What Is Shift Work and Who Works Shifts?

Considerations for Both Employees and Customers in a Shift Work Schedule

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Shift work occurs in a work schedule that necessitates 24 hours a day and occasionally, 7 days a week, to keep an organization operating without a hitch. Shift work occurs whenever 24-hour coverage is necessary or when a 24-hour day is needed to optimize work output and productivity. There are many approaches to shift work. For example, an employee may work 8 hours during a day that consists of three 8-hour shifts. Or, an employee may work twelve hours a day for 4 straight days and then be off the next 4 days.

Employers have experimented with every conceivable form of shift work in an effort to maximize the potential of their operation while also considering how to minimize any ill effects on their workers. Those working the night shift, in particular, are susceptible to debilitating health effects due to lack of sick and poor eating habits. 

Shift work, in which an employee works the same shift consistently, is always better for employee health and allows the employee to create a fulfilling lifestyle and home life. Conversely, constantly changing shifts disrupts one's life patterns.

Who Does Shift Work?

Once the purview of the manufacturing world, today shift work occurs in many industries and fields. Fields and operations that employ shift workers include law enforcement; military; security; healthcare; retail; restaurants; hospitality; grocery stores; transportation; fire stations; convenience stores; customer service call centers; newspapers, and media. The list also includes any facility that houses people 24 hours a day such as prisons, nursing homes, hotels, and college dorms.

Hiring Employees to Work Shifts

When you hire new employees it's much easier to attract talent if you have established 8-hour shifts. The employee knows what to expect and can decide to accept or turn down the job based on the impact it will have on their family, hobbies, or other lifestyle choices.

A nurse, for example, should know what to expect in his or her schedule before accepting a hospital job where night work is common. If a nurse can only work during the day, they should consider working in a doctor's office where extended patient care usually means putting in an extra hour or two after closing.

Introducing shift work into a workplace that has traditionally worked 8 p.m. to 5 p.m.days is problematic. Not only are you changing the conditions of employment, you are disrupting families. Introducing shift work after the fact is always contentious and will produce turnover

Modified Shift Work

In businesses committed to servicing customers outside of the traditional eight-hour day, modified shift work, extended shifts, or overlapping shifts make the most sense. For example, a software development company posts on their website that customer service and technical support is available between Monday through Sunday, 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. EST.

People working at the beginning and the end of the shift will have crossover time with other employees but their work hours are modified to provide coverage. For example, an employee might work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., while another employee might work 1 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

In instances of exempt employees working shifts in a white-collar environment, employers need data about how the extended shifts affect satisfaction. Requiring employees to work well into the evening and give up valuable family or social time will not encourage employee retention, especially among Millennials with the technical skills to move on to another job.

State and Federal Laws

In all shift work, federal and state labor laws govern topics such as meal periods, minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and breaks, especially for nonexempt employees.

Also Known As: day shift, afternoon shift, night shift, graveyard shift, first shift, second shift, third shift, midnight shift