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 utilizes 24 hours a day and occasionally, 7 days a week, to keep an organization operating. Shift work occurs whenever 24-hour coverage is necessary or when a 24 hour day optimizes work output and productivity. Many approaches to shift work exist and each shift work schedule has challenges.

Employees may work 8 hours during a day that features three 8 hour shifts.

Or, they may work twelve hours a day for 4 days with the next 4 days off. Employers have experimented with every conceivable form of shift work in their efforts to maximize the potential of their operation. Good employers also consider how to minimize ill effects on their shift workers.

Shift work, in which an employee works the same shift consistently, is usually considered better for employee health and the ability of the employee to develop a fulfilling lifestyle and positive family relationships. Constantly changing shifts disrupt all life patterns.

Since evidence exists that shift work, such as working the night shift, can have debilitating health effects, employers must carefully assess the benefits and consequences of how shift work is scheduled.

Who Does Shift Work?

Often considered a manufacturing issue, shift work occurs today in many industries and fields. Law enforcement, military, security, healthcare, retail, restaurants, hospitality, service stations, grocery stores, transportation, fire stations, convenience stores, customer service call centers, newspapers, media, and any facility that houses people 24 hours a day such as prisons, nursing homes, hotels, college dorms and more, require shift work to keep their operations running.

Hiring Employees to Work Shifts

It is much easier to have established 8 hour shifts when you hire new employees. The employee knows what he or she is getting into and can make decisions about accepting the job based on its impact on family, hobbies, or other life style choices.

A nurse, for example, should know what to expect in his or her schedule before he or she signs on to a job in a hospital.

If she needs a day only job, she should consider doctors' offices where extended patient care usually means an hour or two into the evening.

Introducing shift work into a workplace that has traditionally worked 8 p.m. - 5 p.m. 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 that are committed to servicing customers outside of an eight hour day, modified shift work, extended shifts, or overlapping shifts can also occur. For example, a software development company posts on their website that customer service and technical support are available between 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. - 4 p.m. while another employee might work 1 p.m. until 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 customer satisfaction. I can guarantee that losing much of the evening with the family will not encourage employee retention among employees with technical skill sets who can choose to move on.)

The company in the example, when its studies revealed the small number of people who used the service after 7 p.m., changed their hours of coverage to match the actual needs of its customers. They made their employees happy with the change, too.

State and Federal Laws

In all shift work, federal and state labor laws govern topics such as meal periods, minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping 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