Shift Work: Definition, Schedules, and Tips for Staying Healthy- Shiftbase (2024)

From discussing the different types of shifts available to outlining tips on staying healthy when working unconventional hours – this guide looks at everything you need to know about shift work.

Table of contents

  1. What is shift work?
  2. Types of shift work
  3. How is shift work paid?
  4. Laws regarding shift work
  5. Which industries use shift work?
  6. Implementation of shift work
  7. Benefits of shift work for the businesses
  8. Benefits of shift work for the employees
  9. How can shift work affect employee's health and life-work balance?
  10. How to stay healthy when working shift work?
  11. Conclusion
  12. Frequently Asked Questions

What is shift work?

Shift work is when employees are required to work outside of the traditional nine-to-five shift. This could involve working nights, split shifts, rotating shift patterns, and early or late hours regularly. Shift workers may also participate in shift swapping with colleagues – which helps create a more balanced workload for everyone involved.

Useful Read:What is a shift pattern? Adapting to Modern Work Routines

Types of shift work

Here are 3 basic types of shift work

  • Day shift– this is the most common type of shift and involves working during the day. Most shift jobs involve a day shift rotation with an eight to twelve-hour shift.
  • Night shift– night shift workers are required to work nights, usually between 11 pm and 7 am.
  • Afternoon shift- This shift is when workers are required to work in the afternoon, usually from 3 pm to 12 am.

Other types of shift work schedules

  • Fixed shifts:Employees who work a fixed shift will likely have the same weekly days and hours. Exceptions could be made if they are needed to cover overtime shifts, take holidays off or switch up their schedule from time to time; however, most employees with this kind of arrangement can anticipate that their calendar won't surprise them too often.
  • Split shifts:Employees who work split shifts will have two or more shift days with breaks in between. For example, an employee may start at 8 am, finish at midnight, and then return to work later that afternoon for another shift from 4 pm to 8 pm.
  • Rotating shifts:Employees who work rotating shifts may experience a day shift one week followed by work night shifts the next. This shift work schedule can benefit those who want to maximize their hours. However, adjusting to the constantly changing schedule cannot be easy.
  • On-call shift:Employers rely on employees who are available to work during their on-call shifts, even though they may not physically be at the workplace. Employees must stay accessible by phone as outlined in company policy and can expect to arrive quickly if summoned.

Useful Read:Schedule Rotation Generator + FREE Template

How is shift work paid?

Shift work is generally paid hourly, although some employers may offer a flat salary for those willing to commit to additional hours. Shift workers should also be aware of any overtime pay laws in their state – as these policies vary from place to place.

Shift work can involve working outside of regular nine-to-five hours and sometimes on weekends, which may lead to higher pay rates than those who work traditional office hours. Shift workers should also check to see if their employer offers bonuses or incentives for working non-traditional hours.

Laws regarding shift work

Shift work is regulated by the Fair Labour Standards Act (FLSA), which outlines laws that employers must follow when hiring, scheduling, and paying their employees.

The FLSA stipulates that workers should receive overtime pay for time worked outside of regular hours and minimum wage for all hours worked. Shift workers should also be aware of any additional labor laws in their state or city.

Which industries use shift work?

Here are some of the top industries that use shift work:

Health care

This field is the most common type of shift work, with many healthcare professionals working on-call shifts. Hospitals often require shift workers to provide medical care 24/7. Caring for patients who are hospitalized overnight or longer necessitates the need for shift work in many facets of the health care system.

Here are mentioned a few jobs in the healthcare industry which involve shift work:

  • Physician:A doctor's shift could vary depending on their specialty; however, most shift work is in the form of 12-hour shifts, often occurring overnight hours.
  • Nurse:Nurses may be required to work shift work, which could involve 12-hour shifts or sometimes even longer.
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT):Those employed as EMTs may be required to work shift work and often work with paramedics to provide medical care in an emergency.

Law enforcement

Law enforcement agencies also often require work shifts, as they need to have officers available 24/7. This shift may involve early morning and late night hours depending on the assignment.

  • Prison guards:Shift work is a part of the job for prison guards, who often work 12-hour shifts or longer to maintain safety and security within the facility.
  • Police officers:Police officers are expected to work shift work to provide 24/7 protection to citizens. This shift could be anything from day shift patrol to overnight surveillance duties.
  • Firefighters:Firefighters are also required to participate in shift work as they need to be available around the clock in an emergency. Their shift hours can vary substantially depending on their employer's shift schedule.


Those who work in transportation, such as truck drivers or airline pilots, may also be required to work shift work.

  • Truck drivers:Truck drivers are often required to drive throughout the day and night to meet tight delivery deadlines. They usually have shift hours of 10-12 hours per shift.
  • Airline pilots:Airline pilots also need to adhere to shift schedules because flights could occur overnight or in the middle of the day; therefore, they must be available when customers require their services.

Manufacturing workers

When it comes to manufacturing, shift workers will often complete tasks on an assembly line which requires them to follow a set schedule.

  • Factory workers:Factory workers are typically required to work shift hours to keep the production process moving. Their shift schedules could include night shifts or early morning shifts time.
  • Assembly line workers:Just like factory workers, assembly line workers may be required to follow a shift schedule for production lines to meet tight deadlines.

Shift work is an important part of many industries and is used by employers to provide services 24/7. It can benefit those who want to maximize their hours and provide a good source of income.

However, adjusting shift workers sleep cycle when constantly changing shift hours can also be difficult.

Knowing what type of shift work will be expected from your employer before starting a new job is essential for employees considering taking on shift work.

Implementation of shift work

Here are 6 things to consider when implementing shift work:

  1. Scheduling:When implementing shift work, employers should create a schedule that best meets the needs of their employees and business. Shift options can include 8-hour shifts, 12-hour shifts, or any other interval that fits the company's needs.
  2. Training:Employers should provide training to those who will be working shifts. This should include information on safety, processes, and protocols that must be followed during the shift.
  3. Shift coverage:Employers should ensure enough coverage for each shift. This means having enough employees on the clock at any given time to handle the workload.
  4. Shift swapping:Shift swapping is a great way to allow employees more flexibility with their scheduling. Shift swapping allows employees to exchange shifts with other employees to accommodate different schedules and needs.
  5. Shift relief:Shift relief is an important part of shift work, as it helps ensure that qualified individuals adequately staff all shifts. Shift relief can be provided by having other employees available to cover shifts if an employee is unable to make it in for their shift.
  6. Benefits:A shift worker may require additional benefits such as flexible break times or meal allowances due to their long hours and irregular schedules; employers should consider these benefits when implementing shift work in their organization.

By following these steps, employers can ensure that they provide a safe and organized work environment for those working shift work.

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Benefits of shift work for the businesses

  • Increased productivity:Shift work can help businesses increase productivity by allowing them to operate around the clock and meet tight deadlines.
  • Flexibility:Shift work can also allow businesses to shift production around and meet customer demands.
  • Reduced labour costs:Employers may reduce labor costs by utilizing shift workers as they are often willing to work for less than their counterparts who work during traditional hours.
  • Convenience:Shift work can be convenient for businesses as they don’t have to worry about staff availability or shift scheduling conflicts. Shift work is an invaluable asset for businesses that need round-the-clock operations.
  • Improved quality of service:Companies can provide better customer service and a higher quality of service by having shift workers available 24/7.

Benefits of shift work for the employees

  • Flexibility:Shift work allows employees to choose shift times that best suit their lifestyle.
  • Higher pay:Employees who work shift work are often rewarded with higher pay than traditional hours.
  • Further training opportunities:Shift workers may have the opportunity to take on further training if they wish to advance their careers.
  • Increased opportunities:Shift work can also open up a range of career opportunities as employers may prefer shift workers over traditional hours workers.

How can shift work affect employee's health and life-work balance?

Shift work can be difficult for employees to manage their health and well-being.

  • Abnormal routine:When you are accustomed to a regular 9-5 routine, any disruption in the balance can feel disorienting. Shift workers do not have that same steady pattern of waking up and going to work during the day, followed by lunch, and then out of their workplace in the evening. Each shift brings something different for them, requiring an ever-changing mindset and schedule.
  • Stress and fatigue: With shift work often comes fatigue and stress. Shifts can be long and tiring, requiring shift workers to stay alert even during the graveyard shift or when they don’t get enough rest between shifts.
  • Conflicts with family:Shift work can also affect family life as it can be difficult to coordinate family activities or spend quality time with loved ones due to conflicting schedules. Shift workers may not have the same time to spend with their families as those who work during traditional hours.

Useful Read:Work-Life Balance Definition: A Complete Guide

Shift work sleep disorder

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that can affect people who work nontraditional hours. It causes issues with falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleepiness at unwanted times. SWSD is thought to occur when the body's natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) is disrupted by working hours that are outside of the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.

Symptoms of SWSD can include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Excessive sleepiness during work or waking hours
  • Unintentional napping during the day
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor performance at work or school

SWSD can have a significant impact on a person's health and well-being. It can increase the risk of accidents and injuries, both at work and at home. It can also lead to other health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

It is important for shift workers to take care of themselves by getting enough rest between shifts and staying healthy with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

They should also make an effort to maintain communication with family and friends who can provide emotional support during challenging times.

How to stay healthy when working shift work?

Here are some tips for staying healthy while sift working:

  • Stick to a routine:Shift workers should try to maintain some routine, even if it is only for the weekends. This will help their body and mind get used to the shift changes.
  • Get enough sleep:Shift workers should get enough sleep between shifts to stay alert and productive while on the job.
  • Schedule time for yourself:Shift workers should make time for themselves, whether it be to exercise, meditate, watch a movie, or relax. This will help them stay motivated and energized while on the job.
  • Eat healthily:Shift workers should also ensure they get enough nutrients by eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Communicate:Shift workers should communicate with family and friends to stay connected during challenging times. This will provide a much-needed emotional support system.


Shift work can be difficult to manage, but proper preparation and support can provide an opportunity for higher pay and career advancement.

Shift workers must stay alert and motivated by caring for themselves with a healthy routine and lifestyle. As an employer, you should also avoid frequently rotating shifts. With the right attitude, shift work can be a rewarding experience for employers and employees.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Shift workers may be paid higher than traditional hours workers due to the additional hours worked and potential overtime pay.

  • Shift work can affect mental health by creating fatigue and stress, disrupting sleep patterns, and causing conflict with family. Shift workers should get enough rest and stay connected with family and friends to help mitigate these effects.

  • Shift workers may have the right to refuse late shift work if they feel it is unsafe or compromises their health. Employers should be made aware of any concerns regarding shift work.

Shift Work: Definition, Schedules, and Tips for Staying Healthy- Shiftbase (2024)
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