What Are Work Shifts and Work Shift Hours?

A Guide to Shift Work

As regular business hours come to an end, most companies are ready to call it a day. But for many companies and organizations, 5 p.m. just means a change in work shifts.

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When companies have to operate during the night or on weekends, they hire employees for the specific purpose of working these extra shift hours.

Read on to explore the idea of work shifts and the types of industries that need them.

Common Shift Work Industries and Jobs

Not everyone likes to work between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some people have obligations during those hours, while others feel they are more productive later in the day or even overnight. Whatever the reason, if you prefer working outside of regular business hours, you can find a suitable job in an industry known for shift work.

Industries that use shift work do so because the nature of their operations requires them to,  because they want to increase productivity, or to meet customer expectations.

Businesses or organizations that use 24-hour coverage have options for splitting their work shifts. For example:

  • Eight-hour shifts (a.m., p.m., or overnight) on a fixed or rotating schedule
  • Four 10-hour shifts followed by three days off
  • Several 12-hour shifts followed by several days off

Here are some industries where shift work is common, along with some of the jobs you might find in those sectors.

Health Care

Health care facilities don’t get to choose when a patient might need help. They need staff available 24/7. Hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities typically need both medical and non-medical personnel working around the clock. Some of the positions health care facilities need include:

Public Safety

You’ve probably heard the proverb, “crime never sleeps.” Well, neither does the public safety industry. Emergencies do not wait for business hours, so communities need public safety workers to be available at all times. Police and fire departments, ambulance companies, and prisons all rely on shift workers to ensure the safety of the communities they serve.


With the increasing popularity of online shopping, brick-and-mortar retail establishments have to step up their game. For many stores, that means extended store hours and the need for more shift workers. Big box stores, convenience stores, grocery stores, or any store that chooses to stay open after 5 p.m. needs workers for jobs including:


The hospitality industry needs staff 24/7. Businesses including hotels and motels, resorts, casinos, bars, and restaurants strive to cater to their guests’ needs regardless of the time, day or night. To provide exemplary service, they need the help of these workers:

Customer Service

Customers often expect answers to questions or the ability to vent their frustrations at employees both during and after traditional business hours. Some companies fulfill this need with call centers, while others prefer to interact via online chat or social media. Either way, businesses need people to respond to after-hours customer needs with employees such as:

Shift Work Glossary of Terms

If you’re looking into shift work, there are several terms you should know.

Afternoon Shift

Afternoon shift is another name for the second shift or swing shift. Workers clock in for afternoon shifts at around 3 p.m. and work until around midnight when third shift workers arrive.

Day Shift

Day shift refers to the first shift, which takes place during daytime hours. The day shift usually follows the typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.

First Shift

If you’re in the first shift, you typically work during regular business hours. Your day should begin at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. Working during this time means you get a reasonably standard workday, complete with the morning and afternoon commute and evenings off, so you can go out with friends at night or have dinner with your family.

Fixed Shift

Fixed shifts are when all employees have a consistent shift schedule. For example, one group of employees will always work the day shift, while others will always be scheduled for afternoon shifts, and a third group of workers will always get night shifts.

Graveyard Shift

The third shift is also known as the graveyard shift, midnight shift, or night shift. Because fewer customers and colleagues are typically around during this time, it’s like working in a graveyard.

Midnight Shift

Shifts that start at midnight and go until early morning are often referred to as, unsurprisingly, the midnight shift. Synonyms include the night shift, third shift, and graveyard shift.

Night Shift

Night shift is yet another way of referring to the third shift, also called the midnight shift and the graveyard shift. This shift typically begins at midnight and ends in the morning when the day shift arrives.

Rotating Schedule

Also called rotational shift work, rotating schedules are essentially the opposite of fixed shifts. The shifts rotate among employees, sometimes on a set schedule and sometimes depending on the employer’s needs. For example, a worker on a rotating schedule might work the first shift on Mondays and Tuesdays, the third shift on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the second shift on Thursdays.

Second Shift

The second shift comes after the day shift hours and runs from around 3 p.m. to midnight. Second shift workers often earn slightly higher wages than first shift workers, because it’s not always easy for businesses to find people who are willing to work after-hours. Another advantage is being able to schedule doctor visits and shop in stores during regular business hours without taking off from work. The second shift is also called the swing or afternoon shift, even though it goes well into the evening and night.

Split Shift

A split shift is when an employee works two separate shifts on the same day. Split shifts are common in industries with peak hours throughout the day, such as the restaurant industry, where workers might clock in for the morning or lunch rush, clock out for the afternoon, and come back for the dinner crowd.

Swing Shift

Swing shift is another way of saying afternoon shift or second shift. The swing shift will typically start mid- or late-afternoon and end at around midnight.

Third Shift

The third shift relieves the afternoon shift. The hours may differ among employers, but the third shift usually begins between 10 p.m. and midnight and ends sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. One of the biggest perks of working the third shift—also called the graveyard shift, the night shift, or the midnight shift—is that it usually comes with a higher pay rate.

Negotiate Your Shift Hours Up Front

Shift work has its advantages and disadvantages. If you do end up working for a company that has work shifts, it’s important to have some control over when you’re on duty. Otherwise, you might get stuck with inconvenient shift hours or your employer could assign you to a shift that might not work for you. With at least some level of control, though, shift work could be a great enhancement to your career.

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