A Guide to Shift Work
Typical office jobs follow regular business hours, like the standard 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Businesses and organizations that need to operate around the clock—or at least longer than the corporate eight-hour workday—rely on shift work to keep operations running smoothly.
Organizations that require 24-hour coverage have several options when scheduling employees for shift work:
- Eight-hour shifts (a.m., p.m., or overnight) on a fixed or rotating schedule
- Four ten-hour shifts followed by three days off
- Several 12-hour shifts followed by several days off
Shift Work Glossary of Terms
Get familiar with common terms for different shifts.
The first shift is nearly always in line with traditional business hours—8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. until around 5:00 p.m. Working first shift means you get a reasonably standard workday, complete with the morning and evening commute, and evenings off so you can have dinner with your family or friends.
The second shift typically runs from around 4:00 p.m. to midnight. It’s the shift immediately following the first shift. Second shift workers often earn slightly higher wages than first shift workers, because finding people who are willing to work that late can be a challenge for businesses. The second shift is also referred to as the swing shift or afternoon shift, even though it goes well into the evening and night.
The third shift comes after the second shift. The hours may differ between employers, but the third shift usually begins sometime between 10:00 p.m. and midnight and ends sometime between 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 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 the higher pay rate that comes with it.
Afternoon shift is another name for the second shift or swing shift. Workers clock in for afternoon shifts around 3:00 p.m. or a little later and work until around midnight when third shift workers arrive to take over.
Day shift refers to the first shift, which takes place during daytime hours. The day shift usually follows the typical nine-to-five workday.
Fixed shifts provide workers with a steady routine by consistently scheduling employees in one type of shift. For example, one group of employees will always be assigned day shifts, while others will always be scheduled for afternoon shifts, and a third group of workers will always get night shifts.
Graveyard shift is a synonym for third shift, midnight shift, and night shift. Because there are typically fewer customers and colleagues on the clock, it’s like working in a graveyard.
Shifts that start at midnight and go until early morning are often referred to as, unsurprisingly, the midnight shift. Synonyms include night shift, third shift, and graveyard shift.
Night shift is just another way of referring to the third shift, also called the midnight shift and the graveyard shift. This shift takes place during the night hours.
Also called rotational shift work, rotating schedules are essentially the opposite of fixed shifts. The different shifts rotate between employees, sometimes on a set schedule and sometimes depending on the employer’s needs. For example, a worker on a rotating schedule might work first shift on Monday and Tuesday, third shift on Wednesday and Friday, and second shift on Thursday and Saturday.
A split shift occurs when an employee works two separate shifts on the same day. The shifts have to be separated by more than a regular rest break or lunch break. 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, then clock out for the afternoon, and then come back in time to work the dinner crowd.
Swing shift is another way of saying afternoon shift or second shift. The swing shift will typically start in mid-afternoon and end around midnight.
Common Shift Work Industries and Jobs
Some people like the stability of the nine-to-five, but if you would prefer a different schedule, consider looking for a job in an industry known for shift work.
Two types of industries utilize shift work:
- The ones that need to due to the nature of their operations
- The ones that choose to for increased productivity or to meet customer expectations
We’ve compiled a list of industries that commonly utilize shift work and popular jobs in those sectors.
Any health care facility that tends to patients day and night requires around-the-clock staff. Think hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. Health care facilities need people to fill medical and non-medical positions, such as:
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 hours. Police and fire departments, ambulance companies, and prisons all rely on shift workers to ensure the safety of the communities they serve.
- Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)
- Police Officers
- Security Guards
- Correctional Officers
Thanks to the rise of online shopping and instant gratification, brick-and-mortar retail establishments have to adapt to customers’ demanding expectations, and that means extended store hours and the need for more shift workers. Big box stores, convenience stores, grocery stores… basically any store that sells any kind of product need workers for jobs like:
The hospitality industry thrives on providing excellent guest service during the day and late into the night. Businesses like hotels and motels, resorts, casinos, bars, and restaurants could not function without these workers:
Even after business hours, customers often expect access to employees to get answers to questions or to vent frustrations. Some companies fulfill this need with call centers, while others prefer online chat platforms or social media interactions. Either way, businesses need people to respond to after-hours customer needs in jobs such as:
Written by Jessica L. Mendes.