve this honor whatever the subject matter. You covered several aspects of the subject and organized the material in several different ways. Good job.

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico

      I would have never imagined such a complete and informative hub on this subject. I do think it deserves being Hub of the Day, congratulations! I have seen this kind of shift work up close with my sister who studied medicine and had 32 hours shifts followed by a day shift (usual 8 hours) and then again 32 hours. I thought it to be inhuman and very detrimental to her health. I think if it was me, I would have never been able to survive it!

    • bn9900 profile image

      Clayton Hartford 4 years ago from Alger WA

      Great informative hub. I used to work retail and in that industry it is so called shift work as you never know what shift you are working. The retailers I worked at scheduled you two weeks out, but you never knew what you were working, or how many hours you might be working.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Thank you so much for the compliment.

    • profile image

      shubh008 4 years ago

      This is one of the best hub i have read in a while..:]

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Thanks so much!

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 4 years ago from United States

      This is full of information. Your tables were really helpful. Voted up!

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Thank you both of the comments! Jumping into shift work requires a lot of thought beforehand, as it can drastically change your life.

    • jaydene profile image

      jaydene 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Wow , i found i was getting fatigue just reading all this. Very informative and although i have never worked shifts like these, I'll know what it's all about should i get into that.

      Great Hub

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Great Hub, davidlivermore. Full of facts and useful information that anyone considering doing shift work might benefit from.

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