Shift work is a term used to describe specific hours in the day (within a 24-hour timeframe) when work is performed. The exact hours worked are based on the type of shift work—for instance, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. typically represents the first shift, and Saturday and Sunday hours represent the weekend shift. Knowing what shifts are needed and effectively scheduling your employees to cover those shifts is pivotal to the success of your business.
8 Types of Shift Work Schedules
While there are different types of shift work, they all fall into the same 24-hour period. Businesses that are open 24/7 need to cover every shift. A company that is only open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. will only need employees during the first shift. Other businesses, such as restaurants, will need to cover multiple shifts.
We have broken the shifts down into the eight most common types.
First shift is generally referred to as a typical working day. Work shift hours can vary but usually fall between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., with the most common being 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The first shift is typical of businesses such as general offices, banks, doctor’s offices, and companies that are only open Monday through Friday.
For many people, the first shift is the only shift they can work. This gives them time to take care of their families and other obligations outside of work. First shift workers are usually done by early evening, letting them enjoy the rest of their day.
First-shift workers are an important part of the workforce as they set the tone for the rest of the day. Without them, businesses would not be able to function properly.
Second shift, also known as the swing shift (the time between when the day shift ends and the night shift begins), covers afternoon/evening hours. This shift typically runs from around 4 p.m. to midnight.
The second shift is usually seen in businesses such as restaurants, retailers, and entertainment centers, like bowling alleys or skating rinks. Many companies open during the second shift will also have hours within the first and weekend shifts. For some businesses, the second shift is a time to get caught up on work that couldn’t be completed during regular work shift hours. For others, it’s about maintaining operations around the clock or into the evening hours.
The third shift, also known as the graveyard shift, is the shift work schedule that takes place overnight. For many employers, this shift is necessary to keep their business running 24 hours a day.
The schedule for this shift is usually around 11 p.m. or midnight and lasts until the early morning (6 a.m. or 7 a.m.). The third shift is typical of 24/7 establishments like convenience stores, factories, restaurants, and hospitals. These types of businesses are usually also open during the daytime.
Did You Know? Shift differential is premium pay employers offer to employees who work shifts outside their regular schedule or when the shift is less desirable. For example, businesses may offer shift differential pay to workers who agree to work during overnight hours.
A rotating shift is when employees work different hours throughout the week. One day the employee may work during the first shift—and then the next day, they may work the second shift. This type of schedule can benefit businesses because it allows them to have coverage during all hours of operation. Rotating shifts can also benefit employees by providing them with more flexible hours.
These shifts are typical of businesses such as hospitals (i.e., for doctors and nurses), retailers, and hair/nail salons. These establishments are usually open in the evenings and during the day.
A split shift occurs when an employee works two separate shifts on the same day. This can happen in businesses like restaurants when an employee will work the first shift in the morning to prep the business for opening and then return in the late afternoon and work until the business closes. Split shifts are typical of companies in hospitality, retail, and public safety (police officers).
Despite the challenges, split shifts can offer some advantages for both employers and employees. For employers, split shifts can provide more flexibility in staffing. And, for employees, working a split shift can sometimes mean getting paid more per hour.
If your business operates with a split shift schedule, it can be particularly helpful to track your employee hours to avoid overtime and ensure proper payment. Check out our guide on the different ways to track employee hours for more information on how to do it.
A fixed shift is when an employee works the same work shift hours every day. This could be during the first, second, or third shift—but always during the same hours of the day. Fixed shifts are typical for part-time employees, such as those who work in retail—for instance, they may work from 4 p.m. to close every day of the week. These are also typical of businesses like entertainment establishments and healthcare facilities.
For the employer, a fixed shift can mean more predictable staffing needs. For the employee, a fixed shift can provide stability and predictability in their work schedule.
An on-call shift is when a worker is not specifically scheduled to appear at work but is scheduled to be available if called in. On-call shifts are typical of fire stations, emergency services, and repair shops, to name a few. These entities can experience ebbs and flows and may need to call in extra workers without notice.
Some employers require workers to be on call for a certain number of hours each week, while others only require that workers be on call when needed. Either way, being on call can be stressful for workers who are trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance, so it is recommended that this type of shift be used only for essential personnel.
Find out how to implement this schedule in our in-depth guide to on-call scheduling.
Weekend shifts are just that—hours worked on Saturday and Sunday. The hours worked, in this case, may be longer (10 to 12 hours per day) or can fall into part-time work, such as with minors, who can only work outside of school hours. These shifts are typical of businesses such as event planners, hospitals, nightclubs, and businesses open seven days a week.
Pros and Cons of Shift Work
Properly managing your shift work schedules is important as scheduling errors can lead to dissatisfaction and possible turnover. Here are some of the pros and cons of implementing shift work for your business.
|Allows for extended business hours
|Can lead to increased employee burnout, resulting to higher absenteeism
|Offers flexibility that creates a good work-life balance
|Not every position allows for choosing their own schedule
|Easier for legal compliance (e.g., required breaks for delivery drivers)
|Uneven work distribution can lead to favoritism and jealousy when only certain employees get the best shifts
|Reduces working hours for employees which can eliminate overtime
|Could lead to health issues, such as sleep deprivation
Tips for Managing Shift Work Schedules
As a small business, part of efficient employee management is deciding who will work and during hours (or shifts). Scheduling employees based on their skills and availability will create a favorable working environment for all. And, of course, consider the needs of your business; for instance, you may have some days that are busier than others where you need additional workers.
Consider these tips as you schedule employee shifts:
- Maintain Consistency: Although at times it’s necessary to schedule shift workers for different shifts throughout the week, it’s important to keep consistency. The more consistent you can keep an individual employee’s schedule, the more likely they will be to show up for work.
- Offer Flexibility: Employees value flexibility, so be sure to incorporate that into your scheduling habits. Take into consideration each employee’s needs—one may need to work only while their child is at school, while another may need to work nights only. Allowing flexibility in your shift work schedules can have a positive impact on productivity.
- Offer Adequate Breaks: In order for your employees to perform at their best, they need to have proper rest. Make sure you are giving your shift workers adequate time off to rest. Avoid scheduling someone for a late shift one day and an early shift the next.
- Allow Swaps: Sometimes, your employees may need to take a day off from work. Rather than having to call out of work, your employees can swap shifts with another employee. This will ensure that both scheduled shifts are covered.
- Create Balance: Overscheduling employees can lead to burnout. Similarly, underscheduling employees can lead to turnover. Be sure to create a good balance of time worked among all your employees.
- Notify Your Team in Advance: Be sure to send your schedule to your team in advance of the workweek. This will give your employees time to make necessary arrangements to handle their shifts. Putting out your schedule too close to the start of the workweek can cause issues that may force you to have to rework the schedule.
Scheduling software can eliminate the headache of assigning work shifts to your employees. While you’ll still need to be in tune with your employees’ abilities and scheduling needs, using software like Homebase can help you keep up with each employee’s days worked and reduce errors. Find some of our top picks in our guide to the best scheduling software for small businesses.
Shift work is necessary for many small businesses to cover the hours that the company is open. Knowing what type of shift you need (and the hours they include) will help make shift scheduling easier. Be sure that each shift is staffed appropriately for each position in the company.